Cloud-based storage and collaboration platform Box.net is launching Box Sync for Business, a new tool that will make it easy for businesses and organizations to keep their files on the desktop always in line with files on the cloud. Think of it as Dropbox for the Enterprise.
Using the new Box Sync client (available for Windows () now and Mac by the end of the summer), users can selectively sync files and folders to make collaboration easier between colleagues. Like Dropbox, folders you choose to sync with Box Sync will be accessible both on the cloud and on your desktop, and changes made in one folder will automatically be updated in the other.
This is a big step for Box, who over the last 18 months has really transitioned from a consumer-facing online storage company into a SMB-centric competitor to higher-level file server and storage systems, like Microsoft’s SharePoint. The desktop sync client completes that circuit, so to speak, by making the physical location of files less of a consideration.
Box Sync will be free for business and enterprise customers, and will be rolled out to users over the next few weeks. Later this year, individual and “Lite” users will get the feature too.
For an overview of how Box Sync works, check out this video:
If you’ve used Dropbox () before, the idea should be pretty familiar. Existing Box.net share rules will be carried over to the sync client so that you can selectively control who can see what files. Someone who has read-only access might be able to view a file in the cloud, but he won’t have a copy in his “My Documents” folder.
All of Box Sync’s files are held in a Box Sync folder within My Documents. This is to make it clear which files are shared or synced with the cloud and which aren’t. A blue sync icon is appended next to files and folders within Windows Explorer to indicate that a file is shared on Box Sync. Likewise, files on Box.net have the same icon to show they are being synced with the desktop.
A big issue with any file syncing tool — especially in a collaborative environment — is conflict management. If two people are editing the same file at the same time, a system needs to stay in place to merge those changes without overwriting the other file. Box knows this and put great effort into making a sophisticated conflict management system that was designed primarily with business and collaborative users in mind. Box.net already has a versioning system wherein you can view the history of a file or document, and in Box Sync you can view previous revisions and download a copy to your desktop.
For business users, especially new businesses that might just be starting out, there are many advantages of using a cloud-based file system. First, it can allow companies to eschew the cost of buying and maintaining a central file server. Second, the advantage of the cloud is that you have access to your files no matter where you are: the web, your phone, your iPad, etc.
However, one problem with cloud-based systems is that unless they have a sync client, you have to manually upload your files and documents and create all new files within the cloud. That can work for a lot of workflows, but sometimes it’s just easier to keep your local files local and know that you can keep them automatically in sync with the cloud.
We think that Box Sync is a really important step for cloud-based file systems because it streamlines a lot of workflow issues, while also retaining existing share rules and keeping other devices in the loop.
How do you keep your local files synced with the cloud?