Google, Dropbox, Box, SharePoint, and others battle in the cloud

Google finally released its much rumored Google Drive, a new competitor in the increasingly crowded cloud-based file sharing and sync marketplace. As with all things Google, the Drive announcement generated a huge amount of hype across the blogosphere and twitterverse.

Many commentators compare Drive with Dropbox and to some extent Microsoft's SkyDrive and Apple's iCloud. However, you should remember that you have many, many more choices.

On the face of it, most such services appear similar. They usually provide:

  • Space for storing files (free up to a limit and then for-pay based on tiers)
  • Syncing files with your various devices so you can access them on the move

However, once you move beyond the "mine is bigger than yours" debate, you will notice there are subtle differences among these services.

At a high level, I see four categories of services here:

  1. Consumer oriented: Services like iCloud, Dropbox, and SugarSync are really focused on end users and have built some differentiating features. Dropbox, for example even has a Linux client and SugarSync allows you to sync any folder on your desktop and not just the one dedicated folder that most other services mandate.
  2. File shares with document creation: Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive fall in this category. They are still focused on end consumers but allow more than just file sharing and storage. With Drive, you can edit and create documents using Google Docs, while with SkyDrive, you can access Microsoft Office WebApps.
  3. Enterprise Focused: This category includes services like Box, Huddle, Oxygen, Citrix ShareFile, Glasscubes, Skydox and many others. These really focus on the enterprise segment. Box (like most others in this category) for example, provides granular controls for administrators to maintain access control for files and directories.
  4. File shares with light collaboration: This category includes tools such as Alfresco and eXo which have traditionally focused on other enterprise needs (Alfresco does Document Management while eXo is a Portal platform), but have now started offering a cloud service that has some bit of file sharing. You could also consider SharePoint Online / Office365 in this camp.  These tools, however, typically lack advanced capabilities, such as file sync across devices.

Doubtless some of these services could be placed into multiple categories, and some will eventually evolve to provide services focused on more than one category.

But if you are an enterprise evaluating these sort of services for your needs, remember to look beyond the hype. Our forthcoming Cloud File Share evaluation research will look at such issues more closely and provide detailed evaluations of these vendors. Meanwhile, if you have any feedback on these categories, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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