Home in the cloud? Online storage dissected Part 1

Simon Sharwood

The idea of storing your precious data in a giant data centre where multiple redundant facilities provide more protection than you could ever hope to afford is surely tantalising. And that's the promise of online storage. In this exclusive series we explore the state of this technique and its role in your storage strategies.

The year was 2001 and the press release spoke of a bold new beginning.

"Australian businesses will have wideband access to a super-high availability data centre, housing large scale storage devices, based on a 'pay-as-you-go' model, without the infrastructure investment."

The authors of the release were Telstra and EMC, who trumpeted that the two have "...combined their skills to tap into the rapidly growing Australian information storage business, which had revenues of A$731 million for calendar year 2000."

Fast forward five years and the overall storage market has soared well beyond those levels and changed beyond recognition.

Yet today there's little evidence that business has taken up the opportunity to store its data online as the pair envisioned.

But the dream of online storage has not died. Google and Microsoft are reported to be working at frenzied pace to develop storage offerings that offer users the chance to store all of their data in the "cloud," freeing themselves from the need to manage a personal hard disk, worry about backup or indeed tie themselves to one computer.

Dozens of startups are pursuing the same idea. Wollongong-based Omnidrive is an example of this trend. The company offers either a Windows client or web-based tools for home users to upload their files into its storage facilities., mediamax,com, and many others offer the same facilities, and usually target consumers as their customers with the promise of preserving their digital photos and other personal files.

The wide availability of broadband is of course the reason these offerings are now possible, and the advent of fast, cheap Internet access has made consumer-grade online storage by far the most visible manifestation of online storage.

Quietly, however, some corporate interest has developed too.

"Most businesses find most employees do not back up," says David Glavonjic, managing director of online storage company Spheritec. "That is what is driving the changes. People are saying we have to automate and for that you need online, offsite capability."