In-Depth

Analyst Sees Box Leading Microsoft in Cloud File Share Market

Organizations may want to avoid Microsoft's OneDrive for Business for now.

Organizations contemplating enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS) options, and weighing Box vs. Microsoft's OneDrive for Business, can get some definitive advice from Gartner Inc.

The research and consulting firm used 152 evaluation criteria to arrive at its conclusions about which EFSS solution to use at this point. The criteria can be used to think through issues as organizations weigh their long-term and short-term options.

Gartner's principal recommendation, for now, is to postpone OneDrive for Business deployments and look at other EFSS solutions, according to Guy Creese, a Gartner research vice president. The problem with OneDrive for Business is that it's unpredictable. It's considered to be rock solid for some organizations but it fails for others, he explained. As for Box, there's no reason to warn against it, except that it's pricey, he added.

Gartner has published a "Magic Quadrant" ranking of EFSS solutions. Currently, Box is listed as a "leader" in that quadrant, while Microsoft's OneDrive for Business solution is considered to be a "challenger."

Creese spoke on the topic at this month's Gartner Catalyst event in San Diego. His session, "EFSS Shootout: Comparing Box Enterprise and Microsoft OneDrive for Business," was noteworthy for laying out the main issues and what to contemplate when considering an EFSS solution.

Approach Differences
Box and Microsoft both make EFSS solutions, but their approaches differ. For instance, Box is a pure cloud-enabled product, and the company has no plans to build a premises-based product.

In contrast, OneDrive for Business can be deployed on premises or accessed via Microsoft's SharePoint Online service. It's also possible to put some files on SharePoint Online and some on SharePoint Server, but there are complexities to that hybrid approach. Most organizations use the SharePoint Online service to store OneDrive for Business files, Creese explained.

Essentially, OneDrive for Business is Microsoft's old Groove product, Creese said. It takes files from SharePoint and distributes it out to end points. For Microsoft, EFSS is seen as more of an add-on capability to OneDrive for Business. In contrast, Box was built from the ground up to support EFSS, Creese explained.

Box is very cloud centered, so APIs are very core to the product. In contrast, organizations are just now starting to get OneDrive for Business APIs as the product previously relied on using SharePoint APIs, Creese explained.

Strengths and Weaknesses
OneDrive for Business has good integration with SharePoint. It's included in Office 365 SharePoint Online subscription plans. OneDrive for Business has weaknesses, including a 2-GB file size limitation. The sync client intermittently fails, as well. Also, there is no single management console for hybrid configurations that use both SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online.

Box aims to be the data backbone to the cloud, so you can put services such as Salesforce.com in Box, Creese said. Box has a good user experience. Its weakness is that Box is a cloud-only product. It's not easy to run noncorporate Box implementations next to corporate Box, he added.

Gartner's evaluation criteria include categories such as "required," "preferred" and "optional" when ranking EFSS features. Based on those criteria, Box scored 95 percent in terms of meeting required criteria. In contrast, OneDrive for Business scored 75 percent on required criteria. Both applications had lower numbers for the preferred and optional categories.

Gartner plots its assessments in radar-like charts called kiviat diagrams, where a more rounded pattern is considered better. Box's data comes out in a more circular pattern than that of OneDrive for Business. Microsoft's product scored lower in terms of management and security, according to Creese. For instance, on the management side, there's no administrative console reporting of overall system usage with OneDrive for Business. On the security side, Box enables the whitelisting and blacklisting of sharing domains, where OneDrive for Business doesn't have that capability.

Customers have weighed in on the two products. People say Box is a "great product." They say that OneDrive "is not that great but we know Microsoft will improve it," Creese explained. A very common reply from Box customers is that it's expensive. With OneDrive for Business, it's considered to come "free" with Office 365 subscriptions, so organizations that have already bought Office 365 services typically are considering OneDrive for Business.

Constituency Focus
Gartner's top recommendation is to view all three constituencies -- users, IT and the business -- as equals when deciding on an EFSS solution. Organizations can avoid cultural issues by treating users as a resource, according to Creese. He added that so-called "shadow IT" can be leveraged by simply asking users what they're using and why.

Security should be discussed with business and IT users. Some groups have strict security protocols and some don't, and sometimes two EFSS solutions are purchased in mixed situations, he added.

An organization's "corporate personality" should be considered. Will it go with a small company with a great product (Box) or does it want an industry stalwart (Microsoft), Creese said. If the company is centered on Office 365, then OneDrive for Business may be the choice.

Organizations should do their EFSS research but they shouldn't spend too much time on it, Creese said, because they may have security risks from the use of consumer apps. He added that the EFSS market is a volatile one, and Gartner thinks many of its vendors eventually will consolidate.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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