Thursday, July 10, 2008

Offline Access in an Online World

I have to admit, I’m excited about getting my new iPhone. I guess it’s mostly about the anticipation of what I might do with all of the new apps and the integrated GPS more than the shiny new device. Thinking about the iPhone also makes me wonder how much more connected I really need to be? My laptop goes with me almost everywhere, yet I still seem to be disconnected from the data I need fairly often. Will the iPhone cure my problems, or will I still need some way to store data on my own devices for those times I can’t get on the net?

My recent experience in the SaaS (software as a service) world reminds me that data access remains a top-level concern for many customers. Sure, most service providers (like Xythos) tout their 24x7x365 service uptime capabilities, but that’s not what  customers are worried the most about. They expect service providers to fulfill their end of the bargain. Instead, they’re concerned about their own ability to get online and access their data whenever they need to.

I suspect the iPhone is going to improve my access to all kinds of content and services, but I’m not sure it’s going to let me go too far from my laptop.  I still need it (and a decent-sized keyboard) to create and edit all kinds of documents and files – whether I’m connected, or not. Since I do store all of this data in “the cloud” I guess that means I’m still going to need offline data synchronization or “access”.  There’s no way I can remember what files to copy to my laptop every time I unplug.

When we last surveyed our Xythos on Demand customers about their service preferences more than half of them identified the Xythos Drive as their primary method for accessing the service. This seems to echo my own experience. These customers appear to enjoy the benefits of the SaaS model, but aren’t ready to bet the house on the cloud. Knowing they have a local copy of their files is almost like a SaaS backup in a strange sort of way. I think this also explains the interest in Google Gears (I just got mine) and Microsoft Groove to a lesser extent.

It seems like offline access will continue to be important for some time, although I’m not sure if data access is the only issue. What if the application and the files both reside in the cloud? What’s the offline editing tool then? Maybe that’s why Microsoft is promoting a software and service theme together…but then what about non-Microsoft applications? What are your thoughts and experiences in this matter? Let’s explore this some more next time.

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