Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Box Gives Uploads a Speed Boost, Isn’t Worried About Salesforce

The Internet is only as good and efficient as your connection to it. In the course of daily use, it’s difficult to remember how exactly it works. Messages and files you send and receive can take radically different paths to get to their destination, depending on the conditions of the network at any given time.

But when you’re a company with a lot of industrial-grade Internet infrastructure, including, say, a few of your own data centers, the rules can change a little bit, and you have the option of being a little more selective in determining how your data flows. And when you’re the Enterprise cloud and file-sharing and collaboration outfit Box, you turn that advantage into something your far-flung customers can take advantage of.

When file are big — and in business, they always are — and you need to share something, uploads can be a time-consuming pain in the neck. So Box today launched a network of what it calls Box Accelerators. A network of servers distributed around the world, they serve as outposts for Box’s primary data centers. Box customers around the world will be able to upload to these Accelerators, and thus speed things up, say CEO Aaron Levie. In some cases, Box is bringing to bear its relationship with Amazon Web Services, and that company’s global footprint.

“We’re making a big push on international expansion,” Levie told me in a conversation at Box’s Los Altos, Calif., headquarters last week. Over the summer, the company opened a new office in London, and announced plans to hire 100 people there, in order to double down on opportunities it sees in Europe.

Media companies, health-care companies, and companies and institutions engaged in scientific research often have to move large, cumbersome files around in order to make them available for collaboration with colleagues. The primary factor in slowing down that process is distance. For all the vaunted rhetoric of how the Internet makes the world a smaller place, when it comes to moving gigabytes or more at a time, the one thing standing in your way is the distance between you and the server you’re uploading to.

The network of Accelerators are intended to shorten that distance. Box customers will get a choice of servers closest to them, and those servers in turn will have an easier time of communicating with Box’s main servers at its network of data centers, including a newish-one in Las Vegas, and another two in California.

The service is going live in nine different regions around the world on every continent except Africa, and is available free of charge for existing Box customers. And while today the network is specified only for uploads, it will in time enhance the speed of downloads as well, Levie told me. And it will also be addressable by Box’s API, meaning that if you’re building an application that takes advantage of Box’s network, the accelerators will be available for use.

I took advantage of a few minutes with Levie to ask him about his reaction to last week’s disclosure by CEO Marc Benioff at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference that he’s close to announcing a service called Chatterbox that will essentially compete with Box. Benioff will likely talk in detail about Chatterbox in his keynote address at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference on Wednesday. Expect collaboration and file-sharing to become part of Salesforce’s Chatter social platform soon.

Levie said he’s known about Salesforce’s intentions in this area for about four months to six months. “We’ve known about it, frankly they kind of have to do it,” he said. “If you think about Chatter, and Jive, Yammer, that kind of social world, it necessarily has to connect up to your content. And Salesforce is trying to carve out the space that Chatter can play in. It’s not enough to be a standalone social platform. Salesforce has basically realized that Chatter has to be able to solve more problems for the enterprise before they can have a serious conversation with a CIO.”

Content that companies share both internally and with partners, vendors, suppliers and customers has to be enhanced with social collaboration features. This is the very essence of companies like Jive and Yammer, and Salesforce’s product in this area known as Chatter. “Salesforce will take what it has as a social platform and add content to it,” Levie said. “What we’re doing is more like the inverse. We have a content platform, and we bring social aspects to it, where relevant. We work with all of the social platforms out there, and we’re going to be building more collaborative capabilities into Box.”

You might think this would be a tad awkward, given the fact that Salesforce is an investor in Box, and is even said to have offered to acquire Box last year, for north of $500 million.

Not at all, Levie says. “There are lots of precedents for companies being both investors, partners and competitors.” To me, it sounds like a diplomatic way of saying “game on.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik