Box / Microsoft partnership challenges IBM, Dropbox

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This week Box has announced a much deeper partnership with Microsoft. There’s already strong interoperability between Box and MS Office (including Microsoft Teams), but the latest news concerns MS Azure as a strategic cloud provider – bringing deep integration with Microsoft’s AI capabilities, as well as adding more regions to Box Zones.

A year or so ago, Box was celebrating partnerships with AWS and IBM – to bring data geo-specificity to Box customers through its Box Zones service, operating across the cloud giants’ European and Asian storage infrastructure. Box’s strategic partnership with IBM (announced two years ago) has additionally yielded integrations with IBM’s content management applications (like Case Manager, Content Navigator, StoredIQ, and DataCap), developer services on IBM Bluemix, and the jointly-developed workflow tool Box Relay.

The strategic partnership between Box and Microsoft Azure looks set to be more IBM-like than AWS-like – i.e. it’s about more than simply providing another set of file storage location options . That’s partly because Box is building on the existing Microsoft relationship it has that’s seen greater integration with MS Office, etc.; but also because of the vast channel sales opportunity that Microsoft (like IBM) brings.

Box with Azure is set to be sold as a package both by Box, and by Microsoft’s enterprise sales teams. As well as picking up availability in Azure’s datacentre regions, Box is promising tight integrations between Box and Azure’s AI capabilities. Box CEO Aaron Levie’s blog hints at “technologies like video recognition”, with the Microsoft press release putting that in context for media and entertainment use cases with advanced video search and recommendation driven by AI- generated metadata. However no further details are available yet as to specific tools or timelines.

Developers have been able to pair Box with IBM’s Watson cognitive services on Bluemix for a couple of years now, of course – but the tone of the Box and Microsoft announcements suggests that Box is prioritising its own ‘intelligent content’ developments with Microsoft, rather than with IBM.

What does this mean for the main players?

Box just got a handy new channel to market, and with the IBM arrangement reportedly helping to bring a number of big-ticket sales, Box will be hoping to repeat this success and further strengthen its enterprise credentials.

If you’re a Box customer, then “later this year” (according to the announcement) you’ll have more Box Zones regions to choose from as the Azure datacentres come on-stream; no firm details of what AI enhancements will be available or when yet, though.

What’s in it for Microsoft? Well, OneDrive for Business has never really progressed from being Office 365’s cloud-based file storage and sharing tool; it lacks the bells and whistles needed to evolve beyond that. With Microsoft now referring to Box as the ‘cloud content management’ solution Azure customers can now access through its channel, OneDrive is unlikely to evolve any further.

And what about IBM? The obvious question is “where’s Watson?”. Big Blue’s own cognitive platform is nowhere to be seen (for once) when it comes to Levie setting out Box’s plans to smarten its content. IBM’s not short of AI content (including video) management exemplars, but these have tended to focus on IoT or DX use cases. So for now, at least, this announcement would seem to indicate that Microsoft’s ‘Intelligent Cloud’ vision is more aligned with where Box is heading on the ML metadata front.

And as for Box’s competitors?

Well, the whole enterprise world isn’t exclusively IBM- or Microsoft-shaped, of course… but between them, these two have handed Box a significant advantage in getting its brand of cloud content solution onto the table in a number of enterprise deals. And this is something which won’t be lost on its competitors – especially those with more of a ‘consumer-focused’ heritage, looking to increase their own enterprise visibility (hello Dropbox!).

Craig Wentworth

Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors

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