Box It Up

28 02 2011

Why does it seem like all the really hot tech start-ups are by college drop-outs? Bill Gates and Microsoft. Sergey Brin and Larry Page with Google. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And now Aaron Levie with Box.net.

Yeah, it just makes my job that much harder. I try to convince my students to stay in school, that they will regret their decision many years later. The temptation of success can be hard to shrug off. Heck, in the late-90s, one of my Marketing students dropped out in his junior year to join the pro rodeo circuit. He never looked back. Last year he earned more money than I will in 4 or 5 years. And I doubt he knows what a desk is.

So listen up kiddies…we profs may not always have all the right answers. We just think we do.

It’s difficult for these budding superstars when they know, deep inside, that they have a business idea that must be done right now. It is hard to rationalize another year or two of schooling when destiny is calling. Of course, if all students had the ambitions and skills of Gates, et al, we may as well close up shop and go home. These wunderkinds are but a small subset, but they are a powerful one. But they are rare.

In the case of Levie, he has now raised $80 million to build Box.net, an online secure file storage and sharing site.

And everyone in the know immediately chimed in, “Hey, that’s just cloud computing!”

Exactly. I have been preaching about cloud computing for a few years now, telling my students that this is something we are all going to embrace in a big way. We have already bought into the idea when we use online photo storage sites. We already do it with Google Docs, albeit at a fairly simple level. And for Apple devotees, for $99 a year there’s MobileMe doing the same thing.

But Box.net is better in that it has complete Office functionality, and is free for users storing less than 5GB. Download the apps and you have access via smartphones and iPads. Plug in a projector, and that iPad becomes your presentation tool for the next big meeting.

Of course, there isn’s a whole lot of money in free. Box.net is banking on selling its storage services as enterprise solutions in the corporate realm. And while alarmists will raise the security flag over this, consider that it is probably riskier trying to keep your own server farms secure than it is to outsource it.

Cloud computing is finally starting to gain traction in academia as well. At WT, all office computers will be replaced over a few years with a small device made by Wyse. Peripherals will connect by standard cable or wirelessly, but there will be no on-board hard drive. Everything will be stored on the university servers. Personal files and applications can be accessed from anywhere on the network.

While this is still only an internal cloud, it is a big move in the direction of true cloud computing. I can see us one day moving to an off-premise solution. We are already doing it in my department with our Qualtrics account; all of our survey research and data are stored on the Qualtrics site.

Tablet devices and also the MacBook Air are designed to leverage the cloud. I love the idea of my backpack getting thinner and thinner. Books, CDs and DVDs are gone. Now I can get rid of external hard drives. Losing weight has never been easier.

And if any of my students are gestating The Next Big Thing, I strongly advise you to seek the wise counsel of your Marketing professor. Maybe…um…you need a partner in this enterprise?

Dr “Still In My First Rodeo” Gerlich


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