Killer idea

Doc has a billion dollar idea to share with the big hosting companies and carriers.

"Like many users, my ad hoc solution involves a growing pile of external drives that I keep meaning to put in a safer place than the closet where they're piling up now... But what happens when somebody big starts offering big offsite backup, and hosting as well? With its massive experience with installing and maintaining zillions of servers, Google and Yahoo would be ideal candidates for those kinds of offerings...Think about it. Terabyte offsite storage for ordinary citizens at attractive prices."

Bang on target.

I already use one of my Gmail accounts as a kludgy offsite storage system. I figure I can trust Google not to lose my data. I'm sure their multi-gazillion dollar server farms are way better put together and cared for than any home-office storage setup I could ever build. Plus there's the advantage that I can, in a pinch, access my backups from just about anywhere I can find a browser.

It's less than ideal, though, mainly because of the asymmetric download/upload deal I get from my ISP. If someone came along and offered me the same kind of broadband speed I get right now, but made it symmetrical and threw in some kind of low-cost mass storage option, I'd jump in a second - as would many millions of others, I think.

It's a terrific idea for the big carriers for another reason - apart from price, how else are they supposed to differentiate themselves in a flattened, commoditized market? And price really isn't a good enough differentiator for Internet service nowadays, anyway. They're all at about the same level, all offering pretty much the same kind of thing.

Maybe the idea of backup just doesn't seem sexy enough to the marketing folk at the carriers, cablecos, and other ISPs just now. It's not exactly something people tend to get excited about until they suddenly discover how much they need it, which is usually about 10 seconds after things have gone to bollocks and they realise that the backup isn't there. Disaster recovery, in general, has the same image problem as life insurance. It's a tough sell; which is dumb, considering how bloody essential it is.

So, OK - maybe no one would be jumping up and down, hollering "hell yeah!" if one of the big players suddenly picked up Doc's challenge - but a lot of very influential punters the world over would most likely sign up for such a service.

I'm tempted to add this thought skein to the glutinous Web 2.0 meme soup. Affordable massive offsite storage for the average punter could well qualify as a 2.0-ish kind of idea, or at least it should. It fits square in with the notion that Internet technology is just another utility - as essential to the smooth operation of everyday 21st century life in the developed world as electricity, running water, garbage removal. Salesforce.com and Netsuite made ERP work like a utility - so why not something as simple as a backup service? My ISP bill already feels like any other utility company bill - so add dependable, limitless, brain-dead easy 100% offsite backup to it.

That's how I want my essential digital life bits managed for me. Take my ever expanding music collection, the masses and masses of family photos, the 15+ years of assorted writing, powerpoints, saved games, email archives, contact lists - all of it. Suck it off my hard drives every night and squirrel it away in some bottomless, military-grade data centre, without me even having to think about it unless I need to restore something.

Make it invisible, painless, and relatively cheap. Offer whatever guarantees you can – something that promises to keep my data safe and private, but gives you some reasonable “act of God, war, terrorism” opt outs.

Any of the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Amazon, AOL, Comcast, Bell…) could implement this in a heartbeat. Heck, if one of them was willing to offer it right now they could add $10 a month to my bill – I’d be all over them.