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June 4, 2009

Pando: Sharing Big Files The Easy Way


Pando is an online service that takes a different look at how larger files are sent and shared across the Internet. What Pando is not, is another online storage site.

Today I’d like to tell you what Pano is about, how it works and what it can and cannot do. I’ll also tell you if it’s worth giving it a try.


Emailing Large Attachments

One of the difficulties sometimes encountered by users is that no matter how large their email inbox is they cannot send or receive files greater than a certain size — regardless of how many megabytes of storage they have available for their inbox.

This is sometimes nothing more than a hold over from days when large files were virtually guaranteed to be frivolous as opposed to the far smaller “serious” files generated by the likes of Microsoft Office. Other times, the maximum file size restrictions for sending or receiving email are part of an effort to hold down the overall size of email storage, regardless of how much room is allotted as a “maximum” to the user.

It isn’t hard to see why. Many users end up storing several copies of an email: one in their inbox, one in a folder where they put certain kinds of emails and attachments, another in their sent folder (if they pass it on), and perhaps another in their offline storage for email. Let too many users do that with 500 MB files and pretty soon, you have full email servers and no one really knows why.


Pando: Big Files — Little Attachments

Pando offers users a way to get around the size limitations imposed by their email, as well as other services and programs.


Users download a Pando client to their workstation. The client is relatively lightweight, weighing in at around 7.5 MB installed (not including any downloaded data) and running in about 30 MB of RAM when idle, and taking up to 36 MB while downloading files during our tests. Fortunately, Pando is well behaved and right clicking the tray icon and choosing Shut Down closes the whole program without leaving any services or clients running in the background.

Once the user has the client installed they can begin creating .pando files.

When a user wants to email a huge file attachment to a friend or colleague, they open the Pando client and select the file(s) that they wish to share by either browsing or dragging and dropping the files into the client window, typing a name for the file, and entering the recipient’s email address and message. Then, they just click SEND.

There is also an Outlook tool that integrates this process into the email client so that the user need not use the Pando interface, but the Pando client must still be installed on the user’s computer.

The recipient receives a regular email from the sender with an attachment with the chosen name and a .pando extension. The magic is that the attachment is small, the size that will not set off any blocking. Opening the attachment allows the user to retrieve the files outside of the email system.


So … Where’s the Catch?

This is where Pando becomes the kind of thing that isn’t useful in all situations. In order to retrieve the “Pando-ed” files, the recipient also has to have the Pando client installed.

If they don’t, Pando will direct them to information saying as much and asking them to download the client. It is a relatively painless process, but one that likely is best used when both parties are expecting it.


Sharing Big Files: IM and Web

Pando files can also be shared via Instant Massager or on regular websites via similar mechanisms. In all cases, the original user must have the Pando client to create the .pando file and the recipient must have the Pando client to open .pando files.


How Does Pando Work

Pando bills itself as a “cross between Bittorrent and a data center.” That may be over stating a little bit. Essentially what Pando does is facilitate a file download for users whether by email, IM, or link on a website.

When a sender creates a .pando package, the original files are uploaded to the Pando servers. Files are encrypted during transfer and on the Pando servers, so theoretically any data contained in them is safe.

Also, .pando files can be password protected. In this event, the creator has to get the password to the recipient outside of the Pando system.

When the recipient “opens” the .pando file using the client, the Pando service responds by downloading the files from both the sender’s computer, and its own servers simultaneously. The advantage over other methods that send the files directly from the sender’s computer, is that if that computer is not online, Pando retrieves the files from the company servers instead.

That means that no one has to worry about whether or not the other computer will be online.

For files shared via email or IM, Pando stores them for 7 days for free users and 14 days for Pro users from the date of the last access. As long as no one is on vacation, this shouldn’t be a problem. If, for whatever reason, the user requests an “expired” .pando, the client will try to get the files directly from the original PC, but it will not re-upload those files to the Pando servers, so both computers will have to be online together for this to work.

For files shared via web link, they are stored for 30 days for free users and 60 days for Pro users.

Pando works, as many online services do, on a Free and Pro model. Free users are allowed 5 GB of storage and Pro users are allowed 10 GB, although the site says that those quotas are not currently enforced. Individual files may be a maximum of 1 GB for free users and 5 GB for Pro users.


Is Pando Worth It?

With the increasing array of options available for collaboration, one can’t help but wonder where Pando fits. Virtual desktops allow automatic synchronization versus Pando’s manual file creation, sending, and receiving model.

Many of those systems offer just as much overall storage, although the individual file sizes may have lower limits. Of course, one wonders just how frequently a single 850 MB file gets sent by the average user.

If virtual desktops aren’t your thing, or if the size constrictions are too tight, then there are numerous online storage offerings out there that will allow you to upload a large file(s) which you can then point the recipient to via a simple web link without the need for downloading and installing any software.

Such a scenario will likely be much more palatable to people with whom you don’t have a close enough relationship with to pre-discuss Pando and why you and they should be using it.

During testing, a direct download from a site like Dropbox was much faster than getting the same file over the Pando network.

Microsoft offers a similar service called SkyDrive and the rumor mill has been anticipating a Google storage service for a long time.

Theoretically, if a file were shared with multiple users, either via email sent to multiple recipients, or via a website link, Pando could use multiple computers to transfer the necessary bits of data to the different users, resulting in something more akin to a p2p network

Another potential use would be for content creators who want a way to distribute that content without having to have their own data servers. Of course, this limits the potential audience to users who have the Pando client installed.

However, under what seems to be the most common scenario (a small number of users receiving an email that they download at varying times) the average user will experience nothing more than files being downloaded automatically from a server for them, at the expense of having to install extra software.

Obviously, if users anticipated frequent exchanges in this manner, then it might be worth it, but certainly not for one-time exchanges, or even once-a-month exchanges.


ABC Uses It

That being said, there is obviously a use for the Pando technology. ABC uses Pando technology to allow subscribers to download their TV shows automatically for viewing locally, instead of having to stream them from a site like Hulu. Of course, this requires the custom ABC client and not the standard Pando client.

Additionally, many users have a fine viewing experience via streaming. In the future, however, streaming seems to be a losing technology. Today, only a handful of the total number of people who watch a TV show ever watch it online via streaming.

If there comes a time when many more, or even a majority of users, access their television shows online, streaming technology has no hope of offering a usable experience. Imagine if the 25 million people who tune into a popular TV show all tried to watch it at 8:00 PM on Monday night when it came out. Not only could the servers not handle it, neither could the residential pipes which are shared with the very neighbors who will also be trying to get the same large amounts of data at the same time.

The Pando technology looks to have potential promise for the large distributor who wishes to “push” content down to their subscriber’s computers via a more scalable and schedulable technology. ABC distributes shows overnight for example, when most users aren’t trying to use their bandwidth for other tasks. However, ABC represents one of the few publishers who have the clout and content to compel end-users to install a new client.

In order for the generic Pando client and service to become widely used, it would need to pull off an “Adobe Acrobat” type of campaign in order to become the kind of software that everyone eventually just expects to need on virtually any computer.

Then, users could sent .pando attachments and links whenever they chose, secure in the knowledge that the other user most likely has the Pando client already installed. Until then, most users will probably opt for one of the other alternatives.

About the Author

(MCSE, CNA) is a professional freelance writer and small business owner with the freelance writing business ArcticLlama, LLC. Brian’s experience includes network and systems administration, financial planning and advising, and he even has a degree in Biochemistry. Brian specializes in several areas of highly technical writing for ArcticLlama including technology, science and medical. He is also a freelance financial writer specialist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Brian contributes articles on Windows Server 2008 and other related topics.

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