With Dropbox Groups, businesses can finally sort folders based on departments

Dropbox is rolling out a new feature called Groups and a related API that should make it easier for businesses to manage all of their content stored in Dropbox, the file-sync-and share company is set to reveal on Thursday.

The new feature is now available for Dropbox for Business customers and was supposedly the most requested feature Dropbox customers — now hovering at over 100,000 businesses — were calling for, explained Dropbox product manager Waseem Daher in an interview.

Groups supposedly lets users create folders that only members of the appropriate group should have access to. The idea is that businesses can set up folders based on their departments and then assign the right staff members to those folders, said Daher. Now, marketing departments can create folders that contain their related documents and only sales and marketing staff should be able to touch them.

If a company hires a new salesperson, that new employee will “just need to be added to the sales group and they will automatically get access to all the content they need for the job,” said Daher. The new Groups interface will supposedly give IT administrators a central hub to manage all those employees in one place, and if a company wants, it can set up group owners with the ability to manage those folders as opposed to only IT staff.

The new Group API that’s also being released is similar to the recently launched Dropbox for Business API in that the API will give developers a chance to create custom applications or modifications to the new Groups feature per the needs of their organizations.

Daher said the biggest feature developers could create with the new API would be a custom integration with their organizations’ active directory, which some IT admins use to keep track of where all their company resources, user data and related items are be located.

Additionally, a bunch of identity-management and security startups — including Okta, OneLogin and Ping Identity — are all working on their own integrations with the new Group API, which makes sense because these startups are aiming to protect companies from rouge employees who may try sneaking into places they shouldn’t be. All of these startups have some sort of integration with active directory as part of their own technology, so the hope is that with the Group API they can just “mirror that right into Dropbox,” said Daher.

The new Groups feature is another example of how Dropbox has been busy morphing from a cloud storage repository into more of a workplace hub, similar to the company’s rival Box.

For these cloud storage startups to grow and court big enterprise clients, they need to show that they have more to offer than just a place to hold documents, as exemplified by the similar file-sync-and-share startup Egnyte moving into the data analytics space.

Pioneering file hosting service RapidShare is shutting down

Pioneering file hosting service RapidShare is shutting down by the end of next month, according to a notice posted on the service’s website that was first reported by Torrrentfreak. The notice reads, in part:

“We strongly recommend all customers to secure their data. After March 31st, 2015 all accounts will no longer be accessible and will be deleted automatically.”

RapidShare was one of the pioneers of so-called one-click file hosting, which essentially allowed users to upload and share files publicly for free. The site was widely used to share copyrighted content, and frequently faced off with rights holders in court.

RapidShare also tried to work with the content industry, striking a partnership with Warner Bros in 2009 with plans to redirect users looking for unlicensed content to a legal download store. To appease rights holders, and to escape the fate of Megaupload, RapidShare introduced a number of measures to discourage infringement, including strict limits on how often files could be shared and tools that helped rights holders to automate take-downs.

But partnerships with Hollywood and music labels never came through, and anti-piracy measures decimated RapidShare’s user base. In early 2013, the company laid off most of its staff, and it already looked like the end was near. Later that year, RapidShare tried one more time to reinvent itself as a competitor to Dropbox and other cloud storage vendors. In the end, that may have been too little, too late.

Egnyte eyes analytics as way to move out of file-sync-and-share

Egnyte wants to be more than just a file-sync-and-share player and hopes to reposition itself as a data management and analytics company. On Tuesday, the Mountain View-based startup will unveil data analytics features that should help users better manage their files and documents.

“The [file-sync-and-share market] is a decent-sized market, but overly crowded,” said Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain. “I believe it will cease to be a category and it will be a feature set.” This statement echoes what Steve Jobs thought of Dropbox, king of the file-sync-and-share startups, way back in 2009.

If it works as advertised, Egnyte’s new Adaptive Enterprise File Services will analyze how users access their storage, whether on-premise or in the cloud, and reveal which documents are downloaded the most and are the most collaborated on. It will also allow users to share documents with other companies in the case that they are working on a joint project, and users should be able to see a full “audit trail” that will let them know if the documents have been downloaded by other parties, Jain explained.

IT administrators now can automatically archive data that hasn’t been touched in a long time, select the appropriate storage mechanism for the type of data being stored and discover who may be doing something suspicious with all that data.

“We can make the recommendation to move to Amazon Glacier, the cheapest storage in the cloud, and do atomic filing, [which] cuts down the cost,” Jain said.

Egnyte EFSS diagram

Egnyte EFSS diagram

Later this year Egnyte plans to roll out automation features that should make it possible for the Egnyte service to provision “the movement of data without humans touching it,” said Jain.

Jain wouldn’t elaborate on what exactly Egnyte’s engineering team is working on to make sure that the service can deliver on what it promises, but he said there’s “a lot of work ahead.” The “biggest challenge” facing Egnyte is making sure that its upcoming automation features scale well for its big clients who may have upwards of 25,000 users, Jain explained.

As the cloud-storage wars taught us, it’s not enough to just offer cheap storage, since the big cloud providers of [company]Google[/company], [company]Amazon[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company] are willing to outdo each other over price. Now, if a company wants to make a name for itself as a storage-service provider, it’s going to be up to the features it delivers to make itself stand out from the pack.

“I want the market space to be the biggest possible to build a company for the long run,” said Jain.

Egnyte is going to have to innovate if it wants to outdo its larger competitors. The company has raised $62.5 Million since its inception that it can use to invest in new features, but that’s not a whole lot of money compared to how much the big guys have.

Dropbox’s Project Harmony aims to make Office docs easier to edit

As this past summer showed, all the big cloud players are gung-ho on workplace collaboration. After all, if you’re already storing tons of documents, it makes sense to layer features on top of those files so that people will stick with your product and not bail to another system. And so in that vein, Dropbox on Thursday said that its Project Harmony work-collaboration tool is now available in early access for Dropbox for Business customers.

Project Harmony basically lets users share notes, comments and edits with each other on [company]Microsoft[/company] Office-related programs like Word and Excel. The idea is that having a collaboration tool built on top of Office will significantly cut down on the amount of emails a team might send to each other when working together on a single document, like a Powerpoint presentation, explained Dropbox product manager Matt Holden.

Now, an organization can add team members to a specific Powerpoint document so that only those specific people are the ones able to edit it.

Dropbox Project Harmony presentation figure

Dropbox Project Harmony presentation figure

A Dropbox icon should appear on all Microsoft files so that users can keep tabs of who is editing and should be able to see a “full history of the document” that includes any changes made, explained Holden.

“If she starts making a change we can automatically detect that and broadcast it,” said Holden.

Dropbox Project Harmony figure 2

Dropbox Project Harmony figure 2

Dropbox Project Harmony figure 3

Dropbox Project Harmony figure 3

The collaboration tool currently supports different operating systems like Windows and Mac OS. As of now, Project Harmony only works with Microsoft applications, which makes sense considering Dropbox partnered up with Microsoft in early November to make sure Dropbox works well with Office.

In regards to the Dropbox for Business API that was unveiled last week, Holden said that Project Harmony is separate from the API, but hinted that the two could eventually be linked, which would let users build business apps that have collaboration abilities.

Project Harmony should be available for all Dropbox for Business customers early next year, he said.

Dropbox to unveil its Dropbox for Business API as lawyers rejoice

Dropbox will launch its Dropbox for Business API on Wednesday, allowing developers to create enterprise-oriented applications on top of Dropbox. The startup also said that it now has 100,000 Dropbox for Business companies, which includes organizations like Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Spotify.

Google Drive storage goes unlimited for Education users

Suggesting that educators and students shouldn’t have to worry about the technology that helps them teach and learn, Google introduced Drive for Education on Tuesday. In the coming weeks, all [company]Google[/company] Apps for Education users will gain unlimited data storage on Google Drive, although single files are limited to 5 terabytes in size. Also included with Drive for Education is free access to the Google Apps Vault, used for email compliance, and enhanced auditing for file activity. The company also stressed that data stored in Drive for Education is encrypted and private, saying: “As always, the data that schools and students put into our systems is theirs.”