A great service that has plenty of third-party integrations and wonderful customer service, Box Business is kept from the top spot due to its slow speeds.
By Joseph Gildred – Last Updated: 09 Oct'17
For business users, there’s little question that Box ranks as one of the best EFSS platforms available today. With its focus more on businesses rather than individual users, Box claims 59 percent of the Fortune 500 as its clients, in addition to over 59,000 businesses overall.
During this Box review, Cloudwards.net decided to take a long peek under the hood to not only see if Box lives up to its reputation, but what that means for SMB clients.
Stick with us below as we strip down Box to its bare essentials and discuss aspects of cost, user experience, file sharing, sync, security and support.
- Unlimited storage plan
- Great application integrations
- Office Online & Google Docs
- Strong security
- 24/7 support
- Excellent user management
- Low-cost $5 option
- No block-level sync
- No annual discount
- 5GB file upload max
Finding the best cloud storage tool for your business is as much about the features as the cost and space. That’s because competition in the EFSS market is such that there’s quite a bit of parity when it comes to price tag and storage allotment, but not when it comes to features.
We’ll touch on some of the specifics throughout this article. For now, though, here’s a quick overview of what you’ll get with a Box Business.
|Device synchronizationConnect multiple devices to the cloud to access the same content in near-real time.|
|Selective syncTurn off file sync for some content to save hard drive space.|
|Block-level syncSpeeds up file sync by only replacing changed parts of files rather than entire file.|
|Shared FoldersCreated shared folders for collaborators to work from.|
|File linkingGenerate a URL link pointing to a file to share with coworkers or others.|
|File versioningRevert to previous file state to undo unwanted changes.||10|
|Max file sizeSingle file size cap for unloading to cloud storage.||4 GB|
|Microsoft Office IntegrationCo-edit Office files in realtime from directly within cloud storage platform.|
|Google Docs IntegrationCo-edit Google Docs files in near real-time directly within cloud storage platform.|
|Third-party app integration libraryIntegrate supported free and paid third-party apps into your cloud storage.|
|Monitor user activityAudit activity like file edits, folder creation and content shares.|
|Set user rolesGiven users roles that define what they can and can't do on your storage account.|
|Create user groupsSetup collaborative teams with access to specific folders.|
|At-rest encryptionFile content is encrypted while stored in the data center.||AES-256|
|In-transit encryptionFiles are shielded in transit between device and datacenter using TLS/SSL to prevent eavesdropping attacks.|
|End-to-end encryption integrationIntegrate with apps like Boxcryptor to provide end-to-end encryption of your files.|
|Two-factor authenticationRequire a special code (sent via text) to login from an unfamiliar device.|
|Custom password requirementsDesign password requirements for you collaborators to lessen the impact of weak passwords.|
|Single-sign on (SSO) integrationLets users login with a set of credentials used by other, independent software systems to reduce the number of passwords required.||Requires Business Plus|
|Remote device wipeDelete synced content on lost or stolen devices.|
|Live ChatTalk with tech support online.|
|Telephone supportTalk with tech support online.|
|User forumShare ideas and solutions with other business users.|
|24/7 supportGet technical support whenever you need it.|
Missing features include native productivity tools and block-level sync, which we’ll discuss more a bit later.
Box currently has three plans designed for SMBs: Starter, Business and Business Plus.
Box Starter runs $10 per month per user cheaper than Box Business and Business Plus but it also caps you at 100GB of cloud storage. Box Business and Business Plus give you unlimited storage. The $15 price tag for unlimited storage is $5 less than Dropbox Business Advanced.
The difference between Business and Business Plus is that Plus gives you a few additional perks, most notably single sign-on (SSO) integration, unlimited external collaborators and access to Box KeySafe.
Box doesn’t offer discounts for annual signups. The only option is month-to-month billing. Before you decide to migrate your team to Box, though, you can test either business plan with 15-day free trial. Alternatively, you can get a Box Personal plan with 10GB for free.
There’s also a Box Enterprise plan but until your business gets listed on the NASDAQ you probably won’t need it. If you do, you’ll need to call Box for a quote.
Box has desktop clients for Windows and Mac and mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry. That means your team can usually use their preferred devices and still collaborate with one another. Linux users, though, are left out of the equation. If that’s a concern, you may want to consider Dropbox for Business instead.
Downloading the desktop client creates a sync folder on your file system. Any objects kept in this folder are stored both on your hard drive and in the cloud, which enables device synchronization. We’ll look at how well Box handles syncing when we discuss collaboration in the next section.
While the sync folder is an integral mechanism, much the Box experience takes place online, in its browser interface.
The general user experience is pretty straightforward. If you’ve used Dropbox Business, OneDrive for Business or pretty much any other cloud storage tool, it will all seem very familiar. If you haven’t, the layout is intuitive enough that getting up to speed shouldn’t be a problem.
Box Business also lets you tweak the browser experience to include a custom URL, logo and color scheme of your choice. Nothing boosts morale like the team colors.
The Box mobile app is also user-friendly and lets you access your business content while relaxing on the beach.
Overall, the Box user experience is smooth enough that it shouldn’t detract any SMB owner from considering it for their team.
User management controls let you configure your team so the right people have access to the right content and collaborations don’t get out of control. Box really shines here, though not quite as much as Citrix ShareFile.
When adding a user to your Box account, you can edit how much of your total storage that user can access and restrict them from deleting, editing or uploading content.
Other permission settings include:
- Shared contacts: let the user see other Box users
- Enable sync: let user sync cloud files to their desktop
- Device pinning: let user add Box to unlimited devices
- Restrict external collaboration: prevent user from collaborating with non-team members
You can also pick what folders users have access to. When assigning folder access, you can assign one of seven different access levels:
- Co-owner: Can do anything including all admin tasks
- Editor: Can do everything except restrict invitations
- Viewer Uploader: Basic user with upload capabilities
- Previewer Uploader: Limited user with upload capabilities
- Viewer: Basic user without upload capabilities
- Previewer: Limited user without upload capabilities
- Uploader: Can upload content and create subfolders
While inviting individual collaborators is easy enough, if you’ve got a dozen or more employees working with you, it can get pretty tedious. Box thankfully also lets you perform bulk invites.
Whether adding users, you can also assign them to a group. Groups let you more easily manage who in your business has access to what content. For example, you could create a group called “graphic design” for your graphic designers or “management” for your leadership team.
When you create groups, you can set group permissions, add members and assign (or create) folders accessible to the group.
Once created, within the group members can have either “admin” or “member” permissions. By making a user a group administrator, they can manage access to folders tied to the group and monitor group member activity.
Licensed users can share folder and files with other licensed users without restriction. With the appropriate permissions set, they can also share content with users outside of your organization.
Just click the “shared” button associated with any object to send an email invite. Or, create a link pointing to your content instead. Anyone with that link can view and download your files.
Generally, creating content links can be dangerous for your business because it can be hard to track who has access to that link and what links have been created.
With Box, you can limit the potential for unauthorized access by password-protecting links and assigning expiry dates to them. Both are critical content control features that many cloud storage services, including OneDrive and Google Drive, overlook.
One thing we wish that Box did like some other EFSS solutions is provide a separate page to audit links. Such views let you quickly scan to see what content has been shared.
We mentioned earlier that installing the Box client creates a special sync folder on your desktop. Here’s a what that looks like:
Any files put into this folder remain on your hard drive but also get sent to the cloud. Once in the cloud, these files then get sent to both your other synced devices and those of your collaborators in near real-time.
As businesses embrace mobility, many users today are moving to ultraportable laptops with slim solid-state drives (SSDs). Given that SSDs often run small (250-500GB) due to expense, storing all of your content both in the cloud and on your computer may not be feasible.
To help, Box incorporates a feature called selective sync that lets you turn off sync for some folders. From the Box browser, right-click on the folder to open the menu. Under “more actions,” select “unsync.”
Going forward, that folder won’t be stored on your hard drive. Of course, it also won’t be available offline. So, if you have any content that you’re actively worked on, you may want to keep it synced.
Sync speeds with Box compare well with other top EFSS tools on initial file uploads. However, when syncing existing files, Dropbox far outperforms Box.
The issue is that Box doesn’t incorporate block-level transfers while Dropbox does. Block-level transfers mean only the parts of the file that changed get transferred rather than replacing the entire file.
To further serve as a virtual workplace for businesses, many EFSS tools now integrate cloud storage space with productivity apps. In this segment, we’ll take a look at Box’s own efforts to move in this direction.
Unlike Microsoft and Google, Box doesn’t have a full suite of office tools developed in house. The only native productivity tool currently integrated with Box cloud storage is an application called Box Notes.
That said, Box Notes is pretty slick for a note-taking application. It’s not quite as advanced as the best note-taking apps like Evernote, but it does compare favorably with entries like OneNote and Google Keep.
You can use it to take notes during meetings, gather thoughts and discuss files with your peers. Useful features include the ability to insert pictures and tables.
Box makes up for limited native apps with a nice selection third-party apps. Headlining these are Office 365 and Google Docs. While Office 365 requires a subscription, Google Docs is completely free.
You can create a new Office or Docs file while logged into the Box browser interface by clicking the “new” button and then choosing the type of document you want to create.
Besides Office and Google Docs, you can tie additional third-party apps to your storage space by clicking on your name in the upper-righthand corner of the browser and selecting “apps.” This will redirect you to an app library where you can find tools by app category or search.
App categories include:
- Project Management
- Content Management
There are far too many software integrations available with Box to list them all, but a few that stick out are Asana, Salesforce, DocuSign, Slack, Trello and ShareVault.
The Box team has gone to great lengths to ensure your intellectual property remains safe while stored in the cloud, which you’d expect of a service that specializes in business customers.
Box takes the common approach using the TLS protocol to protect data moving between your device and the data center. This is called in-transit encryption. Box keeps your data encrypted while at rest, which means it’s scrambled while stored server side. The method of encryption is 256-bit AES, short for “advanced encryption standard.”
In-transit encryption is key because it helps frustrate MITM (man-in-the-middle attacks), which are basically a means of online eavesdropping. At-rest encryption protects your content against data breaches.
Box also uses key wrapping, which means not only is your content encrypted, but so is your encryption key. For this, Box also uses 256-bit AES.
You can also set up end-to-end encryption with Box, as it integrates with Boxcryptor. Single-sign-on (SSO) integration, which lets employees login into multiple business systems with the same credentials, is also available. Supported SSO options include OneLogin and Centrify.
Box lets users set up two-factor authentication to protect against weak passwords, too. Doing so forces them to enter a security code sent to their phone when logging into Box from an unfamiliar device. This limits the impact of weak passwords, essentially stymying both brute-force cracking and man-in-the-cloud attacks.
We also applaud the fact that Box lets you mandate custom password requirements for your users. That way, you can prevent them from creating weak passwords, which can have bad consequences for your business.
Box also supports device pinning, which lets you limit how many devices each user can sync. You can even check which devices are being used by your users. That way, you know exactly what devices have access to your cloud storage.
Unfortunately, unpinning a device only cuts live access to your cloud storage (i.e., future syncs). Any content on the device’s hard drive doesn’t get remote wiped, so this isn’t an effective means of protecting yourself in case of a lost or stolen device. Both Egnyte Connect and Dropbox Business offer remote device wipes if that’s a concern.
If you’re having trouble with any particular aspect of Box, you can generally find through the Box Community. Box Community provides access to troubleshooting and how-to guides, plus support articles and use-case studies, many written by fellow Box users.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, Box Community also houses user-support forums, like the troubleshooting forum and Box developer forum. Running problems by fellow business users is great way of crowd sourcing creative ideas.
In addition to a very good community support page, Box also offers two live channels with chat and telephone options.
The chat option is perfect for users who hate hashing things out over the phone. For those who are pretty tech savvy already, it’s often easier to communicate in a few lines of text than it is troubleshooting over the phone. Unfortunately, live chat is only available during business hours.
Telephone support, however, is available 24/7. Rather than calling yourself, you’re asked to leave your number with Box and someone will call you back.
If you’d rather not deal with a live person at all, you have the option of submitting a helpdesk ticket. Help desk tickets are answered 24/7 with response times for urgent issues under two hours for business users.
Box doesn’t have the user base of Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive. That said, the fact that it integrates with both Office 365 and Google Docs is a big plus in its favor. The rest of the Box third-party library adds to the tool’s overall utility in ways that most EFSS solutions can’t touch.
We also like the fact that Box has an affordable 100GB Starter plan, making it a great solution for businesses that only need a small amount of online storage. Other pluses include password protection for link shares, selective sync and solid security features.
Maybe where Box shines most, though, is with its user management features, which allow for diverse user role customization.
The only real drawback with Box is that sync doesn’t run quite as fast as with Dropbox or Egnyte due to no block-level sync. Otherwise, Box is an excellent tool that’s definitely worth at least a trial run before you decide to go in another direction.
That’s our take, anyway. We’re always interested in hearing about user experiences with the services we review, too. So teach us something new in the comments below and thanks for reading.