Online Storage Options
Online storage capabilities are still evolving in the Web 2.0 world. Earlier versions of online storage were somewhat clunky and not many services had gained traction in the marketplace.
There's been more interest in this area recently as people speculate about Google entering the market more aggressively with a "Google Drive" and providing more options for virtual storage. Currently, Google is providing at least 5 GBs of storage with its free Google Apps e-mail product. Other online storage vendors start with up to 25 GBs of free storage. This means more tools and free storage for enterprising and cash-strapped entrepreneurs.
Both startups and established companies are trying to stake a claim in the virtual storage area. Established internet companies, such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, see online storage as a way to expand their offerings and create a greater lock into their services. They know that the more barriers to exit from their services, the less likely you are to leave. If you store a lot of data on their systems, for instance, it will be more painful for you to switch to a competitor.
In general, online storage companies provide solutions focused on one or more of the following areas: Backup/storage solutions, file sharing solutions; and Web services/storage solutions.
I see these companies also adding more Web 2.0 features and creating more collaborative solutions as they compete with each other. Omnidrive, for example, was the leader in allowing users to edit files directly online without having to download the file locally. I believe more features like this will evolve, making the network more like a computer when combined with a local browser.
The Major Players
There are many players in this space, but I'm only going to discuss the larger ones I've seen. Most of these storage services let you try out 1 to 25 GBs for free and then offer two or three other tiers with additional storage and features starting at $2 to $10 per month.
This is a compelling solution if you're starting a new company and don't want to administer local backup solutions. Some of the services have higher-end features such as versioning, personal encryption keys and multiple user log-ins.
VCs and startups have seen an opportunity in online storage. Many newer companies like Box.net, ElephantDrive and Omnidrive have launched within the past few years with more innovative products than what was originally available in the marketplace.
Box.net advertises itself as the first online file system, with more than 1.2 million users.
ElephantDrive.com provides a desktop application for scheduling backup, restoring, uploading, downloading and sharing, as well as a drive mapping application for easy upload and download of your files.
Data Deposit Box offers online backup software that allows for an unlimited number of users and computers. While you're online, the software backs up your data automatically by watching your files and looking for changes. When it detects a change it extracts the file changes and compresses, encrypts and securely transfers them to the online storage.
MediaMax provides 25 GBs of free storage, as well as free backup and synchronization software. It gives you a private and secure place to upload, store, access and share your personal videos, photos, movies, music and files.
Omnidrive seems to be ahead of the pack. It goes beyond storage to full read and write of files online, making it easy for users to share files with other users in a collaborative manner.
IBackup, Mofile and Mozy--now owned by EMC--are just a few others that may be worth looking at.
The more established companies:
Amazon S3 Simple Storage Serviceis a web services interface made for developers that provides access to the Amazon data storage infrastructure.
AOL's Xdrive.com, started in 1999, was one of the pioneers in online web storage and was bought by AOL in 2005. It provides advanced features for backing up data and sharing files.
GoDaddy Online File Folder provides a sync tool that lets you automatically sync from multiple computers. You also can use FTP to push files to this storage facility and edit files online. Using WebDAV, you can view and edit online files as if they were in a network drive.
Iomega iStorage allows users to manage, store and share data online.
MicrosoftWindows Live SkyDrive offers basic online storage and sharing for Windows Live users.
Yahoo! Briefcase provides basic capabilities to add and share files as part of Yahoo!'s portal solution.
As these vendors compete with each other, I see them adding many more Web 2.0 features. It also would make sense for PC manufacturers to partner with some of these companies to offer backup and storage services to anyone that buys a new PC. And it will be interesting to see how Google enters the fray. Will the company come up with something innovative that outpaces all of the current players? With its sheer size and marketing power, Google could become a force to be reckoned with in the online storage arena. Also look for potential struggles over privacy issues, as well as copyright issues related to sharing data.
Frank Bell is Entrepreneur.com's "Web 2.0" columnist and a principal at IT Strategists, a leading business and technology consulting firm in Southern California. He has consulted with many internet startups, as well as companies such as Yahoo!, Vivendi Universal, Disney, Toyota, Nissan, Deluxe Digital Studios, AEG, Sony and Ticketmaster.