In the last year or so, there has been a wave of activity in the storage service space. Companies new and old have been entering into the fray to tout their friendly, automated consumer backup solutions. Many names may ring a bell and are in the process of reinventing themselves to take advantage of new technologies, while others are completely changing the rules with the advent Web 2.0 applications like Flickr and Facebook. Bottom line, there is chum in the water and the frenzy has begun.
I came across two articles, one on Techcrunch and the other on Ars Technica. These two articles made me aware that there are a lot of options for consumers to choose from. Many of these services do similar things but each one has some unique angle, whether it is performance, usability, pricing, or intended use. How is a consumer to choose from all these services? Does it even matter which one I choose? Isn’t backup just backup?
Let me continue by saying that this is not meant to be an exhaustive review of the services, in fact, I won’t be trying many of these technologies. What I want to focus on is the potential success of each service as it relates to the bigger picture around the web as a platform. On the likely chance that I “poo poo” one service over the others, won’t mean that it won’t be a successful business. So to start the bar low, allow me to introduce player number one.
If you read the Ars Technica article, you’ll discover that they weren’t all too impressed with XDrive. How could they? I mean if it is supposed to be a backup solution, the three worst things that you can be knocked on for are:
Periodic system hangs lasting from 15-25 seconds—unless, of course, they last longer.
You have to love the irony that XDrive went from being really cool when first launched to becoming a bloated dud after AOL bought them out. Nothing to see here, moving on.
2. ) Carbonite
Ars was kind to Carbonite by calling it simple. I personally could use a little more emphasis on software design, but according to them, it does what it is supposed to do. They do face one criticism in that the service is still slow. Nonetheless, if $50 per year for unlimited *it's really 50GB* storage doesn't lure you....hmm, actually just keep on reading.
Mozy is one of the bigger players in the market. Part of the reason is that Mozy was bought out by storage company EMC. By going to the Mozy website you can definately see the corporate EMC influence though some Web 2.0 elements are present. As a product, it seems to be getting rave reviews as the client that controls the backup process works on PCs and Macs.
Getting more technical, you see features that would be very useful for businesses like image restoration and bandwidth throttling. And with the financial backing of EMC, my guess is that they will be contending in the long run for providing business class backup services in cloud.
Let's Take a Timeout
Now nothing I've discussed so far is amazingly interesting. All three solutions are essentially the same thing people have seen for the last 30 years, i.e. backup and restore. Other than stability and bandwidth utilization, none of the services really stand apart. If we discount pricing, all users really have to do is flip a coin to pick a service. The next few services I'll discuss will really show what consumers, everyday Joe Sixpacks, want for their data needs. Before I introduce the players, I'd like to discuss the concept of "data availability."
Normal people like to share rich moments in lives with friends and family. They do this by trading photos, sending videos, making DVDs, uploading on Facebook and etc. Businesses basically want the ability to have the latest information at their fingertips. On top of all this, people want the comfort and security in knowing that their original content is safe and secure. A personal example for me is that I love my photographs. If I lost my photos, well lets just say I'd be very very sad. I can't comprehend how people put faith in digital photography and then save everything to an external hard disk or CD. Where is the redundancy? Is that terabyte drive fireproof or immune from effects of mechanical wear & tear? I upload all my original photos on Flickr through one-click in either Windows Live Photo Gallery or iPhoto on my iBook. Why on earth do I have to upload huge files to multiple online services like Facebook or MySpace?
A few of you may have heard of the concept of "high availability" in IT discussions. The way most consumers treat data doesn't even satisfy the definition of "available" much less the highly variety. The problem is that for regular people to be able to access their information anytime and anywhere requires a tremendous amount of infrastructure. Thank god it's 2008 and Al Gore invented the Internet. The next wave of solutions is really set to change the way ordinary people think about data and content. The concept of syncing information rather than syncing files is as revolutionary as the idea that work is something I do, not a place I go.
4.) Microsoft Groove
Now Groove isn't necessarily appropriate for this comparison, but I threw it in because for business collaboration, it really changed the way people handled data. Whether an individual is online or offline, workers would have continuous access to their data. Any changes that get made are automatically synced back to all users of a "workspace" the moment the computer is connected to the Internet. In a lot of ways, the underlying vision of Groove in the 1990's client server world are being adapted in the online space. I won't go into further detail, but if you want more information, visit: http://Office.Microsoft.Com
SugarSync is the first real player that I feel makes a compelling case at changing user behaviour. The premise for SugarSync is that your files should be accessible from any connected device. The cool thing about SugarSync is that it works cross-platform on Macs and PCs, you can access files from your mobile device and you can use your camera phone to push pictures back to your desktop instantly. The last one is definitely a game changer and is real innovation that even my grandmother can appreciate...literally.
I'll admit, this new MIT start-up is really exciting. Even though the product is in beta, it has the technological and marketing appeal of a well managed silicon valley company. The video showcasing their solution can be seen by visiting their website.
I think the main reason people appreciate DropBox is that it "just works." By reading their website, as a consumer, they sell me one every single value they exclaim. The focus on speed, efficiency and usability is something everyone start-up should aspire to. If there is one mantra I would associate with DropBox, it's KISS -- keep it simple stupid.
If I didn't work for Microsoft, the one company I would hedge my bets with would be Syncplicity. The people there just get it, the whole picture, the end to end scenario. Syncplicity has the potential to be a storming success if they continue with their focus on intelligent data sharing and web application support. Of all the web sites for the various products, I have to admit that Syncplicity has the greatest Web 2.0 appeal. There is something warm and welcoming about the way they present their technology.
Their claim to fame is the ability to contextually share files based on what the file is. Photos sitting on your machine can instantly can uploaded to Facebook with privacy settings built-in, saving users a lot of time and hassle. A disruptive feature is their integration with Google Apps and the local office client. Imagine any office document I create on my laptop instantly available on Google Docs. Any edits made in Google Docs in the cloud or Office locally is automatically synced up. They make it happen, and it looks good. It would be awesome if it weren't for the fact that it's Google Docs. *had to take a jab*
Syncplicity is the closest technology that competes with Live Mesh. It will be interesting to see how Syncplicity facilitates integration with other web services. Also, it helps that the lead engineers are former softies who worked on amazing technologies like PowerShell and Windows Communication Foundation.
8.) Live Mesh
Mesh in a lot of ways is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. The vision is pure "Ozziesoft," and represents Ray Ozzie's dream of a connected "mesh" of devices, computers, and applications. Live Mesh is really about your content and the ability to access it from anything. Unlike many of the solutions presented above, it also is about providing a platform for applications that can interact with data stored anywhere and manipulate it as if it were another local machine.
Up until now, people have been trying to sync files so that they could be opened by applications on the end points. With Mesh, the web is an endpoint, not just the transport, and developers can take advantage of it in very dynamic ways. Because Mesh provides the entire sync framework for a growing list of devices, developers are free to focus on developing their applications, whether it is a paint application that syncs with MS Paint to a full-fledged cloud desktop that mirrors your PC or Mac. Oh by the way, did I mention that it'll support the Mac? Mesh is currently in Tech Preview so it is still a while from maturity but the goals are big, so stay tuned.
The next year is going to unleash really useful technology into the consumer marketplace. If you care enough about productivity and collaboration, start investigating how synchronized information can improve the way you work and share information with friends and family. If I had to use something now for production work, it would likely be SugarSync simply due to it's maturity followed by Syncplicity and DropBox. If you're a developer, Mesh is wear it's at. As for the old fogies of the storage world, its not about how big your online hard disk is anymore, it's how easy it is to use it. Maybe KISS should be renamed to "keep it syncing stupid."