The blogosphere is abuzz with discussion about Microsoft’s LiveMesh announcement yesterday. Essentially, and initially, LiveMesh is a platform that allows synchronization (currently PC only) between machines and the clouds by collecting various feeds into one locale.

Given the timing of this announcement, it was fortuitous that I was scheduled to speak with Gibu Thomas, CEO of SugarSync today. I started off by using the opportunity to talk to Gibu about what LiveMesh means for his own offering.

He’s very upbeat saying that the main takeaway from the Microsoft announcement is that it is an affirmation of what they have been espousing for the past 4 years. Gibu told me that for the first year of their offering they were unable to obtain funding – synchronisation wasn’t seen as a growth area. The industry realises that under todays multi-device scenario, synch is a core requirement for users. I then went on to ask Gibu some other questions about his offering and mesh in general.

What comments can you make as to Microsoft’s abilities to create a compelling synch platform?

What Microsoft says is important, it is a real validation for SharpCast (the company behind SugarSync) that Microsoft deems it so important and sees that there is in fact a monetizable business behind it – the economics of bandwidth and storage are such that broader synch options cannot be free on an ongoing basis.

If mesh is important however, mesh providers need to be Switzerland – any device, be it WinTel, Mac, Symbian, iPhone etc need to be part of it. It is hard to see how a proprietary player can create a truly neutral mesh platform.

There are lots of in-the-clouds backup options out there – explain what gives your offering a point of difference?

It is all about reducing complexity in people’s lives. SugarSync can be thought of as successful when people forget it exists – but it fulfils their requirements in the background. For years the notion of “your stuff anywhere and on anything” has been in existence. That notion will come to fruition when it occurs with no real user time and effort, but a seamless and background set of processes.

One of SugarSync’s points of difference is that it provides for near instantaneous live active syncing. When a user accesses a copy remotely it is synched back to all his other devices. There is a need to make synch transparent, to abstract it from the specific devices a user may have. While other offerings rely on replicating files from device to device, we’ve created functionality that avoids the bandwidth and memory issues this might raise this includes inline transcoding of file types and the ability to intelligently route the syncing and downloading direction.

It’s about repurposing the synch experience, the success of Blackberry is an example of this, it succeeded in large part due to it’s transparency and immediacy, users didn’t need to create a schedule for syncing – from their perspective their Blackberry data IS the same data as on their Outlook instance – Mesh platforms should work similarly.

One of the biggest barriers to people moving their data to the clouds (be it office productivity apps, SaaS accounting or backup) is the trust factor. People are scared that a) someone might do something dodgy with their data b) the service provider might disappear along with the data. How do you instill confidence in your customers that you’re here to stay?

There is a difference between perception and reality when it comes to this issue. A few years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving my credit card with an e-commerce business, but would have typed it in each time. Now I have no qualms having Amazon store my cc number given the ease it gives me to be able to one click purchase.

People’s perceptions will shift given time, and mesh platforms will give the user the ability to choose which files sync to the clouds and which only sync between devices. The data itself is encrypted on the wire and in the data centre.

We also escrow the key – while some users might wish to hold the key themselves, they are less keen when they realise that if the key is lost then so is the data. More savvy users however are able to obtain the key thus providing yet another layer of security for the offering.

The benefit synch offerings have over cloud backup is that if the provider disappears, the data is still there, synched between all the devices – it doesn’t rely on data in the clouds and is thus arguably an easier sell than pure play SaaS

Bandwidth is a big limiting factor to the move to the clouds. Do you see that you’re providing a solution that will become more palatable as speeds increase or do you have some other strategies to ease the connectivity pain?

Bandwidth well get better with time, having said that users demands will also increase. Technologies can help to increase the efficiency of the downloads and take specific use cases and solve them (for example creating a P2P sync for some usages). There is an initial price to pay to get data synched – like mirrors in lift lobbies users should take the opportunity caused by a meaty upload to go out and smell the roses!

Any last words Gibu?

The real key is that the move to a mesh situation is like the move from VCRs to TiVO. With synch there have been many point solutions that solved a subset of the user needs, but it’ll be the platforms that provide a broader offering that will create real user value. Synch is an important offering as it encompasses backup, sharing, access and collaboration.

Disclosure – Sharpcast has given Diversity Limited free SugarSync access.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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