Reading Om’s piece on Pogoplug this week, I started to think about how local network storage and cloud storage are becoming indistinguishable to the end user. While it’s not technically cloud storage, Pogoplug allows you to placeshift by accessing your locally stored content through the cloud, making anywhere access to content much simpler.
Previously, accessing local network storage remotely was accomplished by most through a process called FTP, or file transfer protcol. But most consumers have never heard of FTP. And honestly, if you’re using network storage at this point at all, you’re firmly planted in early adopter territory. While having a central repository for digital content in the home may be almost second nature for some of you, this is not true for mainstream consumers. A typical consumer – if and when he decides to back up files — uses the modern day equivalent of sneakernet, lugging a USB hard drive, flash thumb drive or even their media player from computer to computer, copying their photos and music to the device. Tools like Pogoplug offer the same kind of simplicity.
Sure, it’s easy to ask why won’t more consumers don’t use something that can connect over the network, but it comes down to one reason: simplicity. As a rule, anything involving the network is always guaranteed to be more difficult and have more problems. While Metcalfe didn’t include that in his law, maybe he should have. (Is it too late to call this Wolf’s law?) The interesting trend from the last few years is that some consumers may just choose to sidestep local storage altogether and jump to a cloud-based backup service such as those offered by Mozy, Carbonite and iDrive.
Why are consumers embracing online backup while consumer network storage languishes? In part, most consumers are already connected to the Internet, and an online backup service takes very little know-how to get up and running. Also, while many don’t think about this, a few consumers may actually choose to store their digital life off-site because they see it as safer than relying on a cheap piece of hardware that could get stolen or break down (it must be stated, however, cloud storage is not 100 percent foolproof).
Ultimately, as we see happening with Pogoplug, I envision a world where local and cloud-based network storage will intermingle. When a consumer goes to access photos, home video or their latest novel in progress, they may not even need to know from which source where their content is being served. We already have vendors like Netgear introducing online backup for their NAS devices, which makes a lot of sense to me (I have had a NAS drive fail!). Apple has put its unique spin on things with the MobileMe suite of online services, which allows seamless remote access to a consumer’s files and information from anywhere. And while some mock Microsoft for their slowness to market, the software giant has one of the most forward looking products out there with Windows Live Mesh.
In the end, cloud storage will not be in competition with local storage, but an extension of it.