Box CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie is obsessed with the cloud. He wears cloud socks, the license plate of his car said “Go Cloud” and he tweets about “cloud” constantly.

Back in 2010, he asked if it was a “problem to judge girls you meet by how much they know about cloud computing?”

In 2011 he predicted that “for everyone in cloud and the enterprise, this is going to be a very big year for us all.” We guess you could say Box had an exciting year: it landed Proctor and Gamble as a customer.

In 2012 Levie reported “I'm just struggling with a world where #Tebow is more exciting to the general population than cloud computing.”

In 2013 he suggested that a book about cloud storage would be a blockbuster: ”There's a Facebook book. And now a Twitter book. Shocked that no one wants to write about the cloud storage industry. #bestseller”

In 2014 he told the world that a win for Box (after gaining 300,000 employee GE as a customer) is a win for “cloud, user-centric IT, enterprise mobility and more. There is a real sea change in software adoption happening.”

So far this year he’s had to put a muzzle on it (and we’ve missed his stream of jesting tweets) as he waits for its company to go public, which should happen tomorrow. It's expected to open at $14 a share.

Hybrid Options

While Wall Street’s valuation of Box won’t be a mandate on cloud computing, something has changed in the way CIO’s have been looking at Enterprise Sync and Share (EFSS) solutions lately. “Cloud only” may be becoming a less and less interesting option.

Blame last year’s hacks in the consumer sector for causing the C-suite to want to keep its most important files under its own roof or on a private cloud. Alan Pelz Sharpe, an analyst at 456 Research said that on premises, public hybrid mix options are becoming increasingly popular. He points to EMC Syncplicity as a vendor that has been successful with this model.

Syncplicity, mind you, started out “cloud only." But when EMC acquired the company less than three years ago, it listened to what customers wanted, and moved to a hybrid model very quickly. “We believe that customers should have a choice as to where they store their content,” said Jeetu Patel, Syncplicity’s General Manager.

And it’s not only that, but from an end user’s perspective, Syncplicity can offer a cloud-only experience regardless of where content is stored, in file shares, Documentum, SharePoint or the cloud. “Users view them through a single pane of glass,” added Patel.

Box Remains a Believer

Box, on the other hand, offers its customers sync and share capabilities exclusively for files stored in Box’s public cloud. Box makes its own good argument as to why this is the best approach and is constantly working with its customers and partners to iron clad security via its Trust Initiative.

Still cloud-only could be a hard sell in 2015 now that security is near the top of the agenda in the C-suite.

Citrix’s ShareFile, another Box competitor, also started out as cloud-only solution, but it now offers a hybrid solution as well.

“After speaking with customers, especially global enterprises, it became clear that they were looking for additional storage flexibility, explained Jesse Lipson, vice president and general manager of Citrix. As a result, it introduced StorageZones in 2012 to help businesses meet security, data sovereignty and compliance requirements.

Lipson said about half of his customers (and nearly all of the small business clients) store their files in a Citrix managed service. He added that he’s seeing increasing interest in Citrix’s hybrid model.

Citrix, like Box and EMC Syncplicity, was named a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Sync and Share. It differentiates itself from Box and many hybrid EFSS providers in that it provides for its clients to hold the key to their encrypted files.

“Some businesses prefer to maintain the keys to their own encrypted data,” said Lipson. “ShareFile also supports metadata encryption key ownership,” he added.

Pros and Cons

Is there a downside to the hybrid model? Sure, said Lipson. “On-premises StorageZones provide enterprises with a lot of control to help meet compliance and data sovereignty requirements, but with that control comes additional responsibility for managing and updating the on-prem infrastructure, so that is the tradeoff.”

Citrix solves that problem and said that their customers can try to get the best of both worlds by deploying StorageZones in their own public cloud instance using Microsoft Azure.

There’s another EFSS MQ Leader, Accellion, which sells EFSS software vs. EFSS solutions. While it is a huge advocate of keeping content behind the firewall, it has begun to dip its toe into the hybrid model by providing connectors to Google Drive for Work and Microsoft’s One Drive for Business.

With close to 100 EFSS solutions on the market, we won’t have the bandwidth to offer how every vendor differentiates itself, but many are, or are moving toward, hybrid.

What we don’t hear much about is non-cloud EFSS options, they do exist and may provide the cloud-weary with cloud-like file sharing experiences. Connected Data’s Transporter, which is an appliance, might be the perfect case and point. It claims to provide all the same functionalities as Dropbox only it keeps the data under IT’s control.

 ESG Senior Analyst Terri McClure said that businesses want online file sharing solutions that store data in their own data center. Solutions like Transporter are one of them.

Drop Everything

Yet regardless of how anyone looks at the file sync and share market, there’s one vendor that can’t be ignored — Dropbox, with its more than 300 million users. Last year the cloud file storage leader partnered with Microsoft and released nifty features like a badge, as part of Project Harmony, it’s a capability business users have begun to embrace when collaborating on Word, Excel or PowerPoint files.

Yesterday Dropbox acquired CloudOn, giving it content creation and enhanced workflow capabilities. The company also raised their Microsoft play with new mobile apps, which could become game changers if Windows 10 takes off, which some are predicting.

Dropbox is, like Box, a cloud only solution and chances are good that with its larger user base, it’s already omnipresent in the Enterprise. What Dropbox and Microsoft have that Box does not, is file sync and share for your work and personal personas in the same app. This type of user experience is something that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes will be the way of the future as does Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. Dropbox was rebuilt, from the ground up, in order to deliver the experience.

There’s one other factor that might, in time, appease the C-Suite about Dropbox’s cloud-only offering. Though we have yet to find out what Dropbox will do with its acquisition of MobileSpan, there are ”uncloud” possibilities there.

Game On

Regardless of how Box’s IPO goes, “we’re still early in the market,” said Patel. While he and every EFSS vendor we’ve spoken to wishes Box well (the fact that they are able to go public validates the importance of EFSS in the Enterprise), what they’re most interested in is how what the EFSS space will look like a few years from now.

Hybrid vendors can, after all, provide “cloud only” solutions; cloud only vendors, like Box, haven’t been architected to allow for private cloud or on prem options, so it would be harder for them to change their delivery model. Box execs (before the IPO filing) told us that they believe that companies will come around to their way of thinking, and that it’s just a matter of time. 'How much time?' is the question.

Keep an eye on CMSWire for IPO updates throughout the day and a recap early next week.