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A somewhat new twist on backup: PutPlace

Key selling point of the service? It backs up all your data and media to one place, no matter which computer it's on.

At the Under the Radar conference earlier this week, the pitch from Joe Drumgoole, CEO of PutPlace, was tragically misunderstood. Drumgoole pitched his product as the one true glue to bind all a family's media together. Webware's Josh Lowensohn saw through it, but the judges and the audience did not, and neither did I. So I followed up with Drumgoole the day after the conference to give him another chance to make his case. See also the video interview at the end of this post.

PutPlace is backup. That's really it. It competes with services like Mozy and Carbonite. Architecturally it's quite different, though, and it has a different pricing structure.

The key selling point of PutPlace is that it backs up all your data and media to one place, no matter which computer it's on, and that it knows where all the versions of your files are stored, including storage on sharing services like Flickr.

Technically it does this by creating a hash on each file on each computer so it can keep track of duplicates. When PutPlace goes to back up a file on one computer that another has already stored, it instead simply creates a pointer to it, and it doesn't copy the actual file itself. This makes it much more efficient at backing up family computers, which are likely to hold a lot of data that duplicates other family machines. It also makes backups much faster, since the hash comparisons are done by the PutPlace software before the file is sent out for storage.

PutPlace doesn't yet handle data on non-computer gadgets (phones and cameras), the thinking being that valuable data on those devices eventually migrates to PCs where the backups run. Software for some gadgets (phones) may be built in the future. Release of a Mac client will also lag the public availability of Windows software.

The software can also auto-publish media to sharing services. It monitors the folders you specify and sends new files put in those folders up to the sites.

All the data PutPlace stores can be accessed from a Web site for viewing, sharing, or restoring. The company is pushing the capability that users will then have to see all their media in one place, no matter which of their PCs a file came from. Frankly, I'd like to see that capability in the computer's file system itself. See Microsoft Live Mesh for a peek at how this might be done in the future.

Unlike all-you-can-store backup services, PutPlace charges more if you store more. However, you can have as many PCs on a family account as you want, and since PutPlace doesn't duplicate files on its servers the incremental cost for adding computers to your account may be low or even zero. Drumgoole told me that the fees for the service are still being decided, but it's looking like $3 a month will get you 10GB of storage, and $15 will be good for 100GB. There will be intermediate plans and overage charges as well. During beta (which opens shortly), storage will be free.

PutPlace stores all your files on Amazon's S3 servers. If you'd rather your data is stored elsewhere (ADrive, for example), you can pay the minimum monthly charge and PutPlace will be able to write to those. Your directory data, however, is always stored by PutPlace itself.

The service is a closed beta right now. I have not tried it so I can't evaluate its speed or ease of use. But here's my take: Architecturally, it's a solid idea. Efficiency of storage and data transfer matters when you're doing backup, especially since most consumers have limited upstream network connections. However, from a consumer pricing perspective, even though PutPlace might actually cost most users less than an unlimited storage plan, the potential for overage may scare people. The predictability of the unlimited plans is more appropriate for services that are used as insurance.

Finally, services like this need a more in-your-face utility angle. Nobody wants to buy insurance, and when it comes to backup, most people just don't. Services like SugarSync and Joggle, that make your data easy to access and share from Web browsers, social networks, and mobile phones have an advantage, because while they do the more important job of backup, they have day-to-day utility that people might feel better about paying for.