Dropbox Business Review
An excellent service that doesn't quite manage the number 1 spot, Dropbox Business is a good EFSS for most SMBs
By Joseph Gildred – Last Updated: 08 Oct'17
With an established name as an enticing hook, Dropbox Business is often the first EFSS platform SMB owners look to when deciding to bring their content collaborations into cloud. And, thanks to its blend of simplicity, speed and a knack for feature design, it’s often the only platform they look at; we can’t blame them, it’s one of the best EFSS providers on the market.
There’s no question Dropbox has set many trends in both device syncing and file sharing.
The Business subscription also has some great options for third-party integrations to boost productivity. Also, despite a highly publicized breach that saw 68 million accounts compromised, Dropbox Business provides strong security features that should keep your content safe so long as you take advantage of them.
That said, we’ve yet to evaluate a perfect cloud tool here at Cloudwards.net. Stick with us for our Dropbox Business review to find where the platform shines and where it could use a little more work.
If you’re looking for a personal Dropbox plan, don’t forget to check out our Dropbox Plus review, which is a different animal all together.
- Fast block-level sync
- Good file-sharing features
- Strong application integrations
- User-friendly experience
- Good security options
- Limited role customization
- Limited reporting features
- No 24/7 live support
When it comes to capabilities, Dropbox Business covers most of what we like to see in an EFSS solution. The following table outlines some of its most important features.
|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.|
|Max file sizeSingle file size cap for unloading to cloud storage.||20 GB|
|Microsoft Office IntegrationCo-edit Office files in realtime from directly within cloud storage platform.||Requires Office 365|
|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.||Limited|
|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.||On Advanced plan|
|Remote device wipeDelete synced content on lost or stolen devices.|
|Live ChatTalk with tech support online.|
|Telephone supportTalk with tech support online.||On Advanced plan|
|User forumShare ideas and solutions with other business users.|
|24/7 supportGet technical support whenever you need it.||Enterprise only|
We’ll explore many of these features in detail as we progress in this review, including talking about Dropbox’s cutting-edge approach to sync. We’ll also point out a few missing where appropriate, so be sure to read on.
Dropbox Business plans charge per user and require a minimum of three users. There are two options for SMBs, standard and advanced, both with monthly and annual subscriptions available.
$ 15 00monthly
$ 150 00yearly
$ 25 00monthly
$ 240 00yearly
Total Storage: 2TB
Total Storage: unlimited
Note that the 2TB of storage you get with Dropbox Business is shared space. That’s generally how most EFSS platforms work, with a notable exception in OneDrive (read our OneDrive for Business review for more on this).
That said, users can sign up for personal Dropbox accounts, too, and get 2GB of free personal storage. If you’d like to give Dropbox Business a trial run before committing, you can try it out for 30 days first like we did.
Dropbox wrote the book how cloud storage works today. So the good news is that if you’re used to using services like Google Drive or OneDrive, the Dropbox experience should be instantly familiar.
Dropbox desktop applications are available for both Windows and Mac. As Linux fans, we love that both Ubuntu and Fedora are also supported.
When you install the desktop client, a special cloud-connected folder gets added to your file system. This “sync folder” happens to be the linchpin of the entire EFSS experience. While the concept, which was dreamed up by Dropbox founder Drew Houston in 2008 because he couldn’t keep track of his thumb drives, is almost laughably simple, there’s still a bit to talk about when it comes to sync features. We’ll cover those in the sync subsection, below.
In addition to the Dropbox sync folder, you can login to the Dropbox web application to access your files. In part, this is so that you don’t have to download a client to get to one file, which would both be a hassle and security concern if it wasn’t your computer.
The client is also where you’ll go to manage your Dropbox Business account, including managing users, which we’ll touch on shortly. Dropbox is known for simplicity and its web interface reflects that.
Content navigation is intuitive, the menu options are well organized, the color scheme doesn’t leave you cross-eyed and familiar options like file drag-and-drop simplify the experience.
If you’re on the move, you can access content from your smartphone or tablet, too. Supported platforms include Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
Regardless of channel, the Dropbox user experience is pretty fluid. For a business owner, that’s a big plus. Less time spent trying to figure out where your files are and how to add users means more time spent on doing what you’re business is geared toward.
As the account owner, you can manage your team from an admin console found in Dropbox web application. The console is where you’ll go to add licences, invite collaborators, create groups and manage various other settings.
The admin console includes a dashboard to monitor account usage. There’s also an activity tab that will let you create custom reports based on a variety of factors, including logins, file shares, file edits and device syncs.
You can grant users admin privileges, although advanced customization of those privileges requires a Dropbox Business Advanced or Enterprise account. Otherwise, user permissions are managed at the folder level, where you can grant either view or edit access.
Overall, the role customization options, with Dropbox Business Standard at least, are relatively sparse compared with some tools. Read about the best example of an EFSS tool that nails user role options in our Citrix Sharefile review.
Dropbox does let you create user groups, which lets you manage folder access for multiple people at once, reducing the amount of admin work you need to do. Again, though, the settings options available for groups are pretty limited when compared to a handful of other services.
IBM Connections comes immediately to mind, a socialized EFSS platform that lets you create user communities complete with status updates and team wikis.
When you sign up for Dropbox Business, a central “team folder” is created that all of your added employees will have access to. Within this folder, you can can create subfolders, which can be made accessible to individuals or, as we just mentioned, groups.
While folders are the primary means of sharing content between collaborators, licensed users can also share both folders and files by creating a secure link pointing to them. Just click on the “share” button associated with any given object.
One of the nice aspects of link sharing with Dropbox are content control features that too many providers overlook. These include expiry dates to terminate links and link passwords.
Links can be restricted to team members or made accessible to anyone regardless of whether they have a Dropbox account or not. As the account admin, you can also prevent users from distributing content outside your business if working with sensitive intellectual property.
Dropbox also gives you access audit features for tracking shares. Via a “sharing” tab, you can easily track shared folders, files and generated links. Without this view, which many cloud storage tools don’t have, it would be very easy to lose sight of who has access to your content.
Device synchronization, or sync, means the same content can be accessed from different devices with content changes made on one showing in near real-time on the others. The central mechanism behind sync, as we mentioned, is what’s commonly called a sync folder.
A sync folder looks just like any other file system folder.
However, any file placed within this folder is stored both on your computer hard drive and on the cloud network.
Any change made to that file gets reflected in both locations as fast as Dropbox is able to transmit it over the Internet. By connecting multiple devices to the cloud in this way, you can hop from one device to another and work on the same content without having to handle the transfer yourself; same goes for your collaborators.
Dropbox & Block-Level Sync
Dropbox not only invented the common sync model in 2008, it continues to lead the way perfecting it today.
Initial file uploads to any EFSS server can be slow. We generally track speeds of around ten to 20 minutes for 500MB in file uploads ove WiFi. With Dropbox, though, subsequent file changes beyond the initial upload get synced much more quickly than most services.
That improved speed is thanks to some algorithmic maneuvering called block-level file transfers, also known as differential sync. With a block-level approach, only the changed portions of files get synced instead of replacing the entire file. This reduces the time it takes to reflect changes to a file to generally a few seconds.
Despite the obvious advantages, most of the competition hasn’t gotten on board with differential sync. In fact, Egnyte and OneDrive are the only two major players that come to mind, and the latter only differentially syncs Microsoft Office files. We often hear from fellow cloud users that services like Google Drive, Box and OneDrive are slow to sync and this oversight is one of the big reasons why.
As of January, 2017, Dropbox Business now offers “smart sync,” too. Smart sync lets you configure content so it’s only stored online, not on your hard drive, but is still still viewable through Windows File Explorer or macOS Finder. The space-saving capabilities of smart sync comes in especially useful if you’re stuck using one of the small solid-state drives common with ultraslim laptops.
Many other EFSS services offer a similar feature called “selective sync.” The difference is that with selective sync, you can’t see your online-only files in your sync folder.
Dropbox has its own work productivity app called Dropbox Paper. We’ve compared Google Drive vs Dropbox Paper in another article and found that it doesn’t quite work as well as its competitors. However, its minimalistic approach makes it great for collecting meeting notes or brainstorming with collaborators.
Whether it can win a place as your preferred note-taking space depends on your needs, plus whether or not you’ve already fallen under the spell that is Evernote or one of the many other best note-taking apps.
Beyond Paper, Dropbox doesn’t actually have any native productivity tools. Hopefully that will change given Dropbox’s knack for nailing user experience.
While Dropbox may not have the native apps that two of its closest competitors, Google and Microsoft, have, a broad range of third-party app integrations mostly makes up for that. In fact, one of those integrations is Microsoft Office.
Microsoft’s free Office Online platform is actually integrated by default with Dropbox for viewing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. However, you can only edit documents for free with a Dropbox Personal account. Editing Office files with Dropbox Business requires a Microsoft Office 365 subscription.
In addition to Office, Dropbox has many more third-party tools to pick from. You can search for all available options by visiting the Dropbox app integration page. Categories include communication (Slack), workflow (Trello, Asana), productivity (IFTTT), design (Airtable) and CRM (SalesForce), among others.
Dropbox does falls noticeably short with regard to work productivity tools compared to Google Drive. But then again, so does every other cloud storage provider. Google has the luxury of a competitive, vital developer community that has led to the creation hundreds of different tools designed to enhance content creation.
One the most common concerns we hear when talking to business owners is whether or not their content will be safe stored in the cloud. While some of this worry might be overstated, it’s always best to be safe and do your due diligence when picking online tools.
Dropbox, in fact, was the target of one of the most high profile data thefts on record in 2012. Since then, Dropbox has taken steps to ensure better security. For Dropbox Business users, the situation is much better than Dropbox Plus users.
When at rest on the Dropbox cloud, your file content is scrambled using 256-bit AES encryption.
That’s all good and as it should be. Your file metadata remains in plain text. Unfortunately, that’s the norm with most EFSS tools as metadata is used for indexing and speeding up the user experience.
To thwart data breaches and other security issues, including server failure and natural disasters, Dropbox also keeps its cloud network secured in what are called hardened data centers.
In addition to data breaches, there are two other common types of online crime that SMB should make themselves familiar with: ransomware attacks, in which stolen files are held hostage for a payout, and man-in-the-middle attacks, which are a type of in-transit eavesdropping. Dropbox protects you from ransomware with its versioning capabilities.
MITM attacks, meanwhile, are repelled with in-transit encryption that uses TLS protocol secured with 128-bit AES. Dropbox has two other security features that will appeal to business owners who require added assurance their content won’t fall into the wrong hands.
The first is two-factor authentication, something we can’t recommend enough that you enable. With two-factor authentication enabled, your employees will need to input special code in addition to their normal user credentials when they login from an unrecognized computer.
This code is sent via text and its goal is to prevent weak, crackable or stolen passwords from allowing authorized access to your cloud storage space.
Additionally, should a synced device be stolen, as the admin, Dropbox lets you perform a remote wipe of that device. Or, what the service terms a remote wipe: basically it severs the sync folder connection and deletes any content inside of it. Be warned that any business content the computer’s owner might have moved outside the sync folder will still be vulnerable.
For many SMB users, downtime and other technical issues means loss of income. So when making a service recommendation, we also like to spend some time making sure it’s backed by a strong support network.
Dropbox Business users find support by navigating to their admin console and clicking “help,” where they’ll find three options:
- Dropbox guide
- Contact your account team
The guide page actually has two different options: one for all business users (like team members) and one just for admins. Both resources are aimed mostly at new users and are pretty rudimentary.
The self-support site is more useful. There, you’ll find articles on topics like recovering deleted files and sync troubleshooting. The content is thorough but clear enough that you don’t need to be very technical to make use of it.
You can browse by category or run a search. You’ll also find access a user forum, which we always like to see because they’re a good avenue for crowdsourcing solutions rather than relying on one support technician. However, judging by past posts, it might be a week or more before you hear back from anyone.
If you don’t feel like perusing the self-support site or can’t find your answers there, Dropbox’s contact options should get you a response. Dropbox Business Standard users have both email and live chat touch points available. Dropbox Business Advanced users also get telephone support. Overall, the support businesses get is much better than that of personal users.
Both live chat and telephone support are only available during weekdays business hours. During those hours, you can generally get in contact with a support representative in short order.
Emails can get you 24/7 support but even as a business user, you can wait up to 12 hours for a response. Faster support, including telephone support, are available 24/7, but only if you’re an enterprise customer.
Dropbox Business isn’t perfect. But like we said earlier, no cloud storage service gets it all right. Despite a few flaws and the 2012 breach, the service continues to quickly add to its user base for good reason.
The user experience simple but at the same time offers plenty of features to both enhance and control collaborations. The biggest advantage Dropbox Business has, however, over every cloud storage tool we’ve tested, is its sync capability.
Others have copied the model but none quite approach true real-time collaboration like Dropbox. The recent addition of smart sync just makes the experience that much better.
The biggest weakness? At least compared to Google Drive, probably the service’s narrow productivity tool library. However, so long as you’re fine paying for an Office 365 subscription for your business, too, that shouldn’t be a big problem. We’d also like to see more customization options for both user roles and reports.
Of course, we’d love to hear from SMB owners and remote workers regarding their own thoughts and experiences with Dropbox Business and how it ranks compared to other EFSS solutions. So, let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!