Although it may seem like your computing life is all e-mail and browsing, computer users still create files, documents, spreadsheets, boring presentations and all manner of other stored information. Which brings me to the question: Where do you store your data? And are you ready to store your data online in a service hosted by a third party provider?
Individuals and very small companies leave their critical files on individual computer hard drives. But hard drives still fail, even though it seems like they'll run forever. Add in the fact that the majority of computers sold the last few years have been laptops rather than desktops, and your still-running laptop hard drive may be left behind in a cab in Cleveland. Such are the problems of storing your files only on your personal computer.
Local file servers appeared not long after the first personal computers, and they have gotten bigger and cheaper (many terabytes of disk space for US$1,300-$2,000). Novell's NetWare created the local file server market, then it bungled its market lead and let Microsoft take over. Local file storage does a great job for a great price, but the world has changed.
The biggest change for small companies? They no longer have all their employees in the same place. Only about 25 percent of small businesses have a single location, and even those employees still need access to files when working out of the office, such as at a customer site. Inexpensive local file storage devices that work great in the office don't make it easy to access files over the Internet.
Enter various companies that offer online file storage for individuals and companies. Egnyte, which calls itself a "cloud-based file server", offers M/Drive (for Mobile Drive) for your desktop and laptop, and is even offering to connect to your iPhone. Egnyte has client software for Windows, Macintosh and Linux personal computers.
The technology isn't new, given FTP was one of the earliest Internet protocols developed. But the technology has gotten much easier to use and the broadband services in the U.S. have gotten reliable enough to, well, be relied on for critical business file access.
Egnyte gets kudos for proudly stating "I'm a file server," although many have broken this ground previously. Box.net is a popular online site that allows you to store, manage and share your files. Xdrive came earlier, and though owner AOL said it would close that site, it is still out there offering service.
Other companies include plenty of file storage goodies in their collaboration services. HyperOffice, a service I've used for several years, includes all sorts of online collaboration tools like shared and private contacts, calendars, task lists and document storage. It even includes Document Version Control for larger companies serious about audit trails, locked documents, and multiple versions. The company's HyperDrive feature links your Windows computer to HyperOffice's public and private file storage folders.