Box on Wednesday is rolling out Box Drive, a new desktop application that delivers enterprise-grade access to files stored in Box. With a user experience that mirrors traditional network shared drives, Box says the product should help companies finally retire legacy systems and make the final leap to the cloud.
"There are a huge number of industries with whole job functions built around workflows and processes where people are dealing with files on these network file shares," Rand Wacker, VP of product at Box, said to ZDNet. In fact, companies spend more than $20 billion a year on purchasing these systems, Wacker said.
Companies are "stuck in that paradigm," he said, because migrating to the cloud would mean a complete change in workflow. For industries where employees work on virtual machines, network drives are effectively a requirement. With Box Drive, which comes with unlimited storage, there's no need to store files locally. Users can access millions of files on the back end and benefit from Box's security, compliance, and governance features.
Once a user installs Box Drive, it shows up as another hard drive on their computer. Using any network, you can scroll through existing files, but it's not downloaded until a user clicks on it. With a traditional sync client, a user is limited by the space available on their machine.
"To access all of these large repositories of corporate information, you had to be in the office on the company network or cornnect with VPN, with all of the hassle that entails," Wacker said. With Box Drive, "we enforce all of the security automatically and transparently, so you're able to focus on getting your job done intead of spending several minutes... just connecting to the network."
And while network drives have no built-in search function, Box Drive comes with native search. Additionally, Box Drive allows users to share a link to a file, ensuring users always see the latest version. Users can also open files on the Box website, enabling them to view more than 120 different file types -- such as 3D images -- even if they don't have the corresponding software on their desktop.
Box has spent more than two years so far working on Box Drive, to ensure users can store all their files on the cloud while maintaining high-performance access to them. Box users can, for instance, open up a large video file and easily sync to any point in that video without having to download it.
Box Drive should appeal to all industries, Wacker said, though it will likely prove most useful for sectors reliant on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), like health care and financial services. Traditional syncing tools don't work for that kind of environment, and Wacker said no other vendors like Box are offering tools that support VDI environments as Box Drive does.
"We can help these industries change their tools and technology without changing the process," he said.
Box Drive has been in a fairly wide private beta for some time now, and Wacker said the the technology is solid enough to use in production. Box is calling this release a beta because it's waiting to add an offline syncing capability before moving it to general availability. Currently, users do have to be online to access content, which shouldn't be a problem for any customers who were previously using network file sharing.