The Wall Street Journal

May 14, 2007

THE JOURNAL REPORT: TECHNOLOGY

Consumer Technology
Storage Strategies

Need more room for your files? Here are your options.
By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO
May 14, 2007; Page R11

Computer users' hard drives are bursting at the seams thanks to the floods of digital photos, videos and music they regularly consume. Now, numerous new products and services are trying to help manage the deluge.

Older storage strategies such as transferring files to discs are giving way to potentially time-saving solutions like external hard drives with pipelines into online storage accounts and home-network hubs that store and share files for multiple computers.

Enterprises and small businesses have been adopting these more complicated storage methods for years. But now they are gaining more traction among consumers as new technologies drive prices down and households' needs for personal-data storage become more pressing.

A technology-savvy consumer can easily require an additional 20 or 30 gigabytes of space to house their digital content. One gigabyte holds around 250 songs; about half of a two-hour movie; or around 1,000 photos, although it varies depending on their resolution.

Here is a look at various personal data storage options and what to expect when you try them:

EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES: Driven by strong consumer demand, sales of external hard drives are skyrocketing. U.S. retail sales of external drives, which plug directly into a computer for extra capacity often in the range of 100 gigabytes or more, rose 73% from 2005 to 2006, according to NPD Group. "External storage remains far and away the simplest, easiest and most understandable method for the vast majority of consumers," says Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group.

Manufacturers are trying to differentiate their products by selling drives that are more compact and stylish and that integrate with increasingly popular Internet storage services. Last month, for example, Fabrik Inc. launched a new line of SimpleTech drives designed by Pininfarina SpA, an Italian company that helps design Ferrari sports cars. The devices, which start at $99 for 160 gigabytes of space, come bundled with two gigabytes of free online storage through Fabrik's Internet data-storage service, MyFabrik.com5. The product allows users to upload files to an online account, where they can share data with friends and create slide shows. Fabrik, of San Mateo, Calif., purchased the consumer-product business of SimpleTech Inc. in February.

Seagate Technology Inc.'s new FreeAgent Go, which starts at around $100 for 80 gigabytes of space, comes in an espresso color with a glowing amber strip. In addition to storing files, the lightweight device can carry passwords, contacts and settings between machines as well. FreeAgent Pro, a more robust device that starts at around $150 for 320 gigabytes, sits on the desktop but comes with an additional 500 megabytes of storage through Seagate's online-storage service.

Jon van Bronkhorst, executive director of product-line management for Seagate, says the new products are designed to help consumers access their files in multiple places without compromising the reliability and fast speeds of using an external drive. "It is about giving consumers the flexibility to use their stuff whenever and wherever they want to," he says.

ONLINE STORAGE: Plummeting bandwidth costs and higher broadband penetration are inspiring a flurry of new online-storage offerings that tout the convenience of being able to access stored data from any Internet-connected computer.

Penetration of the services is still relatively low in part because consumers are wary of trusting their data to a third party that may go out of business. Only 9% of U.S. Internet users say they have used an online-storage service, according to research firm Parks Associates, compared with 51% who say they back up their files with CDs or DVDs.

New products and services are trying to win new business through lower prices and additional features like integration with Internet software applications.

Sites like Omnidrive Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif., Box.net, Palo Alto, Calif., and Xdrive, a unit of Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, often offer as much as a few gigabytes of storage free and charge several dollars a month for additional capacity. Others, like ElephantDrive Inc., Los Angeles, focus on backing up files, offering one gigabyte of space free and $9.95 a month for unlimited backup.

The services often let users upload files either through a software client or through their browsers. Or users can preselect certain files they want backed up automatically, in which case the program will save copies of the files online at regular intervals.

Alex Iskold of Livingston, N.J., uses ElephantDrive.com6 to back up 10 gigabytes of music, hundreds of photos, and documents for work like PowerPoint presentations. "It is really powerful to have things stored online," says Mr. Iskold, the 34-year-old chief executive of AdaptiveBlue, a Web-personalization start-up.

But other users complain that such services, even on a broadband Internet connection, are slow, taking hours to upload hundreds of pictures. And some users complain that their files aren't always available. For example, Larry Medina, 51, of Danville, Calif., recently stopped storing photos on Mozy.com7, from Berkeley Data Systems Inc. of American Fork, Utah. After twice being unable to access the pictures (he says after logging in he received a message that the service was waiting for a response), he decided to store backups of them in a remote location on DVDs instead.

Josh Coates, chief executive of Berkeley, says the errors were likely "glitches" related to back-end software upgrades.

NETWORK STORAGE: Consumers now also have the option of replicating the convenience of an online storage service on their own home network. The solutions, offered by companies like Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., enable a user to store files on a separate home-network device that can be accessed from multiple computers in the house.

Mike Sweeney of Orange, Calif., recently set up a $250 SimpleTech network-storage device in order to more easily share files, photos and documents across some half a dozen home computers. To date, he has stored some 200 gigabytes of files on the device for easy access and safekeeping. "It is very cheap insurance," says Mr. Sweeney, a 46-year-old network-security administrator.

But setting up such services can require a substantial investment of dollars and time. Such devices can range in price from a few hundred to nearly a thousand dollars, depending on the capacity of the device and whether the user is building a home network from scratch. In the latter case, the setup can be trying. The user must first link the computers through a network router -- basically a central switchboard -- and then plug the storage device into the network router as well. Once the computers in the network recognize the Internet address of the attached storage device (which may require the user to disable certain firewalls), it acts as a separate standalone drive, to which the user can drag and drop files.

To entice consumers to make the investment, storage companies are rolling out products that are smaller and cheaper, and adding features such as the ability to stream multimedia from the Internet to the home network without hogging space on their computers.

Linksys, a division of Cisco, plans this summer to launch a network appliance and storage device that can store more than a terabyte of data on two hard drives, and stream data from the storage device to a digital television or stereo. The base price of the device is $179.99. The hard drives are sold separately.

H-P's Media Vault similarly acts as a bridge between various home computers that have installed the Media Vault software. The device costs $349 for 320 gigabytes of storage or $499 for 500 gigabytes.

--Ms. Vascellaro is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal's New York bureau.

Write to Jessica E. Vascellaro at jessica.vascellaro@wsj.com8

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