Is Dropbox planning a P2P option? New patent suggests it's looking beyond the cloud

If marketed, the new technology could help address data-sovereignty issues

Dropbox has been granted a patent on a new peer-to-peer file-sharing technology that suggests it may be planning an alternative to its existing cloud-based service.

Designed to facilitate file sharing across devices without the need for content to go through its own cloud servers, the new technology promises faster download speeds, Dropbox said.

It can "eliminate bottlenecks, thereby increasing the speed" at which content items can be shared among individuals, Dropbox explained in U.S. Patent Application 20150358297. Cryptographic keys, meanwhile, add security and prevent conflicts during synchronization.

The patent was published last month but only came to light this week. Dropbox did not respond to a request for further detail.

Though the patent award doesn't mean that Dropbox will necessarily be able to turn the technology into a viable product, it does pave the way for a new service focusing on the transfer of large files, said T.J. Keitt, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.

That, in turn, could help Dropbox make headway with businesses that deal in massive file formats, such as media and entertainment firms or architecture firms that work with large CAD files.

"Dropbox could begin to push into the managed file-transfer space, as they're giving customers more control over where and how large content is distributed" -- all from a well-established interface, Keitt pointed out. "This could allow Dropbox to become a file-transfer standard in some of its well-established verticals."

A peer-to-peer service could also have implications for businesses wrestling with data-sovereignty issues following the death of the Safe Harbor agreement.

"It removes Dropbox's cloud from the conversation, allowing businesses to warehouse their content in places of their choosing," Keitt noted.

Of course, there are already other alternatives in that space, including BitTorrent Sync. So, Dropbox will have to demonstrate that its new P2P technology is not only competitive but also as reliable as its existing cloud-based offering.

"Before we make any pronouncements on whether this solves the data-sovereignty question, I'll want to see how they plan to implement this technology within their offering," Keitt said.

Dropbox also recently announced that it's planning to add new data-storage sites in Europe this year.

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