ownCloud’s execs Markus Rex and Matt Richards recognise the importance Dropbox has had in redefining data access in producing an easy-to-use user ‘really cool’ experience and believe it is in the consumer space to stay. However it can be a nightmare from an IT admin point of view as the application is tied to a personal account outside the control of the IT department. Their company proposes an alternative – a sync and share application under the control of an organisation’s IT department.

ownCloud.org was started in 2010 and remains an active Open Source project: it currently has over 45 contributors and more than 400k users and is distributed in openSUSE and available as packages for both Ubuntu and Fedora Linux distributions. It is available free of cost under an Affero General Public License AGPL.)

ownCloud.com is a business started in December 2011, headquartered in Boston with an office in Nuremberg, Germany. It has launched Business and Enterprise Editions of ownCloud which include:

  • Additional software for mobile clients (downloadable from appstores and its Enterprise appstore respectively)
  • Support (by email and helpdesk)
  • Its own certified updates and maintenance

Client operating systems supported include Linux, Windows and Mac OS, Android and iOS mobile clients. It reports that it has had to handle development on Apple’s closed source iOS differently from the other operating systems.

It limits the number of supported users to 50 in the Business Edition, which it sees as a starter pack for small businesses or departments in large organisations: while it supports an unlimited number of users as part of the Enterprise Edition, which is targeted at Enterprises and Service Providers. The latter version will also include a management console (expected in May) and extensions of support to 24×7 and High Availability if required: its users also need an ownCloud commercial license in addition to the AGPL for Community and Business Editions.

Its competitors include Dropbox, SugarSync, Citrix ShareFile, Wuala, Accellion, Box, Egnyte and Oxygen Cloud – all of which offer less in terms of control or security in its opinion. It is also insistent that sync and share is an application in its own right – different to the data backup market, which is the basis of many competitive products.

Making money from Open Source software can be difficult – it can be argued that it was behind Sun’s decline. While software development costs can be far lower, competition from others can be greater due to the lower barriers to entry. Moving to open source can be almost impossible for established software companies who need to try to balance the very different new and old revenue models. However it is possible to succeed – Red Hat for instance is now a billion dollar company. In ownCloud’s case it is helped by the active participation of its CTO Frank Karlitschek who began the Open Source project. It is also in a favourable position to add its own commercial code.

There is an on going battle between freedom and responsibility – between the cool experiences of consumer IT and the need to secure organisational data and make it compliant. The younger generation, armed with smart phones, tablets and broad experience of using social media applications often get frustrated when they discover the restrictions of corporate IT – some may even choose to avoid working for the most archaic. On the other hand personal applications such as Gmail and Apple accounts can be a nightmare for IT management. Dropbox itself is too new to be considered a major offender, but there are security and control issues for IT policies in a somewhat similar way to the ones IBM has been addressing in the FTP market for some time. Therefore it looks as if ownCloud may be on to a good thing.

Image Credit: nomato

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