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9/7/2006
06:39 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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The Achilles' Heel Of Online Storage: Network Bandwidth

Someday you'll be able to access all your files from any Internet-connected device. Just don't hold your breath. Despite the commoditization of digital storage, backing up and accessing files across the Internet remains difficult and unwieldy when it comes to large amounts of data. But take heart. The ability to automatically back up files and sync them across devices will be here well before the paperless office and flying cars. Perhaps even before the arrival of

Someday you'll be able to access all your files from any Internet-connected device. Just don't hold your breath. Despite the commoditization of digital storage, backing up and accessing files across the Internet remains difficult and unwieldy when it comes to large amounts of data.

But take heart. The ability to automatically back up files and sync them across devices will be here well before the paperless office and flying cars. Perhaps even before the arrival of Google's Gdrive and Mac OS X 10.5's Time Machine--keep an eye out for news about the next revision of TransMedia's Glide Effortless.

Until then, there are already plenty of dedicated online storage services (not to mention Internet service providers), which are fine if you have less than a gigabyte or two of files. But with a few years' worth of photos, music, videos, e-mail, and text documents, it's easy to find yourself managing 50 Gbytes or more. What happens then?Two things: Either you can't use the online storage service because you want to store more files than the service allows, or you have to pay too much.

How much is too much? Anything, really. If you have multiple computers in different locations, Windows Live FolderShare will let you sync your files between PCs or Macs so that each serves as the backup of the other. And it's free. This may not be as desirable as dedicated offsite backup, though it's certainly cheaper.

But let's say for the sake of argument that online storage vendors need to eat, and you've resigned yourself to paying something for online storage and backup. Streamload's MediaMax service offers up to 1,000 Gbytes of storage for $29.95/month. That's really cheap. By way of comparison, that much storage on Amazon's S3 service--probably the next least-expensive option--would cost about $150/month.

That's all academic because actually trying to back up 50 Gbytes or more of data over a typical broadband connection is just too slow. Under optimal conditions, assuming you're getting a full upload speed of 786 Kbps, it's going to take about six days to transfer all your files, assuming no crashes or interruptions. In reality, you'll probably be operating at about 60% to 90% of the theoretical maximum data transfer rate, so it will take even longer.

Now during this time, your computer will be too sluggish to do anything else. At least, that was my experience when I tried using Jungle Disk to copy 67 Gbytes of files I have on my home machine to Amazon's S3 service. Suffice it to say, I gave up on online storage and created my remote backup on a local hard drive that I then carried offsite.

If there's a lesson here beyond "delete early and often" to reduce one's data hoard, it's that local computing resources still have a place and will for some time to come.

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