Cloud wars: The battle lines are changing in online storage

cloudwarsA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… people used filing cabinets to store their documents and files, secretaries were hired to manage these files and search for them through massive amounts of clutter, and photocopies needed to be made in order to fax the files.

Now we enter a new era where files are being managed, stored and sent in the cloud. Companies like Dropbox have achieved billion dollar valuations for their services.

But the truth is, the cloud storage industry is a profitless business.

Here’s the real deal: There’s a huge war going on in cloud storage.

Google Drive announced they’re offering a terabyte of free storage for three years with the purchase of a Chromebook Pixel, BitCasa is offering unlimited free storage for $69/year and Amazon has recently reduced their prices by 25 percent.

On top of all this, the free starter plans are offering more and more storage space for consumers. Companies like Google Drive, Box and Cubby are offing 5GB of free space. SkyDrive is offering 7GB of free space and Dropbox with up to 15GB if you refer your friends. Then you see newer companies like BitCasa completely blowing everyone out and offering 10GB of free space – no catch.

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Then, to add to the management of this free space, there are companies that are making it easy to aggregate all these clouds into one easy-to-access platform (yes, why don’t we just sign up for 10 free Dropbox accounts and hook them all up into one place?).

The cherry on top is that it is super easy to start a cloud storage company. Add a little bit of server space, reward users with free space for sharing and maybe throw some security on top. Bam, you’re a cloud storage provider!

So overall, prices are dropping, more space is being given out for free and it’s really easy for other companies to get into this space. You don’t need a genius to figure it out – the cloud storage business is dying.

box111This war is forcing players to evolve and change focus. Companies like Dropbox and Box know they can’t sustain long-term revenues due to the continued lowering margins in the storage business. But cloud storage can serve as a great backbone to other businesses, which is most recently seen by Dropbox’s $100 million acquisition of Mailbox.

Files are used for three reasons: to send, view or edit. Companies like Dropbox, Box and Google know that to survive in the cloud storage world, they need to dominate all three of these areas. Let’s dissect these areas further: the majority of people share files through email, view files upon receiving an email, and edit files before emailing them out or after receiving them in an email.

As a result, email and file management have a direct relationship.

So now, we see a shift in the competitive landscape. Dropbox and Box are no longer in competition.

The real fight is between Dropbox and Google.

dropbox11Box is beginning to shift its focus towards file collaboration and away from actual storage. Many companies who are using Box also have employees using Dropbox. So now when you think about cloud storage, the biggest players are really going to be the companies who dominate email.

It’s inevitable that the cloud storage industry will cease to exist in a future where Dropbox and Google succeed in managing all of your content.

They will be known as email providers, who happen to also be a place where you can keep your files. Box will be known as a company where you can safely collaborate on files, and SkyDrive will be a link between all of Microsoft’s products.

But what will happen to the little guys like BitCasa and Cubby? Dead.

If they don’t shift their focus and start adding value above storage, they will fall to the feet of larger companies like Dropbox.

As a result of the different uses for each of the companies, people’s files will be fragmented across three to five main cloud storage accounts, which all will offer different features and functionality.

The next big problem is allowing for easy access to these files, since they will all be stored online and not on hard drives. Communication and accessibility across multiple clouds will be the next big wave.

Overall: Cloud Storage companies won’t exist in the future. As individuals, our files will be separated across multiple clouds and accessing them seamlessly will be the next challenge.

Navid Nathoo is currently the CEO of Airpost.io, a Microsoft Accelerator startup in Seattle that’s building technology to provide security and visibility for files leaving corporate networks. 

  • Jim Gibson

    I tend to agree with most of what you are saying; cloud storage alone is not a sustainable business model. However, you seem to be linking much of the future of cloud storage to email, and that the email providers will dominate. Question – what happens when email goes away?

  • JohnMarshall4

    I like most of my friends have files scattered across multiple cloud storage providers – not for the reason you mentioned, but because I have too much data to store and I find the pricing models too expensive. I love Dropbox and use all the free storage I could accrue regularly, but the pay account is too much money and not enough space. I’m not sure why I would want them to manage my email however. I am paying for Bitcasa however since their model is unlimited storage. I can put all my files there for one yearly price. Their software is too buggy still to recommend to others though, and doesn’t offer collaboration features. If Dropbox would match their model it would be game over.

  • Mike_Acker

    cloud is only for stuff you want to share. for additional storage just put another Hard Drive in your main box. they sell 2TB drives now