I love Dropbox. It has been part of my backup strategy for a long time, but my increasing use of mobile devices and tablets has made it absolutely invaluable. All the documents and files I use on my main computer are constantly  synchronised – seamlessly, painlessly, and effectively invisibly – with Dropbox, making them easily accessible when I’m on the move. I can use my iPhone or iPad, or I can borrow a web browser on someone else’s computer and get at the files over the web. (Very) occasionally, I also send people Dropbox urls for specific files, which is far less hassle than mailing big attachments around.

For individuals, or for small businesses like mine, this sort of approach is perfectly adequate… and extremely good value for money.

As your organisation grows, and as their needs become more complex, the simplicity of solutions such as Dropbox becomes somewhat less compelling.

Individual users still want seamless, simple, access to their data via any of their devices. Collaboration becomes more important, moving from my occasional sharing of the odd file to full-blown cooperative creation of presentations, papers, and the rest. The CIO and the systems team worry about all those annoying little details that typically infuriate any user who has the misfortune to consider them; security, permissions, access control, backup, audit trails, effective utilisation of on- and off-premise compute resources, etc, etc, etc.

It’s here that California’s Oxygen Cloud seeks to make its mark, delivering users the simplicity of Dropbox (and some added features) whilst hopefully keeping the CIO happy.

(image © 2010 Oxygen Cloud Inc)

Last night I spoke with Oxygen Cloud CEO, Peter Chang, ahead of today’s news about their new collaboration with EMC Atmos. As well as allowing users to store data in public Cloud offerings such as Amazon, Oxygen Cloud offers users exactly the same interface to files stored in corporate data centres using drobo and – today – Atmos. It doesn’t matter to the user whether the data are stored locally or remotely, and it doesn’t matter if their employer shifts the public cloud storage contract from S3 to Rackspace; they just keep accessing their files using the native file management user interface of whichever device they happen to be on at the time. This is potentially compelling, and makes it far easier for an organisation to roll out cloud storage features without having to invest in training for users.

Oxygen is currently in beta, but Chang suggests that pricing will begin with a monthly per-user subscription. Oxygen will also take care of passing along the billing for any storage you use with the various storage providers, delivering the simplicity of a single bill. New users will be able to sign up by simply entering their corporate email address – assuming that their employer already has an account with Oxygen.

Assuming, as we tend to, that a lot of Cloud adoption is bottom up rather than top down, there may be some work to do in making it easy for small teams to push for adoption of Oxygen within their organisation. How do they transition the S3 account that they sneak past Finance on the company credit card each month, and turn it into an Oxygen service sitting in front of S3 and Rackspace? How do they then cajole a friendly sysadmin into letting them at some space on the inhouse Atmos box? In an earlier conversation with my upside-down friend Ben Kepes, Chang appeared to suggest that

“the IT department of an end user signing up for OxygenCloud would be reached out to by the company”

Personally, I can’t think of a quicker way to get myself hauled in front of CIO, CFO, and any other CxO who happened to be free. “You put our data where? You used the company credit card for what? You spent how much? You signed us up for how long?” The list of potential transgressions is long, and the incentive to rock the boat is very, very small. There is still a don’t ask, don’t tell aspect to Cloud adoption in many enterprises. The last thing that early adopters need is a sales call from Oxygen to get them in trouble.

That aside, Oxygen Cloud is an interesting proposition for companies of various sizes, and I look forward to seeing how potential customers respond.