Live Mesh and the Need for More Bandwidth

I’ve recently been playing around with Microsoft’s new Live Mesh Beta, a service that lets you sync files between multiple computers and allows you to RDP into any of them. So far, it’s been really great. I can edit a file on my work PC, open it up at home, then import it in a Windows XP VM. The integration is totally seamless and I’m looking forward to support for mobile devices being available Real Soon Now(TM).

It’s not that what Microsoft is doing is particularly remarkable. I have RDP access to my work PC and I can copy files back to my home PC from that. I can use VNC with a VPN connection to get back to my home PC and transfer files. I can share a folder from my home PC to make it available to my VMs. The trick is that all of those things aren’t exactly seamless or integrated, plus I don’t have the benefit of an online backup with version conflict control, things that Live Mesh offers.

Despite all of this convenience, I found myself frustrated with it this evening as I waited for 50MB worth of database changes and new files to get synced back into the cloud. I ended up waiting about 15 minutes for it to complete, time that I could have been getting work done. That’s when I got a very quantifiable taste of how poor broadband speeds translate into decreased productivity.

With the high price of bandwidth, the company I work for can only afford a 10M/10M pipe. It sounds like a lot until you realize that we have 150+ employees plus our customers trying to cram all of their data onto it including about a dozen teleworkers. It works out to around a single ISDN channel worth of bandwidth per employee. Granted, we’re not all using it at the same time, but a few large uploads or downloads can saturate it.

My home connection isn’t any better. I’ve gone with Comcast, the lesser of two evils, and a paltry 12M/2M connection costs as much as a 20M/10M connection from a UTOPIA provider. I can’t even imagine doing uploads on Qwest’s upload-crippled DSL. While Live Mesh takes the management frustration out of file syncing, it’s held hostage to my connection speed.

The demand for higher upload speeds is there, but don’t count on your local duopoly to come up with a product to meet it, at least not at a price that’s affordable. Phone companies have purposefully restricted their upload speeds to keep from cannibalizing lucrative T1 services, a technology that dates back five decades. Cable companies have no incentive to be more than a little bit better than the phone company; Comcast can claim over twice the upload speed of Qwest, but the connection is still useless for heavy-duty uploading. The “any color you want, as long as it’s black” business model ignores market needs, a direct result of our non-competitive telecommunications landscape.

This is why we need competing transport from UTOPIA. It’s about the only thing keeping Qwest and Comcast on their toes. A reader e-mailed me pictures today of frequent Comcast truck rolls in Brigham City in the small UTOPIA footprint up there. They’re spooked that someone built a better mousetrap and they should be. The product is better, you aren’t locked into a single provider if the service stinks, and you can use the cutting edge products without wasting your entire day transferring data back and forth.

Live Mesh isn’t the only example. I do backups with MozyHome and a large set of changes can take several hours to finish uploading. I don’t even really try streaming my media collection from a remote system anymore since the connection frequently hiccups and is only suitable for music, leaving my vast collection of ripped DVDs chained to my desktop and AppleTV. I don’t get to use my connection for everything I want, pure and simple. Not because I’m blocked, but because the service isn’t up to snuff. Net neutrality may be the cause celeb, but maybe we should be talking upload parity instead.