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February 21, 2013

Technology Corner

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Cloud convenience and collaboration

Pitt now offers Box as an enterprise-supported online service for file storage and collaboration.

Box is a “cloud” service that lets you store, share and sync files. You’ll be able to access stored files — your own or those shared by a colleague — from your desktop, laptop, smart phone and tablet. This column is a short primer on why or how you might use Box.


Box is a secure, online file storage service that offers some unique collaboration options for the Pitt community. You can use Box as a personal storage locker or virtual file drawer, but you also can use it for document management, mobile content management and for project collaboration and file sharing.

• Traveling? Sync your files from your desktop computer to Box and then access them from your mobile device or from a computer at your remote location.

• Looking for a convenient way to back up important files? Box provides 25 GB of online storage.

• Are you part of a committee working on a proposal? Instead of emailing drafts back and forth, tracking changes, worrying about file size and dealing with formatting issues among platforms, you and your colleagues can share documents, charts, data and graphs securely through Box.

Collaboration and content management

Box provides a unique set of collaboration and document management features that set it apart from other services. With Box, you can share links to individual files or to whole folders, assign tasks and allow for discussion and comment in a shared online space.

Documents can be organized with tags to make them easy to find. For example, if you’re working on files for one committee but know that they’ll be relevant to your work on another committee, tag the files with both committee names. No matter where you’ve placed those files on Box, you then can filter by a committee name to instantly display all of the files relevant to that committee.

In addition to being able to find documents through tagging, a search function helps to make sure you never lose track of a document. The search function can be used to find files with a matching file name, but it also will return results where the search keywords were found within Office and Acrobat documents.

On the screen shot below, notice the tab for discussions at the top. Instead of trying to keep track of emailed discussion notes on a document, you can find all of that discussion in Box, with the relevant document.

Sharing with others is a simple process and only requires you to know a person’s email address. The easy-to-use interface makes it very clear with whom a folder has been shared.

One of the useful functions of Box is that sharing is not restricted to Pitt people.  With Box, you have the ability to share and collaborate with anyone who has an email address, anywhere in the world.

What about security?

Security is always a consideration when using cloud services.

Box will offer secure access through your Pitt account and your files will be transmitted and stored using current encryption methods.

By default, all of your files will be private; the only time someone else will be able to access them is if you invite another person to see the file or if you upload a file to a folder you’re sharing with someone.

Box is not intended for sensitive information or confidential data, however.

Sound too good to be true?

Box …

  • will be provided free to Pitt faculty, staff and students.
  • will provide you with 25 GB of storage.
  • is used successfully at other research universities.
  • works on mobile devices through a range of available apps.
  • allows you to run a search on your stored files.
  • is easy to use.

While Pitt pilot users reported a high degree of satisfaction with Box, Linux users noted a number of challenges, chief among them being the inability to automatically sync files.

As more universities team up with Box to provide cloud storage solutions to their academic communities, we believe that Box will ramp up its Linux support to match today’s very broad support for Windows and Mac users.

User-friendly resource

We selected Box to provide cloud storage at Pitt because external and internal reviews show it to be one of the easiest-to-use services. I find Box very easy to use as well as very “robust” — I can make it do a lot, in other words.

But I’ve also had experiences with technology where I’m told the interface is “intuitive” and I have to wonder who would “intuit” anything like it.

If you ever find yourself frustrated with your Box service here at Pitt, please let us know. We want this service to be a helpful resource for you.

Some “how to” information is available through CSSD’s web site at

In addition, the staff at the technology help desk (624-HELP or 4357) are available to help you 24/7.


Dan Menicucci is an enterprise architect for CSSD, helping to make the most effective and strategic use of Pitt’s IT assets.

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