Dropbox is winning the storage wars - get used to it

Online storage vendor Dropbox - and its competitors -- are disrupting the world of enterprise storage and file sharing. Whether we admit it or not.

If you needed more proof that the future of storage lies in cloud-based online services like Dropbox and its competitors, the financial markets have 8 billion reasons for you to consider. At least, $8 billion is the reported valuation of the company in a $250 million funding round it's now putting together.

Dropbox's jaw-dropping valuation - which has yet to be agreed upon -- comes on the heels of last week's big push into business software, and its recent "manquisition" of the team behind virtual supercomputer startup PiCloud.

Add it all up and it's clear that Dropbox's efforts to grab storage away from in-house and online corporate alternatives is no flash in the pan. But the company and its competitors are often persona non grata at many enterprises - who don't trust the company's security, or simply don't like the idea of users doing an end-run around IT solutions.

Dropbox is winning - even if you don't know you're losing

But the simple fact is that Dropbox is winning this battle. Enterprise IT is losing, whether they know it or not.

Dropbox claims more than 200 million users and 4 million businesses, and although the Wall St. Journal reports that "the pace of sales growth at Dropbox has slowed in recent years" due to competition from Google and Amazon, any hiccups are probably not due to potential enterprise users preferring to use the corporate-sanctioned backup system.

Wall Street still believes in the company. Even before this round, the company was valued at $4 billion in last 2011 a whopping 34 times its $116 million in 2012 sales. The company claims sales will top $200 million this year, but it won't say by how much.

The numbers are impressive, sure, but Dropbox's best trick is making storage and backup and file sharing so much easier than it is in most corporate systems. I use it to store personal files that I need to access in multiple places, and to share specific files with friends, colleagues, and even the general public.

Stealth users

More importantly, I have to admit that I also used Dropbox when I led a workgroup at a Fortune 500 company that had strict rules about how and where employees were supposed to store and share files. Needless to say, Dropbox was not on the list of approved solutions.

The problem was, Dropbox worked well on all my team's devices, while the corporate solution was slow, confusing, and balky - and it didn't support mobile users very well. I assumed it was secure, but that didn't really matter because it was too difficult to use. (I did try to avoid putting sensitive company information on Dropbox, but as far as I know there was never any security breaches of our data - which was a good thing, as corporate IT would no doubt have popped a gasket if I reported a leak.)

The thing is, corporate IT didn't seem to suspect that we were using Dropbox. We didn't tell them, and they didn't ask why there was almost no activity in the officially sanctioned storage areas. Who knows, maybe they thought we didn't have any files to store?

In the end, it's not really a fair fight. Storage is only one of many areas enterprise IT must manage, and IT also has to worry about storage compliance and standards and all that other boring but essential stuff. Dropbox just has to make storage sexy and easy to use. Not easy, for sure, but way less complex when you don't have to deal with all that nasty enterprise integration stuff.

And those virtual supercomputer geeks Dropbox just acqui-hired? They're going to work on the company's APIs, hoping that if enterprises realize they can't beat Dropbox, maybe they'll officially join 'em.

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