Box and Microsoft announced a new partnership this week. It's not the first time these crazy kids have hooked up, but it's certainly a curious and complicated relationship.This week's tête-à-tête was around Microsoft Azure. Box would be available on Azure, and Box customers could use Azure data centers around the world via Box Zones. In addition, Box will be using Azure artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to make its product smarter — and the company hints we should be hearing more about that in the coming months.
The two companies also connected around Office 365 in past announcements, which includes an online version of Microsoft's famous office suite, OneDrive, Microsoft's online storage solution, and the Microsoft Teams collaboration tool.
Box, in case you didn't notice also offers storage as part of its solution and it includes ways to collaborate around documents, which has always been at the core of the company's offerings. It offers a lot more than that these days to give a more complete online content management solution, but those two pieces are competing directly with Microsoft.
In fact, Box came of age by making fun of Microsoft on large billboards on Route 101 in California. CEO Aaron Levie used openly make fun of Redmond, but times change. Box is a public company now, and while much smaller with around a half billion in yearly revenue, the company is growing quickly and has established itself two years after its IPO.
It's a different game in the cloud
Box needs big partners today more than it needs a fall-guy, and in the world of the cloud, interoperability is a key differentiator. If you think back to the bad old days when companies like Microsoft ruled the enterprise, it was all about vendor lock-in. You wanted companies to buy your entire stack and lock them into that.
In that scenario, working with another company's software, much less a competitor, was far down the list of priorities. As long as you could sell IT on the idea you were good to go. That worked while IT was in power, but ten years ago the iPhone came out and not long after that the power began to shift to the user as they could provision apps themselves without help from IT.
A couple of years later, Box began nipping at Microsoft's heels and posting those pesky billboards. Fast forward to today and Box is looking for ways to expand its influence and its markets. Microsoft and other large partners like IBM give the company faster entree into large enterprises.
So even though the two companies may seem like strange bedfellows, they actually can gain a lot by being frenemies and working together to the extent possible. Customers want interoperability in today's cloud world — and Microsoft and Box want to give the people what they what they want.
As Chief Strategy Office Jeetu Patel put it, "Just because we compete in a few areas doesn’t mean we should stop innovating."
Photo: Bhupinder Nayyar on Flickr. Used under CC by 2.0 license.