M-Files: Traditional Applications Meet Cloud Storage

Motive Systems, a Dallas, Tex.-based document management vendor, is today releasing a cloud storage offering, M-Files Cloud Vault, that enables companies to organize and manage company documents and information on cloud servers.

Joining other cloud, or cloud-able, content management offerings such as Box.net and SharePoint 2010, M-Files Cloud Vault moves away from the typical folder-based approach that content management traditionally takes and replaces it with a keyword and tag driven file system. In the M-Files approach, documents are classified as a common type, such as an invoice, proposal, message/email, agreement, etc., and descriptive tags are added.

This approach towards documents is similar to that taken by Gmail with regard to email: There’s one “storage vault” where documents are stored, with tags, labels and rich search used to find files. The difference here is a move away from a tree structure of nested folders. M-Files allows searching based either purely on metadata (type, date, company, etc.) or full text searching.

M-Files follows the model of other products — such as Jungledisk and Dropbox — and fools the operating system into thinking that the cloud storage is a local drive. In this way, users can find and open files using the traditional search and open dialogs within Windows, both online and off great if you’re a windows user – not so well if you’re not. This also means that M-Files natively works with all applications: Open, attach and save functions within desktop applications can see files stored on M-Files. The integration of desktop applications with cloud document storage is an approach that others, including MainSoft (whom I’ve written about before) also take. While there are many offerings in this space, the market for this sort of product is massive. Hence, there’s an opportunity for many vendors to be successful in their particular niche.

Documents are stored on a “hosted server managed by Motive systems,” but M-Files can also be installed and run as an on-premise application. Given that M-Files is sold as a product, customers could choose to deploy it on their own choice of cloud infrastructure,  for example, one could deploy M-Files over Amazon Web Services (s amzn) to give a true, cloud-hosted product.

In terms of pricing, the standard product is $19.95 per month per user. M-Files is a nice halfway step for businesses wanting to be able to leverage the power of connected and aggregated data. Functionally it’s a nice fit for enterprise users who are accustomed to the Windows way of working – the pricing while at the upper end when compared to offerings like Box.net, is not completely out of the ballpark.

M-Files customers options both in terms of how they work and also where their data is held: public cloud, private cloud, hosted servers or fully on-premise.

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Ben Kepes is an independent consultant and contributing writer for GigaOM. Please see his disclosure statement in his bio.