Every time Google or Microsoft makes an announcement about lowering the price of storage, someone asks us why anyone would pay more for a service like Dropbox, Box, Syncplicity, Egnyte, Accellion … you get the picture.

So yesterday, at its I/O Conference, when Google announced Google Drive for Work (a combination of Google apps and Google Drive with added security and reporting features that comes with unlimited storage for $10 per user per month), we were slammed with inquiries. Has Google had just entered — and, all at once, won — the file sync and share market in the Enterprise?

We Get It

The last time we wrote about a price drop for storing files in the cloud, Microsoft was the protagonist. In response to our tweet about the announcement at that time, Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain “reminded” us via Twitter that EFFS (Enterprise File Sync and Share) vendors aren’t in the file storage business. What they do instead, he insisted, is provide Enterprise-grade services around storing, syncing and sharing files.

Got that, Vineet. In fact, we had it when we wrote the article. That being said, it’s a good reminder, because this market is gung-ho and it changes quickly.

So quickly, in fact, that you might think that you’re comparing apples to apples when what you’re actually doing is comparing apples to apple seeds.

Consider that in the last month alone, OpenText and SAP got together on Tempo Box. Salesforce and Microsoft announced interoperability with Office 365, which includes OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online as integrated storage options for Salesforce.

Dropbox bought Droptalk and Mobilespan. Egnyte announced it would leverage Google’s Cloud for Storage. Box purchased Streem. Box announced Box Notes for the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft announced that certain Office 365 subscribers could store I TB in its cloud free of charge.

And now there’s Google’s Drive for Work announcement. 

Burning Up

“It’s an incredibly hot, incredibly competitive market,” said Jeetu Patel, general manager of EMC’s Syncplicity, which is widely recognized as a leader in Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS).

All of this activity and constant one-upmanship should be great for enterprises, but it can also lead to a good deal of confusion about who offers what and whether it’s actually a meaningful differentiator.

Cheap storage, for example, may be the flashing light that a vendor uses to catch your attention, but it shouldn’t be what convinces you to run in the door.

Aaron Levie, CEO of market-leading Box, said that his company hasn’t had a storage cap for most of its Enterprise customers for more than four years. “It changes your thinking,” he explained. “Imagine a world in which storage is unlimited, what can you do with your content?”

That’s a question that Box has been answering for several years. “We’ve been asking ‘how do you bring value on top of file storage into the Enterprise,” said Levie. 

Complex Question

There’s probably at least a three- or four-pronged answer to that question, even after we put basics like storage, syncing, collaboration and anywhere, anytime access via any device aside.

There’s the end user interface that, according to Patel, has to be even better than what the information worker finds in his/her personal life. 

“Beautiful, brainy, impenetrable,” are words he uses to describe the new mobile interface that Syncplicity rolled out in January. It was built versus rebuilt from the ground up because he understands that to win an Enterprise user you have to be as cool as anything that can be found in an app store.

Levie seems to concur. “Amazing end user experience” are words he repeats often. And there’s walk behind his talk. For a few days last January, Box’s app ranked in the top 10 of free apps in the App Store, ahead of Clash of Clans and Skype for iPad, even giving Netflix a run for its money.

Dropbox gives a great deal of thought to their UI as well, although it aims to have its information worker experience in Dropbox for Business to look exactly like the one in Dropbox. The idea being that Dropbox users don’t want “Dropbox for Work”, they want Dropbox, said Ilya Fushman, who heads Dropbox for Business.

To accomplish this, Dropbox rebuilt all of Dropbox from the ground up so that the requirements needed to make Dropbox enterprise-worthy would be invisible to the end user and that both UIs, even at the point of login be exactly the same. It’s a good strategy provided Dropbox is able to get IT’s blessing which, more often than not, it doesn’t yet have in the Enterprise.

Learning Opportunities

That being said, Dropbox has one unique advantage that no one else has: namely, 300 million users who think “Dropbox” when they want to store content on the cloud.

Sure It's Nice, But …

The user experience for Google Drive for Work is nice, though it’s not likely that enough of us use Google Enterprise, Google docs, Google sheets or productivity apps for it to feel homey.

Microsoft’s One Drive and Office 365, in comparison, feels like Microsoft, something that, love it or hate it, many of us have grown up with, trust and can use without thinking. As a result, many Microsoft users would rather fight than switch, so Google has its work cut out for it.

After all, most of us don’t think “Google” when we think about Dropbox alternatives.We don’t think “Google” when we think Enterprise File Sync and Share or even File Storage. And we don’t think Google when we think about documents and spreadsheets.

So if Google expects swarms of Google App and Google Drive enthusiasts to usher Google Drive for Work into the Enterprise the way Box does and Dropbox (Dropbox for Business) hopes to, it has its work cut out for it, despite its masses of Android, Chrome and Gmail users.

Slow and Steady

Selling directly into the Enterprise is, the way vendors like EMC Syncplicity, Accellion and Egnyte do is another option. But you have to have all of your ducks in a row on the back end (security, control, compliance) before that conversation can even begin.

And that takes time.

“We’ve spent eight and a half years building value around the basic file sharing functionality we brought to market nine and a half years ago,” said Levie. And Box, has a lot to show for it. In fact, anyone who tries to argue that they can’t deliver on IT’s requirements and strategically appeal to the business (in terms of features and functions) has their work cut out for them.

EMC Syncplicity has other advantages — not only do Enterprises trust the EMC label but they also roll out red carpets to welcome its large, well-connected, well-incentivized sales force through their doors. Add to that that Syncplicity has what it takes to wow but IT and the end user.

And this is just the bare beginning of what Google for Work is up against.

But that being said, it’s part of Google, which is well respected for knowing tech, for employing some of the world’s brightest engineers and which most of us feel, on a personal level that it’s as (if not more) dependable as the electric company or our mobile carrier.

Whether Google is Enterprise-ready beyond the UI is the big question, which we’ll discuss in Part 2 next week.

Title image by Alexandra Gl / Shutterstock.com.