Over the last few years we’ve seen an explosion of online or “cloud” storage services and with that market expansion the inevitable has happened: Prices have fallen, features have improved, and the target markets have expanded from enterprise to SMB to consumers.

The benefits of online storage are huge: No more burning data to CDs and DVDs, no more running out of backup disk space, no more messing with tapes, no more worrying about the recoverability of your data (though not developing a restore methodology and testing recovery procedures ranks up there with not paying your taxes and not wearing a seat belt … the former will be a collision with the IRS, the latter, a collision with your windscreen).

What’s interesting when you embrace online backup storage as a strategy is you gain a lot of time you would have spent burning archival CDs or DVDs. And you don’t have to store them! You can just archive entire folders of content or, if you are wedded to the quickly becoming retro concept of archive files, create ZIP files or ISO images of your data.

Sure, you could use your network-attached storage (NAS), a tape system, or plug an external drive in to your PC but online storage gets over a lot of problems such as fire (NAS devices are rarely fireproof), flood, and theft.

By the way, did I ever tell you about the fifth floor data center that flooded? It had been “tanked” to reduce electromagnetic radiation so when the water tank on the roof leaked …

Another advantage of online storage is that redundancy management stops being your problem. For example, rebuilding a RAID system when a drive fails becomes somebody else’s job and sure, while RAID rebuilds aren’t hard, when you’re on deadline and a drive fails, you don’t really want to have to take the time to look up how to repair the storage system which should be something you do so rarely that you’ll forget about it between disasters.

Which brings me to my next point: You shouldn’t need to know much about online storage services either. A well-designed cloud storage system should be more-or-less set and forget.

So, nowadays, what you can expect from online data storage services in general is continuous, background backup on OS X and Windows (Linux is, admittedly, still not that well serviced) with content sharing and cross-platform synchronization between multiple computers.

What the majority of cloud storage services won’t give you is instant recoverability of large data sets (unless you want to spend a lot of money on really top-end services and can afford to have huge pipes to the ‘Net) and the services may not meet regulatory standards (for example, HIPAA compliance). But should your needs be more general and involve less liability then there’s a lot of choice in this market.

What has caught my attention recently is LiveDrive, an online backup and sync service out of the U.K. that was launched in 2009.

What distinguishes LiveDrive from the competition is not only its client-side software (which is stable and straightforward to set up and use and provides continuous background backup), its Web interface (which makes it easy to browse and recover files and subdirectories), and its performance (which I’ve found to be very good), but also its pricing and lack of service limitations.

For just $7.95 per month or $79.33 per year, LiveDrive offers unlimited online backup for one OS X or Windows computer without bandwidth limits or caps! Want to go enterprise level for up to five machines? The Pro Suite version of the service will set you back a measly $24.95 per month or $266 per year.

All transfers are encrypted with 256-bit SSL and you can set limits on upload and download bandwidth and number of connections used (time of day limits would be a great addition). LiveDrive also retains up to 30 versions of each file.

One caveat: Once your files are stored on LiveDrive there’s no additional encryption so if you’re truly paranoid you might want to consider which files should be stored online and perhaps encrypt the more sensitive stuff.

The optional Briefcase feature provides file synchronization between machines and any number of users can access the Briefcase content. As an addition to the basic Backup plant this feature costs $15.95 per month or $159.33 per year for up to 2TB — a 5TB version of the service is included in the Pro Suite.

The Briefcase service supports editing Office documents through a web browser and you can share a document with anyone by email as well as upload files through email attachments. The Pro Suite subscription also allows you to edit files via WebDAV and access Briefcase content via FTP and SFTP.

Something I love about LiveDrive is its support for iOS and Blackberry devices. I’ve only tested the iOS apps and they’re great. The interface automatically segregates files into separate categories of Briefcase, Backup, Web Sharing, Favourites, Recent Files, and Music which makes finding content a lot easier.

Bottom line: LiveDrive is terrific value. It has an outstanding range of features and terrific mobile support. LiveDrive gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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