Listen to my conversation with Adam Gross, senior vice president of marketing and sales at cloud storage and synchronization service Dropbox.
In this podcast, find out how file-sharing between users and across devices is helping people adapt to new Internet-enabled ways of working and learn about the measures organizations should be taking to protect their data from Internet security breaches.
Listen to or download the 9:28 minute podcast below:
PW: Well Adam, we’ve probably known each other for about, I don’t know, it must have been almost ten years now. And actually, most of that time you were at Salesforce.com, working on the Force.com platform — compared to which, I guess, Dropbox is a much simpler proposition to get across.
AG: Well, certainly, Dropbox is a more broad-based service, less developer-focused as Force.com was. One of the things that was exciting for me about Dropbox is that it is such a universally applicable service, in that we have customers and users in pretty much every kind of walk of life and type of organization. So it’s very exciting.
And it’s very individual-focused, rather than marketing to businesses as you were doing at Salesforce.
Well, one of the interesting things about Dropbox — and I think a lot of the next generation of Internet services, whether it’s things like Skype or Gmail — is they have this interesting hybrid role. So at Dropbox, we now have over four million users of our service, as of mid-January when we last updated that number. And you can imagine how we have people in schools, we have people — individuals — sharing photos and personal documents. And we also have a lot of users within organizations of all sizes. So again, just like these other kind of, half-consumer, half-business technologies, they have a way of naturally introducing themselves into pretty much all of the different places that you find the Internet.
Well yeah, I think a lot of these services these days, people actually take them on as individuals and they use them for both personal and professional, irrespective. And the boundaries of course between work and home life are getting quite fuzzy these days anyway.
I think it’s certainly right that a lot of the most interesting new technologies I think that we’ve seen in the past couple of years have had that kind of adoption pattern — where they start as individual use, and then they become more broadly adopted in the enterprise, I think. Even most recently, you could take a look at things like the iPhone, which started off as a very consumer-oriented product but obviously was quickly adopted by businesses and now is a mainstream business platform in addition to being a consumer platform.
Right. And of course, you’ve got a lot of people, because they’re moving from working from home, to working on the road, to working in the office — something like Dropbox, which of course is totally cloud based, it’s very useful for that environment, because it does mean that the files are accessible everywhere.
Yeah, it’s interesting. If you think about the core computing model that we have today, it’s really, for better or worse, centered around this piece of plastic and all your stuff living encased in this physical box that either lives under your desk or on your lap. And of course, that stands in contrast to how we really work, which tends to be across lots of different kinds of devices — whether that’s a computer at home, a computer at work, an iPhone, maybe an iPad in the future, a Blackberry device, whatever the case might be.
And equally as important, across different people; whether it’s something like you and I working on this conversation, to a creative services agency working on a marketing campaign, to a finance organization working on a budget. Whatever the case is, the idea of this multi-device, interpersonal computing is much closer to the natural mode of how people work today. And of course, the way that the fundamental desktop paradigm was built — and still largely operates — was before that model existed, when computing was a much more isolated experience.
So I think one of the reasons we’ve seen a lot of good response with Dropbox is because we’re able to transition the older world of traditional desktop computing with this newer, more multi-device, multi-person world that we all experience every day.
Of course, there is this nervousness that people still have of putting their data in the cloud. And I guess, partly because you know where your hard disk is; even if it’s less secure you’re going to notice if someone takes your hard disk, whereas in the cloud, you don’t know if the provider’s going to get hacked or your password has been stolen. And I know that you have quite a few users asking you for an on-premise option. How do you answer those issues from people?
Sure. And, as you mentioned at the beginning of the call, you and I have been in this business for a long time — and understandably security is at the top of the list of questions about, really, all forms of cloud computing, as it should be. And companies should have to demonstrate that they’re following best practices and providing a very secure environment. With Dropbox, we’re able to provide encryption both in-flight and — or, in transit and — at rest in our servers. And obviously, all the other different kinds of security technologies involved.
So we think we can deliver a great security solution for companies of all sizes. And when you look at the entire feature set that Dropbox provides — in terms of the collaboration features; in terms of really being able to synchronize across your devices completely transparently, without having to change how you work; being universally accessible; being able to automatically store changes and revision history on all of your documents. There’s a lot of technology that goes into that, and our physical infrastructure today spans hundreds of servers.
So while I certainly understand the inclination to want an on-premise solution at times, I think people quickly realize that doing so would mean giving up a lot of the functionality and benefits that a service provides. Because in order to think about deploying a solution like Gmail, or Salesforce, or Dropbox on-premise, you’d probably need to employ, at a minimum, tens of people and hundreds of machines, in order to get that into operation with the features that you’ve become accustomed to.
More importantly, frankly, I don’t think that people are really interested in owning and operating their own infrastructure. I think they want to get out of that business. But I think they understandably want assurances that their data is going to be safer in the hands of a third party service than it would be, even operated within their own data centers — which I absolutely think is a value proposition that the cloud computing companies can provide.
Well yes, and actually, I said we feel more comfortable because we know whether our hard disks have been stolen. But actually these days, we’re all connected to the cloud, and you don’t necessarily know whether somebody has been able to use a phishing attack, or a hacking attack to get into your desktop, or your server. And you’re probably not encrypting your files anyway. So the chances are that a document stored on Dropbox is actually safer than a document stored on a typical home or small business server.
It’s an important point and this is something that I would advise IT professionals to take a look at. Cloud services, again, are rightfully being very closely scrutinized. But if you look at the recent attacks, the ones that we’ve learned about, the ones that have potentially national security implementations, the vectors of those attacks tend not to be on the server; they tend to be the client. And again, you talk about things like phishing, or whaling, those other kinds of activities, which are all client-targeted activities as well.
So if I were an IT professional, I’d want to make sure that, working in an enterprise, I’d want to make sure that I’m applying at least equal if not more scrutiny to what’s going on on the desktop as I am to what’s going on in the cloud. And I do fear that there’s been perhaps an unbalanced level of attention placed on the cloud, when again we’ve seen so much activity and vulnerability on the desktop itself. So that’s just a little aside, but I think it’s an interesting trend in what’s happening in computer security in general.
Okay. Adam, one other thing I need to ask you before we close is, I know that at Salesforce you were very much marketing to developers in ISVs and enterprises, and a lot of Dropbox users have been asking for an enterprise version. Is the fact that you’ve been hired at Dropbox perhaps a clue that that’s in the pipeline?
Well, the reality is we already have many, many business and enterprise users using Dropbox today. And we have a lot of really exciting stuff that we’re coming out with that’ll be very consumer focused, and we have a lot of really exciting stuff that we’re coming out with that’ll be business focused and enterprise focused. So we’re going to continue to interface across all aspects of the service.