According to a recent report from Frost & Sullivan (www.frost.com), the Web conferencing services industry will reach more than $1.0 billion dollars in 2007.1 Apparently, online meeting services such as those offered at www.glance.net, www.webex.com, and www.gotomeeting.com are valuable to businesses interested in reducing costly travel expenditures.
In recent years, a host of Web tools and services made possible only through the existence of the Internet are being grouped under the term “eConferencing.” While audio and video conferencing are included in this category, some other less obvious services such as online data storage and sharing, as well as online data backup services, are poised to improve the way companies conduct business. The fires, tsunamis, and hurricanes of the last few years should remind us how fragile our computers and files are. Years of research or highly sensitive and irreplaceable data files, while properly stored and digitized on tapes or disks, can be wiped out by the same forces that can destroy your computer.
After many years of promising mobility in the workplace, the Internet is finally making the “work-at-home” concept possible. While there is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings in many professions, conference calls on a periodic basis are adequate for most business groups to maintain contact when workers are remote.
Taking a conference call one step further, online conferencing services can truly save time when meetings demand review of work-related documents or presentations. Rather than leaving the conference room to e-mail or review a chart, all meeting attendees can be situated at their computers (wherever they are), and have live access to files on each other’s computer. Many of these conferencing services offer free trials to give users a feel for the “virtual” conference room.
GoToMeeting claims to be the easiest and most cost-effective method to allow coworkers, as well as existing and potential customers, to view any application running on their PCs in real time. For the $49 monthly flat fee, a single host organizer can have unlimited meetings with up to 10 attendees. GoToMeeting also offers a corporate package that includes five meeting organizers with up to 200 attendees.
Imagine being able to provide online training to your field-service engineers by stepping them through a training manual in real time and pulling up supporting data from a spreadsheet stored on your computer, all without leaving your desk. And believe it or not, GoToMeeting corporate just added a meeting recording and playback feature for those who missed the meeting. GoToMeeting may even improve meeting attendance-meeting announcements are automatically e-mailed to attendees as part of the software package.
Designed primarily as a sales tool for hosting instant Web demos and presentations, Glance 2.0 users can connect instantly from nearly any PC, Mac, or Linux computer-even from highly secured machines that cannot download software. No software installation is required. Anyone can join a demo from the sales person’s own Web page or company Web site. The demos start and end on Web pages that can be customized to maintain the look and feel of the hosting company. The host can show any application, PowerPoint illustration, graphic art design or 3-D rendering in full 24-bit color, directly from their PC screen.
Personal subscriptions for individuals are $49.95/month, allowing up to 15 guests in a session. Annual subscriptions include two months for free, and volume discounts are available.
File storage and data-backup services
When a company is too small to afford an IT group, or when a personal business or hobby requires big-company data handling and storage on a small budget, online data-backup services can be extremely valuable-not to mention providing the ability to retrieve precious data in the event of theft or natural disaster. Online storage, such as the services offered by www.streamload.com, www.box.net, and www.ironmountaindigital.com, is the safest method for storing irreplaceable files. Though online storage capacity and security varies by price and features, all provide a safe method for storing your files and accessing them from any Internet-connected computer (and in many cases including handheld devices such as Pocket PCs and Blackberries).
Rated as one of the top two storage providers for 2003, 2004, and 2005 by PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com), IBackup performs compressed and encrypted transfers of data chosen by users for backup, interactively or in scheduled fashion based on parameters chosen. To optimize transfer time, it performs advanced patching, in which only modified content within the file since the last transfer is saved, and is also able to map data as a network drive. Storage plans range from $9.95 a month for 5 GByte to $399.95 a month for 100 GByte. And, unlike many other backup services, IBackup is Mac and Linux compatible.
Why would corporations like Sony, Toshiba, Oracle, and Lucent use IBackup services? While most large businesses have their own backup strategy and servers, they may not have the ability to provide effective backup for the laptops and PCs that employees use. IBackup complements the large-business overall backup strategy by providing an effective off-site backup solution to secure this data, which is often more critical than the data residing on the company server.
According to a recent article in PC World Magazine (www.pcworld.com), “Xdrive’s desktop backup utility is easy to use” and “offers one of the more compelling monthly rates.” With plans starting at $9.95 a month, Xdrive offers two services: Xdrive Plus for individuals and Xdrive for Workgroups, geared for small and large businesses. Xdrive for Workgroups is an ideal solution for large companies that need to establish file-sharing and storage options for contracted or remote employees, or for a project in which securing the support of corporate IT personnel might be challenging.
The Xdrive service provides online backups and file-sharing capabilities and can be operated from either a Web browser or a software applet. The applet is used to schedule automatic backups, to drag and drop or save files directly, and to simplify other tasks such as file sharing. Xdrive offers scheduled or manual backups and is an ideal solution for large media-rich files.❏
1. Financial Benchmarking & Analysis Service, World Web Collaboration: Investment Analysis and Growth Opportunities, Report F529-F1, Frost & Sullivan, www.frost.com (November 2005).