Building an online backup community one peer at a time.

 

I was recently alerted to a question on thesourcebottle.com.au by one of our Twitter friends Steve Orenstein, CEO of Connect2 Field1.

For those unfamiliar to Source Bottle here’s what their website says:

“SourceBottle is an online service that connects journalists, writers and bloggers with ‘sources’.

Source BottleWe do this by emailing ‘call outs’ for sources from journalists, writers and bloggers to subscribers to the service. We help journalists, writers and bloggers connect with an extensive network of quality sources; and we help subscribers to the service get publicity (or famous, whichever comes first).

For journalists, writers and bloggers…”

Now the question that Steve brought to our attention was, naturally enough, about online backup – specifically for small businesses:

“Data backup is time consuming, and can be costly. Can small businesses back their data up strategically?

As data backup can be a time-consuming and costly exercise for some small businesses, is there any way they can become more strategic about their backup? Are certain sorts of information more important or simpler to back up? Should different types of information be backed up in different ways?”

I was intrigued by the premise and decided to take a crack at answering it, so I wrote a reply and posted it on Source Bottle.  I’m not sure if any of the content has been used by whoever put the “call out”, but I it makes the basis for a pretty good blog post.  So, with some small editorial changes, here is my response:

Good questions, though I disagree with your premise; backup can be time consuming and expensive, especially for small businesses, but it doesn’t need to be.  There are many backup solutions that now make it simple and cost-effective to backup and the ongoing costs are insignificant in relation to how much it could cost if you don’t backup.

We all know that fires, theft, and other disasters can impact a business’s physical assets and small businesses spend tens of millions a year in insurance costs for protection against damage to their physical presence.  But the loss of intangible assets, such as financial or customer records can be even more dangerous to a company’s future.  What if, after data loss, you were to get sued or audited? What if someone steals your intellectual property and you no longer have the data records to prove your ownership?  If you haven’t backed up you, and your employees, could be ruined.  Backup is insurance for your electronic assets and in light of the potential for loss, and the affordability of many backup solutions, isn’t it worth the relatively small expenditure of time and money to insure yourself against this kind of disaster?

As far as trying to rank data on a scale of importance, good luck.  Because of the intangible nature of electronic information and the rapidly changing business landscape, it’s almost impossible to say whether one type data is more important than another.  Flexibility is one of small business’s most important strengths and the ability to rapidly reposition a brand within the market to leverage new trends and opportunities, such as social media, is a huge benefit.  But with this flexibility comes danger; the impending demise of del.icio.us and the uncertainty of Twitter’s business model shows that the only certainty in business is uncertainty.  A business that is constantly adapting may drift further from it origins and data that used to be critical may no longer seem to be, until disaster strikes.  Without a crystal ball it’s impossible to determine whether one type of data is more important than another.  If you can’t prioritize how can you strategize?  The only way to decide is to choose not to prioritise and assume all your data is as valuable as the rest.  While this might put a strain on resources, as archiving all the information generated by a company can be a daunting task, if you choose the appropriate tools it can be simple and inexpensive.

We recommend you use at least two types of backup for all your data; a local “on-site” solution – for speed and convenience – and an “off-site” Internet backup.  However, as every business is different we recommend you consult an IT professional for a complete review of your backup needs.  Without knowing a company’s specific requirements we can only generalise on a local solution, but we suggest that, as a minimum, you utilise an external hard disc drive for each of the company’s machines, or a server based RAID solution for larger businesses.  As mentioned, a cloud based backup solution is needed to provide complete security and there is a plethora of online providers to choose from, among which, there is bound to be one that suits your company’s needs and budget.  However, it should be noted that in most cases online backup clients should be installed on ALL of your computers in order to provide secure, consistent coverage and insure against the catastrophic destruction of a business such as we’ve seen with the recent floods.

There are multiple companies and services that automate this process, which means that once they are setup very little is needed in the way of maintenance or monitoring, making the time expenditure a “one off” expense.  This automation allows business owners to “set and forget” the system which frees them to run their business secure in the knowledge that their data, no matter how seemingly unimportant it may be, is protected from anything short of a civilisation ending meteor strike.

So yes, backup can be time consuming and expensive, but only if it’s done wrong. Done right it’s affordable, effective, invisible, provides universal protection, and is absolutely vital to ensuring the future success of you company.

As a foot note it seems that the day of unlimited backups may be coming to a close  2, with Mozy changing their policy; though Carbonite seem to be sticking with it.  So perhaps with the evolving face of the cloud it may one-day be necessary to be strategic about backup, but we don’t think so.  I’d be interested to hear if anyone else either responded to this question or had any thoughts on it or my response.

Till next time, your charming host,

Christopher


back 1.) Thanks Steve!
back 2.) Blame me: Mozy scraps unlimited backups, cnet News, January 31, 2011.

Computer ShoppingThis blog has been a while coming but is even more overdue than you might think. Conventional retailers tremble in fear! That’s right; the topic du jour is online shopping when living in Australia.

First, some background for those that don’t know anything about me; I’m an Aussie that has been living in the overseas for the last eight years and I’ve, relatively recently (May 2010), returned home. Now, the joke I’ve cracked a number of times since I’ve gotten back is that the plane that brought be back from wasn’t just a flying machine, but a time machine.

Haha… Yes.

Somewhat joking but with a good deal of truth to it. What I mean by it is that, technologically speaking, my return to Australia has taken me some 5-10 to years into the past. More specifically, I’m referring to the internet and online shopping. Retailers just don’t seem to get it here in Oz and I just don’t know why. Now, I’m not talking exclusively about Australia companies or the even the recent GST furore – though I was inspired to write this post after reading a great post by Misscocai – but also about the customer service, the online payment systems, getting speedy reliable delivery, the order response time and the ease of purchasing internationally using credit cards and or PayPal accounts from other countries; basically the whole shebang.

To illustrate how societally ingrained online shopping is overseas here I found the great video:

Interesting huh? I think it illuminates a dichotomy in attitudes between Australia and the rest of the world; they embrace online shopping because it is fast, efficient, inexpensive and most of all convenient.

Now, we’re a tech company and one with a heavy online focus at thatii, but on a personal level I’ve always been interested in working with the Internet, and its related technologies, ever since its inception. So when I first moved, way back in 2002, I was blown away with the ease of access and the services that were available to those overseasiii. However, since that time we’ve all seen an explosion in the availability of online stores and services but if you think you know online shopping but have only lived in Australia, you don’t know how sweet it can be. Everything from pizza chains to major department stores to local fast food places have online shopping. Even major retailers like Target, Sainsbury, and Wholefoods, who maintain a significant “real store” presence, still have comprehensive shopping websites that allow you to shop online quickly and easily.

I’m not sure if these big international retailers ever resisted the coming of the Internet, but they’ve either resigned themselves to the future or embraced it whole heartedly as a new revenue making and cost saving channel. They’re so committed to this new paradigm that, for the most part, shopping this way is cheap, easy, and efficient. There is no site redirection to process your credit card, no dodgy websites that look like they were designed by a chimp on a three day sugar bender, no three week waiting period for deliveries, no whining about taxes, no limited trading hours, and nowhere near nearly as much, well, hassle.

Now, because of the field I work in I feel it’s my duty and responsibility to promote and use online channels as often as possible, but since I’ve come home my online shopping efforts have been stymied at almost every turn by local and foreign company alike. I’ve purchased, or tried to purchase, items as diverse as beds, cookware, computer[s]/accessories, mobile phones, online services, office furniture, sunglasses, books, bedding, and software. And even though I found all of these items from online retailers it has been a real struggle to find them from companies that:

  1. Have reasonable prices
  2. Offer fast and convenient service
  3. Deliver to Australia
  4. Accept Australian Credit Cards

In some cases it’s actually been faster and cheaper to get an item from across the Pacific than online locally, GST issues notwithstanding.

What’s worse is that a lot of the problems I’ve encountered have come from Australian subsidiaries of international companies that I’ve used overseas without incident. I don’t want to be overly negative but some of the poor experiences I’ve encountered include:

  1. Asus – Three missed delivery dates and then the motherboards didn’t work when they arrived, though their customer service was excellent
  2. Adobe – A 33% price difference, to the tune of $800, for the exact same software package depending on where I TELL you I’m downloading it from. Come on, isn’t there roughly USD to AUD parity? Do I get a more expensive Indian tech-support officer if I call from Australia?!
  3. PayPal and eBay – So I can’t buy Australian items with an international PayPal Account, or vice-versa? Here I was thinking the World Wide Web encircled the Whole Wide World!
  4. Harvey Norman – Do I really need to say more?
  5. Myer, Myer, Myer – 1/10th of your stocked items online? Get it together; it can help MAKE you money.
  6. Borders Australia – Eight weeks to deliver a book from New Zealand? Did you attempt to fly it across the Tasman Sea on the back of an unladen African Sparrow?iv
  7. Mobi City – I will use them again but only because of their excellent Customer Support Officer Alicia. Once chance left.
  8. Dell Australia – Six weeks to deliver a computer that was quoted as five days?
  9. Memory Box Backup – That’s right. We’ve got problems with our online store, we know, but we’re about to go through the painful process to transition our content management system so we can fix them.

And it’s not just me, other people have passed some more generalized complaints; these include sites that are have no online store – you can only view items not buy themv, international sites with limited or no delivery to Australiavi, and companies that force you to download unwanted bloat-wear to purchase an itemvii .

Now, I really don’t want to be a giant whingerviii and proclaim retail employment armageddon because of uncompetitive, over-inflated pricesix and since there are a number of companies who I feel have gotten it spot on I want to give them a great big congratulations: Well done Officeworks, Mwave.com.au, BigW, and Telstra’s Music Store. Furthermore, I’ve heard great things about Strawberrynet.comx, though I’ve never used them, but for everyone else there really shouldn’t be any excuses.

Big retailers, you need realize what the Internet does for small and medium business: it’s the great equaliser. Do you think you’ve got market saturation with only one website, or can the little online shop take away your core business because they’re faster, easier, with a bigger range, at lower prices? You’d better believe it.

I do understand that limited broadband access, governmental oversight demands and restrictions, geographical and population concerns, as well as monopolised uncompetitive delivery services, and overly sensitive customs agents all contribute to the problem but the technology, processes, and experience to overcome these problems already exists. It’s been developed by companies in Europe and America. Just go across the ocean and see, or better yet, purchase and download it on the Internet.

So this is a call to action, for everyone that thinks we shouldn’t be left behind, for everyone that, like me, thinks that we deserve the same service, convenience, freedom of choice, and competition that the rest of the World Wide Web enjoy. Then join me in protest, let your wallet and keyboard do the talking. Let’s get together, find the sites that do it right and only shop there. Let me know if you have a favourite site, or one that really needs work. We are the community and we have the power.

I’ve seen the future, and while it may be a fat guy siting half naked in an arm-chair buying action figurines online, it’s still beautiful.

Until next week, your [somewhat disgruntled] host,

Christopher


  1. Very Misscoca: Why I don’t Feel guilty about Online Shopping. Retrieved 1st February 2011.
  2. Memory Box Backup: Hello Big Wide Internet. Retrieved 1st February 2011
  3. My personal favourite: www.newegg.com
  4. Thank you Monty Python.
  5. Radio Rentals. No online store? Why?
  6. Amazon, our money is as green (metaphorically speaking) as anyone else’s.
  7. <cough>Apple<cough>
  8. I’m talking to YOU Harvey, News.com.au, Retrieved 1st February 2011
  9. Retailers Call for GST on Overseas Sales, News.com.au, Retrieved 1st February 2011
  10. Thanks @Alisonrehn.

As computer tasks go there are few that are as dull as backup, let’s face it; it’s a grind. To illustrate some of  its issues I need to take you on a little trip back in time.

There was a time when the only viable option was tape backup. It was, and still is slow, linear, low capacity, and unsecure – though people and business still use them today. Furthermore, they required a lot of additional time to manage: you need to rotate their usage, move them offsite, and check the integrity of the backup – just like cassette tapes they wear out. All in all it’s a pretty lousy system. Then came CD backups, which were a little easier and but you still had to spend hours sitting at your desk waiting for whatever buggy programme you had installed to finish burning so you could swap the disc then hurry up wait some more. This was frustrating, boring, and clunky beyond belief. DVD backup eventually arrived, and while the discs had higher capacity, you still had to hang around to swap the discs and check that everything had burnt correctly. Finally, for the more adventurous, read: those with deeper pockets, there was always backup to an external hard-drive or network server, but they were expensive, often rapidly ran out of space, and needed replacement every couple of years.

All in all, there were no really good options. Worse still they all suffer the same flaw in that they were physically close to the original source of data. So in the event of fire, theft or even natural disaster all your data was lost along with you backups, not to mention your expensive hardware and technology. The only solution to this problem was to physically transport the storage medium to a remote location but that involved having multiple ‘sets’ of backup media which meant more time, more complexity, and more transport and storage costs. For most, it wasn’t worth the investment. So when the Internet arrived backup service providers immediately realised the potential to simplify things greatly. This was the rise of ‘remote’ or ‘online’ backup. In the early days of this fledgling technology the process was slow and somewhat expensive but it was automatic and removed most of the “hands-on” time that made previous solutions impractical and expensive. As Internet connection bandwidths increased and technology costs decreased it finally became possible for an average consumer to backup their photos and other critical documents to safer, more remote locations. Additionally, advances in software made the applications more user-friendly and able to backup more files with less user interaction; definitely an improvement. These new interfaces and applications are much easier to use and once set can often intelligently determine which files have been change and need to be backed up. This reduces the grind to almost manageable levels!

However, conventional online backup has its flaws. For instance you need to schedule a time for your computer to backup its files and make sure it’s connected to the internet and powered on at that time. Furthermore, recent events have shown that even the most respected and widely adopted online backup providers can suffer from data loss. Technological failure is not the only risk factor as more natural processes can also take your data offline. The only way to prevent these problems is to distribute the data you store across multiple remote locations and apply techniques that make it redundant so the loss of one of these ‘centres’ doesn’t result in a loss of data continuity. So unless your provider has backups of their own you are still vulnerable. In fact the further you spread the data out the more resilient it becomes. Think of it this way, if you could take every bit (a 1 or a 0) and spread it across every computer hard drive in the world and store them in such a way that they knew how to reconstruct each other if some of them go missing you’d have an almost unbreakable system.

This is what we’re trying to do here at Memory Box Backup — although on a little larger scale than 1’s and 0’s. This is what we mean by a ‘True Cloud’; our backup network consists of a cloud of peers who form a community through their network connections to store and protect all the data of the others on the network. We utilize the combined power of all the devices attached to our system to decentralise the storage location and make it far more resilient and redundant. We’ve all see the power of friends, families, neighbourhoods, and communities getting together to help each other out, we’ve just made it digital!

This is not to say our system is the perfect ultimate backup solution that will work for everyone. Far from it, it brings about problems of its own but we encourage you to try it for yourself and see if it works for you. Backup may still be a drag but at least there are numerous solutions that cater to almost everyone’s needs and far advanced over the old tape and CD methodology. If you use or work with an online cloud based backup solution that you think is cool, let us know. We’d love to know what you think works well and what doesn’t!

If you like more information try this links:

1.) 4 Essential features of online backup that you should know.

2.) Backup Doesn’t Need to be Boring.

3.) The Backup Blog

The Gathering Cloud

Welcome to the third part of in our first series’ of blog posts.

For those that haven’t caught up yet we’ve been covering the core ideas that lie at the heart of Memory Box Backup. Here’s part one and part two for those that want to refresh.

That title sounds ominous doesn’t it? It’s not, in fact, to us at Memory Box Backup nothing could be further from the truth. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s innovative, but most importantly it’s all because of you. What is it? It’s the gathering of online backup users, a cloud of backup users even, possibly even a community of backup users. This community of clouds may be new but it’s one where the sky’s the limit.

As you’ve probably guessed by now this post is about community and how important they are to us. At the time of this post we’re a younger information technology firm and we’ve really only just started to build up a following online, but it is a fundamental part of what we do here. Because what we do here is link people together, in a number of different ways, but both literally and virtually. Our core product is a distributed backup system that has no centralised location: it’s a distributed network that ties together all of our users and when they combine they make up the Memory Box Backup network. They are the back-bone, the core, the crux — whatever you like to call it – of everything we do. And whenever you have peers linking together to exchange information and help one another out; you get a community.

So what we’ve done with our product, without realizing it, is to build a virtual community; a community where people’s computers talk freely (although very safely) with one another. In this online community, information is securely transmitted around the network, and the computers-peers work together to help one another out and transfer the data. This is our virtual community, and we thought that it wouldn’t be complete without the virtual community’s people doing the same. A group of peers all getting together to discuss issues such as data security, different online and cloud based applications, suggesting ideas and exchanging information in a secure way; on a whole range of different topics.

So seeing as our product relies so heavily on a virtual community of computers we’d like to rely heavily on a real community of people. We want to hear your opinions on any number of topics from cloud based applications, online communities, android phone applications, family photo storage, even the best recipe for sponge cake. But of course we also really want to hear about online backup. Though this leave me at a good point to finish — with the topic of next week’s post: online backup – I’d like to try and engage you with some questions: What are two things you most like about online backup and two things you most worry about?

Get involved: follow us on Facebook, and Twitter.

Till next week,

Your potentially charming host,

Christopher.

The Tastier Side of the Cloud

About a month ago now (wow, time goes fast!), we attended the Defrag conference. It was a great opportunity to hear from some of the icons of this industry and absorb their thoughts.

One of the most fascinating speakers at that event was JP Rangaswami. He gave a really interesting talk on cognitive surpluses. He pointed out that even though, as a society, we talk constantly about an overabundance of information we don’t talk nearly as much about the overabundance of food. In that; we both choose the foods we like but we are also very selective on how we consume them. For example, at one end of the spectrum, some people like to make all of their food from scratch, whilst at the other, some want it rapidly prepared for them and ready to eat. JP suggests that perhaps we need to take a similar attitude to toward our information consumption; we need to think about where on that “food” continuum we want to consume our information.

What does this mean for Memory Box Backup? Personally, I think it means that information flow with our customers needs to be bi-directional and it needs to be smart. We have to listen to and interact with them constantly, but we need to be efficient and clever about it. We need to make use of the plethora of information preparing tools the cloud gives us to have our information served up to us just the way we like it. RSS feeds, Google News Alerts, Twitter searches, and Facebook monitoring are all ways that we can listen to our customers and find the tasty nugget of their ideas without getting distracted by the surplus of over-cooked stew of meaningless information in which it may be buried.

In a nutshell, there’s lots of data out there and as a team we definitely need to work smarter and not harder. Can you, the information consumer, help us identify the ways in which we should be listening? We’re listening… Are you?

Trevor Glen – Memory Box Backup CEO

Welcome back to the Memory Box online backup community blog.  We encourage any and all comments as we really want to hear what you have to say.

Last week we gave a quick introduction to [some of] what we’re all about, and all this week on www.twitter.com/memoryboxbackup we’ve been tweeting about the cloud and what it all means.  So in this week’s blog I want to and see if I can clear some of the confusion that’s often associated with the term “the cloud” and how it affects what we do at Memory Box.

For those that missed our tweets this week you can catch up here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing

http://ezinearticles.com/?Brief-Description-Of-Cloud-Computing&id=5176424

http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/what-cloud-computing-really-means-031

The Explanatory Stuff:

So what is this “cloud” we’ve been talking about? Well, there are a number of different definitions of what it means but, essentially, it is the sharing of hardware and computing resources over a large group of computers that are interconnected through the power of the internet.  While some cloud advocates believe that a client server-cluster model fits within the definition of the cloud we here at memory box aren’t so sure.  We think that an equitable peer-to-peer configuration should be what the cloud is all about.  How we utilize this peer to per model is what makes us so unique.

The “Huh?” Stuff:

Now what does this all mean?  It means that we think there is a better way to utilize the web and all the billions of devices that are connected to it.  Most online backup service providers get their customers to download a client that is used to select the files need for backup and then send them to big, expensive, complicated, power hungry, greenhouse-gas producing server farms.  Not only are these farms ugly, expensive, and environmentally unfriendly they’re also risky for their customers’ data; if there is a natural disaster then you could lose all your data even after paying hundreds of dollars for a backup service.  Here at Memory Box Backup we avoid this problem through distributed peer to peer computing.

The “Ahhh” Stuff:

We have devised a system that uses the computing power and resources of all our clients to safely, efficiently, and easily backup data without the risk and expense of giant server farms.  We distribute safely encrypted file fragment across our network to computers that are already operating And our special algorithm allows us to recover files even if 30% of the network is gone.  This is a true cloud of peers; everyone is equal in our network and everyone contributes only what they use.

This means that we don’t have to have expensive farms or produce massive amounts of greenhouse gas to provide simple and safe backup services.  The data can’t be lost though acts of god and the system can scale to almost infinite size.  Basically, we’ve come up with a better way to protect your files and we think that’s pretty cool and we hope you do to.

So give us a try (it’s free) and tell us what you think.  Because in our peer to peer world your ideas are just as valuable as ours.

Until next week,

Your delightful moderator and contributor,

Christopher B.

Hello Big Wide Internet

This is the inaugural blog post from Memory Box Backup and I’m your charming host Christopher.   What’s that? You want to know more about us?  Well I’m more than happy to explain.

The Formal Stuff:

We’re an Information Technology start-up based in Adelaide, Australia.  We consist of a small mixture of different folks from a whole bunch of varied backgrounds, but we all hold a similar set of ideas and values.  The scope of our ‘ethos’ (if you will) is eclectic and wide ranging, and I hope to discuss them all with you in far more detail in the future,  but for the sake of this introductory post there are really just three you need to know about:

The Important Stuff:

  1. We’re all about “The Cloud” — No not the cloud of doom or anything so morbid.  The computing cloud; the interconnectedness, the power, and awesomeness of the web.   This is one of our driving principles: to utilized, enhance, interact, and enjoy all the flexible wonders that the Internet has to offer.  Now we’ve come up with something that we all think is pretty cool and we’re using this powerful interconnectivity to provide something that lets you become easily involved and to give back to the community.
  2. That’s the next thing we’re all about: Community — Joel McHale is fantastic in that show! But we’re really more about the “world-wide interconnected web community” than the TV show.  The community of users is what drives everything on the Internet these days.  We know, because we’re a part of it, but you know this already because you’re a part of it too.  Now one of the features of all communities is that all its members have needs. However, we can’t be great at everything we need to do so we band together into groups.  Then you do what you’re good at and we do what we’re good at then we share;  basically, everyone contributes to give everyone else a better life in the community.  Now the online, or cloud community, has certain needs too.  And one of the needs is that we need to protect our data from being lost.  This is what gave us a bright idea.  If everyone needs it, and everyone can contribute to it, why don’t we make it?  So we did.  And that’s the final part of our ethos:
  3. Online Backup: What do I mean? Well we thought that the big server farms that guzzle power and have limited storage were a bad idea, but we knew that there was more than enough storage in the cloud and that everyone in it was already using power. So why not make a product that uses the spare storage in the cloud to back up everyone’s files?  And that’s exactly what we’ve done and it’s called Memory Box Backup.  Basically, we provide a system that gives efficient, easy to use, unlimited, online backup to all you folks—especially the ones in Australia — through the power of the community and the cloud.  Though we can’t do it without your help of course!

The [hopefully] Interesting Stuff:

Now I’m sure you’re all wondering how it works but that’s probably enough for this week. However, if you’re one of these impatient people, like me, and you can’t wait till then you can go to our website at www.memoryboxbackup.com and download our free trial or read our FAQs.  However, our real mission here at the blog is to build a “cloud based backup community” – there are those words again! — And we can’t do that without you.  So we encourage you to join in; subscribe to our blog, post comments, email me at christopher@memoryboxbackup.com (and if it’s really good and/or really interesting I might just post it!), “like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/memoryboxbackup or follow our tweet about backup on Twitter: www.twitter.com/memoryboxbackup, and even, though we hope not, flame us [politely of course!] mercilessly.

The Usual Stuff: -(some guidelines to get us started)

We aim to grow a community interested in real cloud services, especially online backup. Robust discussion is encouraged and respect for each other is required.
We want to hear everything and anything you might have to say, but not if it’s at the expense of someone else, or if it breaks the law.
Basically, don’t be a jerk.

Until next week,
Your delightful host, Christopher.