Xdrive: Cashing in on bandwidth boom

With broadband services fast approaching, new types of Internet applications are becoming available. Xdrive is an online data...

With broadband services fast approaching, new types of Internet applications are becoming available. Xdrive is an online data storage service that takes advantage of this bandwidth explosion

The Xdrive is an online data storage service that allows users to store, retrieve and distribute items directly from the Internet. The service is entirely web-based, though there is a small utility that makes the process transparent for desktop users. This utility, for Windows 9x and NT users, creates a virtual hard drive on your system. This new drive is assigned the letter X (hence the name) and can be treated as any other hard drive. This new drive can range in size from 25Mb to 1Gb. Only the first 25Mb are free, with 1Gb of storage costing about £13 amonth.

Once the virtual drive is installed you can copy files to it and even run simple applications from it. This is, however, painfully slow on a non-broadband Internet connection. Documents placed on the drive are secured via a log-in password system and fall into two categories, either private or shared. Files in the shared folder can be made available to others by simply emailing them a URL to download the file. This URL is generated by the service and is unique to each document.

Unlike email, you do not have to download every file; you can simply choose which ones to take. It comes into its own on collaborative work. If you decide to have a space for your workgroup, you can update an appointment book or project flowchart, for example, and share the document without having to re-send via email to every person in the distribution list each time a change occurs.

Xdrive does have some problems, however. The service can be sluggish, especially during peak times, and the personal version lacks support for keeping track of who has accessed your documents and when. These gripes are addressed in the enterprise edition, but the entry-level service seems to have failed to consider the likely use of the personal version.

From a security standpoint, there is still something disconcerting about leaving important documents on a server located in Santa Clara. Indeed, many small businesses may regard services like these as security risks. However, the same risks could apply to buying goods online via a credit card or even sending email, which essentially stores important information on a server beyond your control.

Xdrive has more than one million users and has deservedly won several IT magazine awards. With broadband access, software applications are likely to evolve rapidly, and this package provides a glimpse of the way the Internet can foster innovative solutions to technological barriers. If you look at the next generation of portable devices, such as mobile phones and PDAs - all with limited space - storing data on an online hard drive is the most elegant way to carry it around in quantity, bypassing the limitations of size and weight.

As access speeds increase, online storage may become the norm. However, several other products such as Backitup and Juston are vying for dominance in this growing space and, like many Internet businesses, Xdrive's success will be based on a strong brand and continual innovation to keep the customer satisfied.

Xdrive is now offering the service for Palm handheld computers and some mobile phones.

Will Garside

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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