Aaron Levie
Image: TechCrunch

Would you pay 1,000% more for Box?

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol Cloud, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This week: sticker shock on campus, a more secure way to build the systems software of the future, and new CNCF General Manager Priyanka Sharma on why the people you work with are more important than the company you work for.

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The Big Story

Box and none

When the fabled college basketball institution Indiana University received the proposed new terms for its unlimited storage contract with Box last December, Dan Calarco called time out.

Box was proposing a 1,000% price increase over the next three years according to Calaraco, chief of staff for IU's Office of Information Technology, who described his shock in a blog post earlier this month.

  • "...we were put between a rock and a hard place: undertake a very disruptive move or pay a price that would likely make Box the most expensive single piece of software at IU," Calarco wrote.
  • In an interview with Protocol, Calarco said the university had no choice but to start preparing immediately for a move away from Box's storage services, which students and faculty otherwise liked.
  • Google and Microsoft, which had existing relationships with the university, were the beneficiaries of Indiana's decision to start moving university data out of Box and onto the other platforms before the existing contract expired in 2021, which is no small feat.

Tech companies have long valued educational customers, both as a way of supporting important institutions and introducing future customers to their products. But according to Calarco and several other university IT professionals, Box proposed similar pricing increases to several other institutions of higher learning on unlimited contracts.

  • Box CEO Aaron Levie told Protocol that the company has around 1,700 educational customers, and last year proposed new pricing terms to "less than 3%" of those customers. The demand for unlimited storage among that 3% had become too expensive for Box to provide, he said.
  • "We got some pretty helpful feedback from the community that the pricing [increases] didn't meet the mark," Levie said.
  • Box was able to figure out a way to "renegotiate with our underlying infrastructure suppliers" and present new pricing terms to university customers earlier this year.
  • But it was too late for Indiana: The university had already contracted with a data migration service and in any event, while the new pricing terms were more attractive they still introduced a cap on storage usage, Calarco said.

It's a little hard to understand what Box could have expected from customers presented with a 1,000% increase in the price of storage services.

  • Box was a cloud file-storage pioneer when it arrived 15 years ago, but many of its capabilities are table stakes in 2020.
  • Most companies and organizations have existing relationships with Microsoft and/or Google for office productivity software, and the cloud units of both companies — flush with cash — are happy to accommodate aggressive storage pricing terms for strategic customers like colleges and universities.
  • And the pandemic has forced state colleges and universities to take an even closer look at their IT spending, given the budget hit that states across the country are expected to take thanks to the economic slowdown.

This is a pivotal year for Box, after it agreed in March to add three new board members controlled by activist investor Starboard Value. As of Tuesday, its stock is trading below the closing price the day of its 2015 IPO, and there are troubling signs of further challenges to come.

  • A recent survey conducted by JP Morgan found that CIOs expect to decrease their spending with Box by 10% in 2020; only IBM ranked lower.
  • And Calarco highlighted a more existential problem for Box, which is one of the biggest proponents of the "best of breed" philosophy of enterprise software that has carried the market for more than a decade.
  • "In terms of [the] bigger picture, UITS has long pursued a best-in-breed approach to software," he wrote. "As we face increased cost pressures, UITS will focus more on platforms rather than products."



Organizations today are at a crossroads in their digital transformation efforts. According to IDC, 72% of applications remain outside of the public cloud.

HPE announced the launch of new cloud services from HPE GreenLake yesterday, which brings the speed and agility of cloud to your apps and data everywhere — to the edge, a colocation, or the data center.

This Week in Protocol

Rust never sleeps: What if the easiest way to write secure software is to build it with tools that prevent you from making the most common mistakes? Earlier this week I took a look at Rust, a relatively new programming language that is winning a lot of converts when it comes to revamping older systems software for the cloud.

Welcome service managers: The same large enterprises that are moving more of their key software into the cloud often need help running and managing the tools needed to make that transition. HashiCorp, a fast-rising cloud infrastructure startup, announced plans this week to provide fully-managed versions of its four flagship tools across AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Helping the government: The pandemic has exposed many shortcomings in the modern world, including shockingly antiquated systems that run lots of government services. A company called Fearless is trying to build better dashboards for government websites as well as help develop the next generation of civic-tech startups that might finally solve these problems, its CEO told Protocol's Shakeel Hashim.

Five Questions For...

CNCF General Manager Priyanka Sharma

What was your first tech job?

My first tech job was also my first full time job. I was hired as a [business development]/partnerships rep for AdSense at Google.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting their first tech job?

Don't always believe all the hype. One of the best professional experiences I had was at a company with a mediocre-at-best public reputation, but it was actually a nurturing and supportive environment. It often comes down to the specific people you work with in each case.

Mac or PC?

Mac, all day any day. I saw my first Mac when I arrived at Stanford on a scholarship from small town India. I had never seen one before and immediately fell in love. I've never looked back.

What was the biggest reason for the success of cloud computing over the past decade?

Power in the hands of developers. Amazon put compute in the hands of the creators and, lo and behold, our world has changed forever.

What will be the biggest challenge for cloud computing over the coming decade?

Cloud computing has become mission critical to our lives now because many key technologies rely on it. Greater reliability, offering innovation with new product offering, and at the same time fostering a startup ecosystem will be very important for the entire cloud computing landscape.

Around the Cloud



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