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Cloud Storage Providers: Comparison Of Features And Prices

Box Cloud Storage - Pricing And Features Overview

Box is all business. The service has gained tremendous momentum over the past year, and is now at an estimated 25 million individual customers and 225,000 enterprise ones.

The Box browser user interface is well-organized, streamlined, intuitive and feature-rich, offering a wide variety of built-in and third-party capabilities. Box behaves like a full application running in a Web browser, including drag-and-drop uploads, right-clicks and top menus. The user interface feels more like a competitor to enterprise tools like Documentum, OpenText LiveLink, IBM FileNet P8 and Microsoft SharePoint than a direct peer to the other services we tested. However, it is a cloud service at its core, and Box offers its sleek functionality and powerful document review (workflow) and collaboration tools to all users.

While administrative controls, unlimited storage and capabilities like Salesforce.com CRM integration are reserved for paying customers, the power and flexibility of Box means that individuals can quickly open a personal account and purchase additional storage.

Box has the most powerful full-text search of all the services, and returns the best results. For instance, while Dropbox returned one result for a sample query that included unique terms split between file name and full-text search, Box returned 58 spot-on results. The instant-results drop-down is handy, and the full-text index rivals enterprise solutions.

On Box’s mobile apps, all file names are easy to see with its thin font, as compared to the other services, which often truncate file names. File sorting can be done in three ways (name, date or size) and the thin iOS 7-matching font allows for more file details than other services.

Both the full browser preview and mobile app viewers are feature-rich, with the most accurate file renditions, including high-quality fonts and correct PowerPoint slide forms. But this comes with a cost – we found that file sizes were large, and previews consumed far more bandwidth than other services. Since users cannot choose between a low- or high-quality image, quick-viewing PDFs is much quicker using other services, even over Wi-Fi. Box errs on the side of quality, which can cost time and money over mobile connections. To its credit, Box warns you when you attempt to preview files on mobile networks.

Collaboration and Synchronization

At its core, Box is a document collaboration service, and performs an excellent job at this task. Everything reasonable and intuitive is here, including the file lock status, colored “flags” on files indicating version numbers, metadata tags, access statistics and workflow task management.

Box is first a Web app and secondarily a synchronization-to-the-desktop service. For people looking to extend their file systems to the Cloud, Box folder synchronization can be set at the top level (like most other services) and – somewhat unique in online services – at each sub-folder. Synchronizing individual folders to a PC is controlled via the Web application, but cannot be tweaked by the operating system (OS) extension.

Sending links to shared folders is also straightforward, and can be accomplished through the browser, mobile app and aforementioned OS extension. There is a lot of power to sharing in Box: links can be open access or only apply to pre-determined collaborators, shared files can be restricted to view-only (not download) and they can be set to automatically expire. These three thoughtful settings are additional mechanisms for the security-conscious or absent-minded.

We noticed a small bug in testing – if you accidentally click on “share” in  the browser UI, it immediately sets a link (indicated by the chain link icon) before you actually complete the full action/decision by clicking OK. “Un-sharing” doesn’t take much time, but this can be a security issue for those who don’t realize it.

Integrations

Box has a very comprehensive API integration program, with more than 1000 integrations through more than 550 partners, including CRM, office applications, social collaboration, security and product/project management applications. However, it is important to note that access to the enterprise integrations requires the highest tier of Box pricing, Box Enterprise (or the custom-priced Box Elite). Box Business and Box Enterprise customers also get Active Directory and SSO integration to align with corporate accounts and policies. With a focus on enterprise application integration, Box APIs are designed to make the service a platform for large systems and less of a “developer playground” for small developers.

Two of the more interesting integrations are with Microsoft Office and Google Apps. These illustrate Box’s commitment to being a cloud storage provider and not an application vendor. It clearly separates them from those who try to do both.

Finally, Box has a Content API that exposes all of its key functions to organizations looking to build their own content management platform.

Pricing is slightly different from the other cloud storage vendors. Since Box is designed for the enterprise, caps are set based on individual file size rather than overall storage volume. This is reasonable since bandwidth and practicality dictate a natural glass ceiling. In the past, Box offered lifetime 50GB storage promotions, so there are a number of well-endowed personal accounts in the market. Box truly realizes the promise set forth by cloud storage and sharing.

Box Pricing