Online storage services are being touted as a viable way of simplifying storage hassles, but their future in the corporate sector is not yet secured, industry representatives say.
Consumers got a taste of online backup with the launch of Symantec's 360 product this year. As well as Internet security, it also offers customers 2GB of free hosted storage. IDC's storage analyst, Graham Penn, said online backup storage facilities could be a godsend for businesses concerned about managing the growth of their data, the risks involved - such as system crashes and human error - and ongoing costs associated with backing up their data onsite.
However, many organisations were too nervous about relinquishing control over the management of what they perceived as their most valuable asset: intellectual property, he said.
"Technically [online backup] can work very well and the IT manager may well be confident of it, but if he has to get a policy decision from his board of directors or the CEO, sometimes that becomes the roadblock," Penn said. "It's not a technical issue of any sort."
For the majority of businesses, the mere prospect of a third party in possession of their primary data is grounds enough to short-circuit online storage as a worthwhile alternative. Additionally, if a service provider disappears or goes into bankruptcy, the consequences could be dire.
"The bailiff comes in and puts a padlock on that door," Penn said. "That means your data is no longer accessible to you, and if they are using technology you don't understand, you're out of business."
CEO of storage integrator XSI, Max Goldsmith, said XSI was not looking at the possibilities of such a model.
"There is not really a future for online storage services," he said.
But Penn argued some businesses would need to chart a middle course. Rather than use an offsite online storage system or a costly onsite facility, a third party comes onto their premises and services their physical infrastructure. That way, the primary data stays onsite and costs are kept to a minimum.
Penn said businesses keen to try an online service should look out for a few things. Top of the list was a company operating in the same geography.
"If you're a national organisation, you're not going to be happy with someone who is located in Melbourne or Brisbane. You need them to have a local presence as well," he said.
Penn said the provider would also need to demonstrate expertise in compliance regulations, as some clients will be legally obliged to operate an offsite storage backup system for business continuity purposes.
Despite the ownership concerns, online backup will increasingly trend of the future, according to Penn.
"The growth in the data is going to compel people to do something and this is one of the alternatives to solve that problem," he said.