Box has introduced OneCloud, a first step towards an ambitious vision of becoming the cloud's OS. Box's vision, if not this first implementation, goes beyond other enterprise file-sharing solutions.
A couple of months back we briefly surveyed the landscape of enterprise file-sharing and syncing solutions. Box has just unveiled what may be the next step in the evolution of such solutions -- from simple file storage, perhaps with workflow, to a true platform.
OneCloud launched with 31 partners whose apps can be initiated from within Box. All share a common pool of cloud storage. Some are lightly integrated and simply make use of Box's cloud instead of the mobile device's local storage. Four of the apps are more closely integrated using OneCloud's developer tools, and allow "round-trip" opening and saving of documents, according to Fierce Mobile Content. These include:
OneCloud initially runs only on iOS devices, but Android is promised in the coming months.
From within the Box application, you can see a gallery of available integrated apps, pick one, and be taken to the Apple's App Store (or eventually to an Android store) to install it. Box will "[allow] IT to build a Box OneCloud with the tools for an individual company," written to Box's APIs, according to Fierce Mobile Content. In its first release, therefore, OneCloud will provide a lightweight form of app management for a limited universe of apps. The appeal of its approach is that if the company controls the apps and the stored files, perhaps there will be no need to manage the endpoint devices, which are going to be notoriously difficult to secure.
Once a company buys into Box's model and stores corporate files in OneCloud, it banishes app silos for all those workers who are enrolled. It is easy to see how Box could, over time, add OS-level services to the mix. Cloud-stored files could be scanned for viruses and malware. They could be checked for compliance with applicable regulations. They could be encrypted in place. They could be segmented with fine-grained access controls. None of these features is part of the initial release (though SSL for in-transit encryption was mentioned), but Box would be shortsighted not to be thinking about them for OneCloud. (Advanced features are part of Box's established enterprise offering.)
Whether OneCloud takes off as a platform very much depends on the traction it can gain with app developers (as well as on Box's progress on the wishlist above). Other players in the enterprise storage-and-sync space -- Accellion, ShareFile, IntraLinks, Dropbox -- may follow Box's lead and bid for developers' loyalty. Pure-play cloud service providers could conceivably do the same, including Google with its much-speculated-upon, much-delayed "G-Drive."
If Box's ambitions sound intriguing, and you have iOS devices to manage, give OneCloud a look.