Enterprise cloud storage provider Box has just announced the opening of its European headquarters in London, along with the intention to hire 100 people in the region by the end of 2013.

Already, 40% of Box's 11 million users and 20% of its revenue comes from outside the US. Box's European headquarters will allow it to provide customer support in the local time zone, in the local language and in the local currency.

Following the announcement, Techworld caught up with Whitney Tidmarsh Bouck, enterprise GM at Box, to discuss the company's product strategy and European expansion plans.

Box offers a secure content sharing platform that enables users to share, access and collaborate on content in the cloud and across multiple devices. Box taps into demand from within enterprises and small and medium businesses (SMBs) to be able to access corporate documents while on the go, from any device.

Consumer file-sharing and synchronisation apps like Dropbox have become popular with business users, because they make it easy to sync files between computers, tablets and smartphones. However, many of these apps lack the security, centralised administration and management of enterprise solutions, causing headaches for IT departments.

Box provides a similar service, but with many more of the enterprise-grade features that businesses require. For example, the company's enterprise offering includes global permission controls, audit trails, data encryption, data centre backups and redundancy, and guaranteed 99.9% uptime.

It also integrates with a range of software-as-a-service applications that companies already use, such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Google Apps, as well as more traditional on-premise content management systems like Documentum, FileNet, SharePoint.

“People have invested an awful lot in those systems, but they were all designed before mobile became a viable work tool, so they don't do a good job of mobile or external user involvement,” said Tidmarsh Bouck. “We can be a front end to them, and synchronise content from those on-premise systems to Box, where you can set a whole new reach of users.”

Tidmarsh Bouck said that, for many companies, Box is becoming a backbone for content across a range of business applications, as well as providing a bridge to the cloud, which is a top priority for many CIOs.

Cloud storage for the enterprise

Of course, Box is not the only company to be offering a “Dropbox for the enterprise”. Google Drive, VMware Octopus, Microsoft SkyDrive, Appsense DataLocker and Huddle Sync are just some of the many cloud storage offerings that aim to cater to the same market.

However, Box has had a little longer to build a reputation for itself, and 92% of the Fortune 500 currently use Box in some shape or form, according to Tidmarsh Bouck. Its European customers include the likes of Ben Sherman, Proctor and Gamble and O2.

Tidmarsh Bouck said that Box's experience dealing with large enterprises, would give it an advantage over direct competitors like Huddle, which is more aimed as SMBs.

“Operating at 20,000 or 100,000 users is a very different story than operating at 500 users from an admin perspective and an IT perspective, so we've got now a lot of proven success working with those big customers,” she said.

“The problems they're solving aren't that different, but the ecosystem and the security requirements are very different. It was customers like Procter and Gamble who started working with us four years ago – they're the ones that coached us on how to make our product work for a company that size.”

Box now has an enterprise sales team of over 40 – not including the employees it will be adding in Europe – a marketing team of 15 just focused on enterprise.

“We're not yet contributing the lead source of revenue in the company, but that's going to change in the next year,” she said.

While its experience dealing with enterprise customers is a big advantage, Tidmarsh Bouck believes that it is Box's collaboration features that really distinguish it from other cloud storage offerings – many of which focus purely on making content available on multiple devices.

“The simple sync and share is a modern day replacement for network file-shares. It doesn't change the way you work that much, it's just a different place to put things that happens to be more agile and more cost effective for companies,” she said.

“The big game changer is when the company or brand has one joint place to go and get work done. That's where all the comment and discussion is happening, it's where all the version management is happening – everything's in one single go-to place.”

Meanwhile, Box's policy of charging for the service on a per-user basis, rather than based on usage, is a big selling point and a differentiator from some of the competition, according to Tidmarsh Bouck.

“It helps IT professionals really deliver the value of cloud technology from a cost savings perspective to their company,” she said.

“If I'm simply trading on-premise infrastructure for cloud infrastructure and I'm paying for storage either way, where's the big benefit in that? Granted you can dial up and dial down and have a little more agility, but you're not really getting the true cost effectiveness of moving to the cloud.”

Aggressive expansion plans

Over the next couple of years, Box plans to establish its presence in Europe, setting up local offices in Germany and Spain, as well as expanding in Asia, where some resellers are already provisioning Box for users. Tidmarsh Bouck said this was likely to be the biggest challenge yet.

“The opportunity is certainly there but Asia is far more fragmented than any other region of the world, and the language differences and the culture differences are really different.”

The company will also develop its training programme to accommodate its growing workforce – which is not at 500 and expected to reach 800 employees by the end of 2012. The growth in the enterprise side of the business is also creating greater demand for customer support, she said.

Meanwhile, on the product side, the company will be working to improve its collaboration capabilities and integrate Box more tightly with other applications, such as LinkedIn.

“We're going to continue to build out platform services, enrich our developer environment, facilitate more integrations with more applications that are meaningful to our customer base, and ideally try to drive as much absence of friction when you're moving between Box and content,” said Tidmarsh Bouck.

“We've got great integrations with edition, annotation, viewing tools; we've got a great set of integrations with on-premise platforms like Sharepoint and with a lot of cloud business apps. The ones where we haven't yet finished are things like DLP and eDiscovery – more of the compliance-oriented tools – so we're in progress on those kinds of things now.”

Box is privately held and has raised $162 million in venture capital. Its enterprise collaboration and content management application is used by 120,000 businesses worldwide.

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