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Sharing your files: How to store, back up and share documents and projects

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The information in this article is current as of December 12, 2005.

Backing up files is just as important as ever. Hard drive failure is just as inevitable as any other death - the question is not whether it fails, but when.

When people allow themselves to think about their file vulnerabilities, they become overwhelmed. (That's why the I.T. backup guys are so grumpy, and why so few people ever do think about it.) There are so many risks.

  • It used to be possible to save your key data on a few floppy disks. No more. The storage space required for file storage is becoming massive. And the nature of file corruption means that you should have a few versions of past files so that you can back up to the most recent uncorrupted version. Where are you going to store all that data, and how can you ensure frequent automatic backups without slowing network traffic - or your own computer - to a crawl?
  • Good backup practice requires frequent testing to ensure that you can actually restore what you have backed up. When we audit data practices in nonprofits, we generally find that even the organizations who say that they back up their data don't test to make sure it works. In that case, you can assume that it won't recover correctly. Count on it.
  • It's not good enough to store your backup files in the same building; fire, floods, vandalism or theft can destroy all of your agency's information instantly. Natural disasters can affect an entire city, so organizations are starting to back up data far from their home offices.
  • If anyone in your organization uses a laptop computer, your data may be lost or stolen. Laptops are now regularly being stolen for the value of the data on them. Sensitive data like personal client information should be encrypted if it ever leaves a locked office.

There is a lot more to file storage than backup and disaster recovery, though. Ideally, you want file storage that provides backup, but also is accessible for using and sharing with team members, while being protected from unauthorized users. Why would you have to have several groups of file storage, each with different properties, but duplicating the same information?

Apparently this thought has occurred to a few people. From Techcrunch, in an article on "Companies I'd like to profile (but don't exist)", Michael Arrington writes that he wants to see:

Better and Cheaper Online File Storage

Photos, movies, music and important files take up a ton of hard drive space. I recently purchased a new desktop computer with a 250 GB hard drive, and the hard drive is full from recorded television shows that I haven't watched yet. Yeah, I can buy a network drive for my house, but they are expensive and if the house burns down I've still lost everything.

It's amazing to me that all of us aren't backing up our important files online regularly. As far as I'm concerned, the only reason is because no product has emerged to fill this tremendous demand, with the right features and at the right price.

We need a good product. Something as easy to use as the Flickr uploader on the client side, and easy web access. These tools need to go a generation or two beyond what xdrive is offering. ...Pricing needs to be dramatically lower too. Find a way to make this cheap.

Here are a few services that look promising:

FolderShare is a lovely peer-to-peer file sharing service that can be used for backup. It was recently bought by Microsoft and is now free. I highly recommend it; it's easy to use and very flexible. It allows teams to work together on file directories as though they are all on the same Local Area Network (LAN).

Omnidrive is an online file storage that is still in closed beta (translation: you have to ask permission to test it), but its description is irresistible. Omnidrive promises three massive folders that look and feel as though they are on your own desktop computer. One folder is encrypted so that only you can read it - and it's encrypted on the computer itself as well as on the online server. The second folder is for selected groups and teams, and the third folder is public. All of the files will synchronize automatically every time you go online. The developer is promising a limited amount of free storage - perhaps a gigabyte, which is usually adequate for working files that haven't yet been archived.

And for life outside work, Oboe, a file storage for music files, just launched this week. For $40/year (US) you get unlimited storage for music files, you can synchronize them on any of your computers, and you can play the music in your web browser. I have over 20 gigabytes of music files and was getting pretty scared about losing them all. Now I can access all of my music anywhere that I can sign onto the web. There is a limited free service.

Gillian Kerr, Ph.D., C.Psych. - President, RealWorld Systems

gkerr at

Read my weblog at

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