Emerging reports suggest that Gen. David Petraeus, the ex-CIA director, may have used Dropbox or a similar cloud
system as one way to communicate with his mistress while avoiding an embarrassing e-mail trail.
In using cloud storage, he's far from alone: Cloud-minded consumers worldwide are expected to rise to a half-billion this year, up from fewer than 300 million last year, and the sector could grow to 1.3 billion customers by 2017, according to iSuppli Mobile and Wireless Communications Service.
And an early leader in the field is San Francisco-based Dropbox Inc., founded as a startup in 2007. Its founder and CEO, Drew Houston, boasted to The New York Times this week that subscriptions to Dropbox had quadrupled last year to the point that it now has 100 million users, or an astonishing 20 percent of the world's current subscriptions, if iSuppli's projection is correct.
Sky's the Limit
"Even 100 million is still at a single-dot percentage of the people we could reach," Houston said.
In addition to Dropbox, top names in the cloud storage industry are Apple's iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft's SkyDrive, Amazon, Box, Mozy and SugarSync. Cloud storage of music, photos or documents allow users to access files on numerous devices, and avoid creating multiple versions of the same document. They can also be a safe way to transfer documents -- or steamy love messages -- relatively risk-free (assuming the FBI isn't snooping around your computer.)
"Their biggest competition is likely SkyDrive, which comes with Windows 8 and is highly integrated into all of the current generation of Microsoft offerings," technology consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said of Dropbox.
"[SkyDrive] doesn't just start out as free, it makes all other on-line storage products redundant and it works against the Windows base," Enderle told us. "People will still likely pay for storage but the market opportunity for a fee-based solution becomes less and less viable as the free services become more capable and better integrated."
The trouble ahead for Dropbox, Enderle cautioned, is that it's a standalone service at a time when integration is on the rise.
Integration Is Key
"Whether it's SkyDrive for Microsoft, Google Drive for Google, or iDrive for Apple the market for a non-aligned product is quickly declining and Dropbox may find that its customers have moved to a solution from a platform owner as a result in a few short years," Enderle said.
Many services begin with a "freemium" service and charge for increasing amounts of storage for data hoarders who can't part with their James Bond movie collection or those class photos from the '80s and won't risk keeping them on a hard drive.
Dropbox is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Mobile. Its free plan allows for two gigabytes of storage. A Pro subscription begins at $9.99 a month for 100 GB, $19.99 for 200 GB, or $49.99 for 500 GB. Those who pay for the year in advance get a discount.
Dropbox for Teams begins at $795 per year, with an additional $125 per user, or $995 per year and $199 for additional users for Pro 200 service.