The Ugly Backside of Online Backup

I was just showing off my new Gmail/Remember the Milk marriage, which is truly a cool tool and worth checking out, to my slightly less new wife. Her response was: but it’s online. How can I use it if I’m offline?

I slapped her about verbally, of course, because you can’t be doing with that kind of defeatist talk at Loose Wire HQ, but she’s actually right: The great Achilles Heel of online is that it’s, well, online.

A shining, and sobering example of this problem is online backup. Of all the online backup tools that looked the most serious, Omnidrive was ahead of a big pack. Until recently. This from Webware: 

We got an e-mail earlier today from a Webware reader and Omnidrive user who told us the online storage service has been out since early this morning. We sleuthed around a little and tried to get in touch with Omnidrive CEO Nik Cubrilovic, whose personal blog is also down, although we’ve heard nothing back yet. As of publishing this, the service is still down.

That’s still true. I don’t have stuff stored there, but I feel for the guys who do. The problem with asking consumers to entrust their stuff to you is that it’s about trust: Lose it and you’re lost forever.

My blog has become a minor Mecca (can you have minor Meccas?) for those disenchanged with Xdrive since it was bought by AOL, so much so that somone claiming to be Robert Blatt of AOL posted a comment yesterday trying to repair some of the damage and get people back to the service.

His comments reflect a rare honesty from AOL about the size of the problem (whenever someone corporate uses the word “challenges” you need to replace it with something very much stronger. It’s the corporate equivalent of self-flagellation and an acknowledgement of having screwed up big time):

First of all, a disclaimer, not only do I work for AOL but I am responsible for both the Xdrive and BlueString products.

With that said, over the last year we have made tremendous efforts to improve the reliability and performance of the underlying infrastructure that drives both Xdrive and BlueString. We use Keynote monitoring 24X7 to measure consumers’ ability to login, upload, and access their online assets. Over the last six months these numbers have consistently been above 99% availability. If consumers who use this blog are continuing to have problems please post so that we can understand and rectify.

With respect to customer support, we both understand and agree with the challenges that people have been having. We have recently increased our focus and our resources to address this issue. Changes like this always take a bit of time but I am confident that we will have the same kind of success that we have had in improving the product.

Finally, look for a new, easier to use interface for Xdrive during the first quarter of 2008. We are working hard to erase the boundary that currently exists for consumers between their desktop and the internet.

I’m sure Robert doesn’t need to be told that in the world of online storage it’s a case of once bitten, twice you’re far, far away and would only be lured back by the promise of vestal virgins and free Porsches. Would you ever entrust something as valuable as your backups to someone who lost them the first time around?

The rule of thumb of online backup is, sadly: Think of it as a sort of luxury. Not as something you can rely on. Because of that, I can’t imagine why someone would pay for it.

Storage Online: The Options

A reader reminded me I promised a column on how to back up files well. I’m still working on that, but here’s a good article from Marilyn Sweet, writing in the Denver Business Journal’s Bizwomen section. Her recommendations for online storage:

The company I use and depend upon is Go Daddy at www.godaddy.com. Go Daddy will rent you one gigabyte of file storage for $9.95 a year. That’s right. It’s only $10 a year to protect all your digital photos of Uncle Harry playing the accordion at your wedding and your business mailing list. Need more space? Up to 10 gigabytes of space can be rented. Look under the “Business” tab at Go Daddy’s site for online file storage. Go Daddy has 24/7 telephone support and outstanding customer service. Priceless.

A question you might ask is, “What if Go Daddy’s servers are destroyed at the same time?” I don’t want to think about what would be happening in the world if your computer and Go Daddy’s servers in Scottsdale, Ariz., were simultaneously destroyed. I suspect that worrying about my computer files would be the least of my concerns.

Some other options: www.xdrive.com, five gigabytes for $10 a month; www.box.net, one gigabyte for $2.99 a month and five gigabytes for $8.99 a month; and www.streamload.com (thanks, Mike), 10 gigabytes for $9.95 a month.

Anyone have any other ideas?

Storage, The Next Frontier

I’m more and more convinced that storage and software to order it are the crucial bottlenecks and opportunities in this next stage of the Net. Not earthshattering, I know, but people are acquiring photos and music files at a faster rate than the drop in storage prices, which means somehow, some way, they’re going to have to back them up someplace that’s not their hard drive.

AOL seems to think so too, because they’ve just bought a veteran of the online storage business, Xdrive. As The Register reports:

Said Gio Hunt, a bigwig at AOL Digital Services: “The digitisation of consumer home media is skyrocketing, with consumers and AOL members increasingly looking for easier ways to protect and manage a wide variety of important data files and digital media assets.

“Xdrive will further enhance AOL’s consumer storage offerings to deliver a more safe and secure digital lifestyle for our members,” he said.

I was often frustrated by Xdrive’s software which often seemed clunky and didn’t always work well. And when Gmail came along with their free gigabyte’s worth of storage, the writing seemed to be on the wall. So there’s probably a collective sigh of relief coming from Xdrive HQ. Now it’s up to AOL to make backing up photos online — at file-sizes that make sense — a simple proposition for the average Joe.

The Online Storage Revolution?

An interesting byproduct of the Gmail all-you-can-eat online email is the fact that online storage, a service sold by the likes of Xdrive, is likely to get a lot bigger, at least in terms of how much you can store there. If you can store 1GB of your stuff on Gmail for free (and, according to some rumours, up to 1 terrabyte), why pay for a measly 100MB of online storage?

Xdrive told its customers today that in July it will increase the space available per use to 5GB, “more than 60 times the size of your current subscription!” (no press release available yet). That means 5GB for $10 a month. Expect others to follow suit, although Mercury News quotes FilesAnywhere as saying they’re sticking with a flexible pricing model that starts at $4 a month for 100 MB. Their argument is that most folk only want limited amounts of storage, and they’ll be willing to pay for it.

That may be true, although if Gmail turns out to be an easy place to park files, my guess is users will go for that. In which case for-fee online storage is not going to make much sense. And with flash drives so ubiquitous, my hunch would be folk are going to look at online storage as a place to back up large quantities of data they can’t fit on a USB keydrive, rather than a place to store small chunks.

But I could be wrong. All that is clear for now is that Gmail have made nonsense of the idea that you can’t store stuff online cheaply. Yahoo! have taken up the challenge in part, by allowing users to store up to 100MB, while Lycos Europe is offering paid up members 1GB, and British-based Planet-Tolkien.com is offering 1GB for $7 a month, but Xdrive’s decision to go for 5GB now raises the possibility that for some folk it may actually be worthwhile to keep most of one’s stuff online, and then access it as, when and where it’s needed. That may be the most dramatic outcome of all this.