Cloud collaboration battle in full swing

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If you had any doubt that the battle for content management, file sharing and collaboration supremacy is going to take place in the cloud moving forward, two recent announcements should have driven it home.

First of all, we had Marc Benioff telling a stunned Michael Arrington (and he's not easy to stun) at TechCrunch Disrupt that Salesforce.com was going to be releasing a Box competitor called Chatterbox. While details were few, just the fact that Benioff was willing to go after a company he had previously supported and funded was news in itself.

This week, we had Box counter-punching with an interestingly timed announcement of a new edge network functionality designed to dramatically increase the speed of uploading files to Box. Box is putting the rest of the industry on notice here, that it is not sitting still while others climb on board on the file sharing and collaboration bandwagon.

And let's not forget that EMC announced last spring it was buying file syncing service Syncplicity precisely so that it could move its content management strategy into the cloud or Microsoft's purchase of Yammer in June to enhance its cloud collaboration chops in SharePoint. It all goes to show that if you're in the cloud, file syncing and sharing is as Box CEO Aaron Levie put it, "table stakes," for this game.

Say what you will about Box, and it's certainly still lacking in some key areas of enterprise content management, but it is also acting as a catalyst for change across this industry. Salesforce.com proved that you could put enterprise applications into the cloud and customers would use a cloud-based service for critical enterprise content. Benioff and his company have in fact nurtured Box like a cherished younger sibling, but now Salesforce recognizes what is obvious to Levie, that having file sharing is an essential ingredient for cloud collaboration.

While it's easy to think of SFDC as a one trick pony, it's much more than CRM. It has all of the components of a cloud platform including its platform piece, Force.com, its database piece, Data.com and its collaboration/enterprise social piece, Chatter. All of these work in tandem to give Salesforce customers a complete solution on which they can build Salesforce applications (and who knows what else SFDC has up its sleeve this week at its Dreamforce conference).

SFDC holds the place of the cloud standard bearer here, but it doesn't mean that competitors will stand by and reverently cede this area to them. In fact, Levie pointed out in our article last week that SFDC apps tend to be great inside SFDC, but not so much outside of them--and as much as Levie has a dog in this fight, he's right about that.

Jeff Shultz, CMO for EMC Syncplicity agreed, writing in the Syncplicity blog, "The news that Salesforce.com will be getting into the file sharing business comes as no surprise--of course Marc Benioff and team know that their users need access to their files from their preferred applications … The real opportunity is providing users access to all their files on all their devices, regardless of where those files were first created and where they live."

What we have here is a full-blown collaboration and file-sharing brawl. The benches have emptied, the gloves are off and punches are flying. And it's happening because everyone recognizes the value of being able to access content from any device--and to share with colleagues from anywhere. As this functionality becomes commoditized though, the real value-added services will emerge as companies like Box try to pull ahead of the competition.

The cloud-mobile-social connection has come of age right before our eyes, and the key players recognize what has been painfully obvious to any of us who have watched this space: If your platform or solution doesn't include the ability to collaborate and share files in the cloud and across a variety of mobile devices, don't bother showing up because you're already D.O.A.  - Ron