April 24, just one day after Microsoft added couple clients (for Windows, Mac, Windows Phone and iDevices) and a new pricing plan to its 5-year-old online storage service SkyDrive, the long-rumored Google’s approach to cloud storage Google Drive at long last made its debut with 5 gigabyte free space, across the board support for different environments including Windows, OS X, Android and iOS and powerful API for third parties developers to inspire creative mashups.

In the short span of only two days, two industry moguls either updated its existing offering or eventually delivered its long-awaited service to make storage accessible to smartphone holders from anywhere at anytime, doesn’t that add up to something?

These big guys’ advancing in cloud storage forefront may well speak to the fact that the demand for ubiquitous storage is on the rise, echoed by Kanbox chairman Huang Mingming’s claim that cloud storage is standing a good chance to pull off blockbuster growth in this year. Kanbox is a China-based online storage service backed by DCM and SIG China.

Huang told me in an interview in the company’s Beijing Sanlitun-located office that the proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets coupled with growing improvement of wireless Internet connection in China is creating an exploding huge demand for gadget holders to store their files to “cloud”. He saw cloud storage as the next big thing in the Internet development, be it in China or globally.

Preserving Valuable Individual Data

Huang categorizes China’s online storage services into two groups; group No. 1 is characterized by its public file-sharing inherence, through which you can download hot music and movies, bestsellers and so forth. It’s a dangerous model due largely to its pirating nature. Just like a swath of websites were sued by local police earlier this year over piracy issue, said he.

Group No.2, according to him, zero in on help users hoard personal files that of value to them in digitized form to cloud for easy access afterwards. Kanbox is the one of the post children of this group.

Founded in 2010 staffed by Internet veterans from Chinese Internet big-names like Tencent, Huawei, Kingsoft and so on, kanbox now boasts a team of north of 80 while half of them are on the R&D payroll. The Beijing-based company last year raised US$ 20 million in second round of financing led by DCM with participation of SIG China.

Kanbox attaches much value to its users’ individual data storage. To quote him directly, “Public files just aren’t of very high value to you, say, you download a breakout movie today and then even if you delete it by mistake it’s no big deal cause you can get it again anyway. But, what if you lose all your personal pictures and videos took over the past two years, your contacts book and working documents?” That’s an irretrievable and immeasurable injury.

Internet-based File System

So from the get-go Kanbox has been focusing on individual data storage as well as multi-terminals accessibility. It now supports almost all mainstream devices or OS including Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Symbian and of course it has a web-based service.

You can imagine what Kanbox is working on as an Internet-based file system, Huang explained. The file system has totally gloss over the significance of different terminals, no matter what phone or which tablet you’re holding, you can always gain access to your individual data with your Kanbox account through Internet connection.

Launching Pricing Plan in H2

Kanbox allocates 5 GB of free storage to every new user, and similar to Dropbox’s marketing approach, you can upgrade your space by inviting friends. One successful registration entitles you to one more gigabyte of virtual disk space.

The cloud storage service which to date claims tens of million users is still free of charge. However, Huang said they’re preparing a pricing plan to launch in the second half of this year.

Conventional wisdom is that Chinese people didn’t pay for online services, well, how did Tencent build its empire by selling virtual items? And why paid app downloads saw massive growth after Apple’s iTunes store accepts yuan?

Huang noted that anyone will be willing to pay a fee for good services, and the trend that post-80 and post-90 generation in China whose consuming behaviors are more in line with their European and the U.S. counterparts are rising to the main buying power in digital world bodes well for innovative Internet products. For example, many loyal Kanbox customers actually offered to pay the service to get more storage after using up the free space.

Even if Dropbox Comes

What if Dropbox comes to China as well? Probably wouldn’t pose a major threat anytime soon for the dirt complicated network infrastructure here, said Huang.

For those aren’t familiar with the status quo of Internet access over here, China has three major state-run operators – China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile – providing broadband Internet access. Let’s just ignore the 20 or so minor player in the market since they’re not making it any easier. Most of the time, a China Telecom user will find it very slow when s/he tries to browse a website hosted in IDC powered by China Unicom, and vice versa. The problem is in existence since like forever and never get decently addressed. So chances are, business traveller who uploads a file in Beijing which is in the north part of the country will find it hardly retrievable when he lands in the southern Guangzhou city.

To solve the problem, Kanbox after the second round promised to invest more than hundreds of millions of RMB to ramp up its infrastructure.

In the face of rapid user growth – Huang used a very interesting metaphor – what Amazon S3-backed Dropbox needs to do is swipe their credit card, while Kanbox dispatches dozens of engineers who are busy buying servers and cranking up hard disks in IDCs scattered around the vast territory.

Open Platform

Earlier this year, Kanbox announced its own open platform through which developers could capitalize on Kanbox’s stable storing power by using its API. It already saw some very creative use cases.

Meitu Xiuxiu, one of the most popular Chinese photo beautifier is built upon Kanbox’s cloud servers, saving it the hassle of setting up its own online storage.

Kanbox will be holding an app contest in the second half of this year to inspire more interesting products that use its infrastructure as their premise. Just like what Amazon’s S3 means to the Valley startups, Huang is hoping Kanbox could serve as some sort of incubator for Chinese entrepreneurs.

Everyone is spouting about how small the team – like Instagram’s 13 or Dropbox’s about 10 – is in Silicon Valley, nobody looks beyond the entrepreneurial myth to brood on the significant importance of Amazon’s cloud service.

And now, Kanbox is looking to fulfill Chinese startups’ demands on that front.

Listener of startups, writer on tech. Maker of things, dreamer by choice.

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