IF YOU’RE Using Dropbox, then you are one of 500 million. It’s just a folder on your computer desktop that lets you easily store files on the Internet, synchronize them across your laptop, phone, and tablet, and send them to others. You use this Dropbox folder, then you forget it. Dropbox runs over a sweeping network of machines whose evolution epitomizes the forces that have transformed the heart of the Internet over the past decade. And today, this system entered a remarkable new stage of existence.
In cloud, Dropbox is showing why the cloud is so powerful. It too is building infrastructure so that others don’t have to.
For the first eight years of its life, you see, Dropbox stored billions and billions of files on behalf of those 500 million computer users. But, well, the San Francisco startup didn’t really store them on its own. Like so many other tech startups in recent years, Dropbox ran its online operation over what is commonly called “the Amazon cloud,” a hugely popular service run by, yes, that Amazon—the world’s largest online retailer. Amazon’s cloud computing service lets anyone build and operate software without setting up their own hardware. In short, those billions of files were stored on Amazon’s machines, rather than machines owned and operated by Dropbox.
But not anymore. Over the last two-and-a-half years, Dropbox built its own vast computer network and shifted its service onto a new breed of machines designed by its own engineers, all orchestrated by a software system built by its own programmers with a brand new programming language. Drawing on the experience of Silicon Valley veterans who erected similar technology inside Internet giants like Google and Facebook and Twitter, it has successfully moved about 90 percent of those files onto this new online empire.
Today, more and more companies are moving onto “the cloud”—not off. By 2020, according to Forrester, cloud computing will be a $191 billion market, with giants like Google and Microsoft challenging Amazon with their own cloud services.