Just over six months ago, I made an early prediction that cloud storage would reach $0 over the next 12-18 months. Well, it hasn’t become “free” just yet, but it is now unlimited thanks to Microsoft. This week, Microsoft set a precedent by making storage unlimited to all users — business and consumer — for their respective subscription fees. It will only be a matter of time here before Google and Amazon follow suit, marking the “death” of the cloud-storage market. While that may cause deep concern for some and send others into storage bliss, I am unfazed by the news and can humbly say, “I told you so.”
Let’s face it — there is no way for the small cloud service providers that built their businesses around storage to compete. With the vast numbers of apps and features these bigger companies can offer, it is seemingly impossible for the smaller companies to stay afloat. This will spell acquisition for some, bankruptcy for others, and doomsday for everyone else involved that isn’t named Google or Amazon, right?
Not so fast…
At one time, companies like Box, Dropbox, and Egnyte were all grouped into this publicly defined “cloud storage” market, but we have since evolved into much more robust platforms, playing inside a broader ecosystem than originally thought. So while small companies (and when I say small, I mean sub-multi-billion dollar revenue companies) will face extinction or succumb to pricing pressures, this just signals the start of the next chapter.
This breakaway from a commoditized cloud storage market is just in the beginning stages, and there is undoubtedly a massive stream of innovation on the horizon. While there may not be one aligned definition for this new market yet, a cloud-computing industry set to be worth $75 billion by the end of this year is leaving the door wide open for new and old players alike to find a successful formula.
Everyone will continue to try and play Nostradamus, but those who are strong enough to survive the cloud-storage era know that there is never just one golden ticket. Cloud service providers will now need to create a secure and unique ecosystem where files can actually live, not just be stored. While everyone’s approach to this new era will be different, there will be three must-haves:
It goes without saying that security has become paramount for any file-services solution out there. End-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication are two security protocols that will become much more common in this next generation of the cloud. Thanks to Edward Snowden and shady practices from the National Security Agency, these are no longer nice-to-haves but must-haves, as far as businesses are concerned. Otherwise, they may have to accrue an expensive balance-sheet item for liability insurance. Just ask folks at Target and JPMorgan Chase.
Everything will have to work on mobile. Period. With more than 6.5 billion people currently subscribed to a mobile network worldwide, there is no reason for an organization to struggle with mobility. If files cannot be accessed wherever an employee might be, then they are of no use to the employee and will actually hurt an organization’s productivity, rather than help to improve it. Whether it is via tablet, smartphone, or even smart watch, employees having access to their work at all times is an invaluable asset for the future of business.
We are now in an era of business where processes are expedited and workflow has accelerated, so much so that projects which have historically finished in months are now being completed in weeks or even days. This would be impossible without the use of real-time, meaningful collaboration. Files will now not only need to be secure and available anywhere. They need the ability to be reviewed and revised efficiently across teams, both internal and external.
The first stop for the cloud’s evolution was storage, but we cannot stop there. As organizations continue to evolve and find new ways to do business, we need to find new ways to leverage the cloud for optimal business performance. We are now moving on to more complex use cases that require us to move into another pivotal time — the second stop on the road of the cloud’s evolution.
The jury is still out on whether users want to be vertically integrated and use just one underlying brand for all of their business needs, or if they want to have the option of building their own portfolio of apps to get the job done on their own terms. Regardless, it is very exciting that we can finally lay the cloud-storage market to rest and embark on more evolved, full-bodied solutions in the cloud that can bring real value to businesses. As the saying goes, “As one life ends, another one begins.”
Fortunately for us, a new life is just beginning!
Vineet Jain is chief executive of enterprise file-sharing company Egnyte.