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If Microsoft and SharePoint have been laughing off Box.net’s claims to be the rightful challenger as a business collaboration platform, they’re probably not laughing now after Box.net announced a new round of capital funding of US$ 48 million that will be spent on doubling its 140+ staff, expanding its data centers outside the US and building its mobile applications.

Box.net’s Ambition

With it, Box.net, which has only been around for seven years, has raised around US$ 80 million in all, but this funding is particularly important in that it gives it the money it needs to be a real cloud contender.

Over the past few years, Box.net has been particularly dismissive of SharePoint – referring to it on occasion as Sharepoo -- and says its platform is the platform SharePoint could have been if it hadn’t been developed by Microsoft.

Box.net Funding

Leaving all the sniping aside, in future years this will probably be recalled as one of the major milestones in the development of Box.net as a enterprise-level ECM.

CEO Aaron Levie has, on a number of occasions, pointed out that the rapid rate of cloud adoption by businesses and the lengthy development cycles of some of the bigger vendors have left cracks in the market, through which Box.net can slip and create its own unique space -- as long as it continues to innovate at the speed it is currently working. And this gives it the resources to do just that.

Box.net Deployments

This round of Series D funding was led by Meritech Capital Partners, with new investment firms Andreessen-Horowitz and Emergence Capital Partners joining previous investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Scale Venture Partners and US Ventures Partners.

While Box.net in recent figures says that 5 million people have downloaded it, only 15% of its customer base is outside of the US, so the company is expected to start building data centers in Europe and Asia to increase that market share by offering European and Asian companies cloud deployments that will be compliant in their own jurisdictions.

Currently, most of the new deployments, Box.net says, were in large enterprises, with 73% of Fortune 500 companies using its platform in some shape, means or form, a total of 60,000 businesses, and some significant wins including Skype and ABC News.

In this respect, 2010 was a breakout year for Box, as larger enterprises recognized the cost, maintenance and productivity benefits of moving their content and collaboration to the cloud, Levie said recently.

New Releases

It wouldn’t be fair, though, to attribute the company’s success merely to increased cloud deployment across the industry generally. Box.net has been really pushing the envelope in terms of new products, releases and partnerships, creating the growing market share it currently enjoys.

It launched integrations with several leading cloud business solutions in 2010, including Google Apps, NetSuite, SugarCRM, Intuit and DocuSign.

It made several major product enhancements over the past year, including integrated content viewing for most file types directly within Box as well as introducing Box Sync, which enables business to sync their desktops with their cloud deployments.

And it increased storage allocations across all sales plans, increasing free web storage to 5GB for individual users, starting the business plan off at a collective 500GB and providing unlimited storage for enterprise customers.

And then there’s the other major area that Box has been working in and which, it says, has made a major impact on its business — its mobile portfolio.

Over the course of the year, it added customized applications for the iPad and Android devices to its existing support for the iPhone.

Clearly, taking all this into account, Meritech has seen an opportunity. With most of the money to be spent in the next 18 months, it’s likely we’ll be seeing movement here sooner rather than later.