For the last couple of years, I’ve been walking around with a tough, shock-resistant memory stick in my pocket . It contains an emergency back-up of all my current work files - and has prompted more than one comment along the lines of, "is that a memory stick in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?" However, 2011 could …
The killer application for Dropbox
What the review didn't mention about Dropbox was that every change you make to any file is retained for two weeks (free version) or indefinitely (paid-for version config option). So if you delete a file by accident, or corrupt it, you can go to the Dropbox web site, log in, and reinstate the version you wanted. This has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. I now have two businesses that rely upon Dropbox - if they went bust, we'd be scrabbling for a replacement. It's reliable, decently priced, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
I'm sticking with a memory stick or USB HDD. It's faster than my internet connection, not dependant on having internet access, cheaper than most of these services, no subscription required, more secure...Cloud storage is handy for sharing stuff between people but other than that I feel I'm missing the point of the services.
Ah, but your phone can't access the memory stick on the go can it?
Which i believe is the big point here as many people want to sync to computers or more devices without constantly saving things to a USB and plugging it into different computers.
I can save to the SD card on the phone so they'll be accessible on the go and it'll still be recognised as a mass storage device in any Windows PC ;)
But, yes, your point is taken. Saving to USB storage as a single location never seemed a hassle to me but to each their own.
I use livedrive.com. Unlimited backups, can be used on multiple PCs, and fairly cheap.
500GB uploaded thus far, more to go....
Do these 'free' services help themselves to a lifetime worldwide licence to use your data?
Can you be sure data you've deleted is gone?
Is my data encrypted?
What assurances do you have over availability of your data?
If the company goes bust does the liquidator inherit my data?
If the company goes bust can I still get my data?
Where do the back ups go?
Is it legal for my data?
Before you upload your office data to those services have you considered the impact on your companies policies and legal requirements?
Are you transferring personal data out of the EEA and therefore breaking the DPA?
There are so many questions you have to know the answers to before you use these services. It's not simply a matter of how much is it and how easily can I spread my data.
We've considered these services from the individual user's perspective - as Reg Hardware always does. You raise some fair points, but they really centre on the business usage of these offerings, which is another article altogether.
Business usage? No...
Most of the questions are things any individual user considers, or at least should do if they want to avoid nasty surprises down the line.
from a home user's perspective...
Will amazon/apple/microsoft/et al be trawling through my files to try and sell me things?
Will I find my university thesis/latest novel in progress/etc available via Amazon if i search?
Will i find my holiday photo's used in Microsoft's latest marketing campaign?
whilst other people getting at your data is one thing, how trustworthy are the people you are handing it to, and what access are you granting them in exchange for this "free" storage?
I agree, there is a lot of questions that *everyone* should be asking of on-line providers, and I guess the above list covers the key ones. In fact, the simplest of all is this:
Do I have the encryption key, and it is not known to the storage host?
For most other factors, where the data is held, what happens if they are bought/liquidated, etc, they become less important as they cannot DO anything with my data as they don't get it plain-text.
OK, you have to ask what happens if it vanishes, but again you must look at the 'cloud' as a good HDD, not as a complete solution. You should have 2 copies of your data no matter what! 
And I know the arguments about de-dupe, but surely you could have a user-side client encryption that is block de-dupe friendly by encrypting blocks of the same size (4kB, 64kB?) with the same key-based pattern so they still de-dupe even if the plain text is unknown?
Valid point but worse is done via google et al.
"Are you transferring personal data out of the EEA and therefore breaking the DPA?"
Google does it anyway and openly says so, Yahoo says it does in the small print and facebook no doubt (you should look at selling advertising and you can see just what data they offer out for the highest bidder) and you can bet your backside MS does. All of these have servers outside the DPA. Let's not forget the DPA is worthless if the ICO is useless and he is, always has been.
So if you use hotmail, yahoo, facebook or Gmail you are just letting them read all your files. Usually personal and intimate details about yourself because inteligence and common sense seems sparse on the ground. Why would it be different for a backup, other than you companies data?
No one bats an eyelid about sending your partner via email something rude, or what your kids send to eachother via MSN (The pictures I saw when I was a techie having to MOT a PC.)
Poor review for MobileMe
I'm don't normally comment, but given this review could (unlikely maybe) help someone choose a service then I thought I'd point out an inaccuracy in the MobileMe review.
1. Using the Mac I can use a local mode on the iDisk folder that stores files locally then syncs when it gets a network connection. So what I do is use the iDisk folder as a kind of "My Documents" and it'll happily sync everything. It allows me to selectively sync stuff to the cloud. I guess it does mean I couldn't sync operating system files because I couldn't keep them in that folder but then why would I do that? I haven't tested what happens if I try to modify the file in two different places before the sync occurs yet but for my personal use it works nicely
2. You can quite easily access your iDisk folder on a PC by mapping a share to it. It's not as slick as it could be though and requires some technical knowledge that many of the people MobileMe is aimed at wouldn't have.
In summary, If you are a Mac then MobileMe provides a lot of cool services all rolled into one, and if like me you have a couple of macs and various other Apple tat then MobileMe works out very good value for what you get and does just work even allowing sharing of drives across the internet from other machines or drives attached to a Airport Device without barely any configuration on the users part. I most definitely don't need another file syncing service
If you are a PC then I personally wouldn't choose MobileMe and I'd have gone DropBox instead
Re: Poor review for MobileMe
Fair point about the PC usage.
A lot of us here use MobileMe for data syncing, but this review focuses on iDisk, which is a poor alternative to Dropbox. I know, I use both.
Mix and match
The combination of a 320GB external HDD, Google Docs and Dropbox has all my bases covered. Monthly cost: - zero.
You need to spread the cost of the USB drive across the months you use it.
For us freetards
...there is Ubuntu One, which shares many features such as the multi machine sync of Dropbox and contact sync. Also some browser sync and Tomboy notes support.
Free to 2GB. 20GB for $2.99/mo
Also a mobile streaming audio thing that I have not really got my head around but then I use my phone to talk to people.
with mobile me you can map a network drive if you are working on windoze, but it wont auto sync.
Nas Box 'n' broadband.
A proper Nas box and a decent broadband (24down 2.5up) means I don't have a problem accessing my files anywhere.. and if I want to I have a phone with USB Drive mode.
Some NAS boxes are able to use one or more these services, which can be quite handy. My Synology can use S3, which from my perspective is a big vote in favour of S3.
The concerns voiced in other comments with regard to data privacy are enough to have kept me off it so far.
Another vote for Dropbox
For me, Dropbox wins out on a good few counts - it's genuinely cross-platform (not just Win/Mac), and I can link multiple machines to my account (in my case, our Mac and my Linux-powered netbook).
Better still, Dropbox doesn't keep files only on their server, and give you "pointers" on your PC. It *mirrors* files to every linked computer - therefore, in my case, I have three actual copies of any given file in my Dropbox.
Each to their own, of course, but for me Dropbox is an essential. I just wish they had a paid account between the "free/2Gb" one and the "$10/50Gb" - say, "$50 p.a./10Gb" or something. Feel a bit guilty for being a "freeloader"...
(I have no connection with Dropbox beyong being a satisfied user, BTW :-) )
They do offer a 20gb paid version !
DB keeps pretty quiet about that on their Pricing page (https://www.dropbox.com/pricing - only shows the 2, 50 and 100 packages). However, if it's still an option, I wouldn't mind finding out more.
Hope you're right, anyway :-)
Also worth noting that once Dropbox has a copy of your file (eg - Latest Word Document, but works with any file type) only CHANGES to the file are subsequently - be that mp3s, exe, zip, doc etc.
Thus HUGE saving on upload bandwidth and for however many machines the files are being synced on - they only have to download small bits of data instead of the whole file.
Not enough mention of Linux clients for my liking.
* dropbox has a well-regarded linux client, but is very expensive.
* carbonite doesn't like penguins.
* Ubuntu One does 20Gb for 30USD per year, which still seems over-priced to me.
Worth looking at -
Like Dropbox, but designed to sync and backup *any* folder across multiple machines (not just what you keep in your 'dropbox' folder) - which is quite handy. 5GB free. Versioning for rollbacks. Mac and PC clients, Linux client being made by community.
I'll second the SugarSync recommendation. Used it for many years. Every once in a while I look around to see if there is a better/cheaper alternative but not found one yet. I keep my wife's and my PC's backed up and have a series of folders synched across the two and it just works beautifully. There is also an Android client but I've yet to come up with a reason to use it.
Will also second SugarSync...
...cheaper than DropBox, and can sync folders from any location. I find I use SugarSync for backing up / keeping my local docs sync'ed between machines, and a (free) DropBox account for ad-hoc sharing with other people.
Was hoping this would evaluate between DropBox and SugarSync. SugarSync has cheaper storage, only the lack of syncing USB or network drives stops it being clearly superior in my view.
Android clients good on both - having the option to stream your complete music collection is handy, SugarSync streams video too.
SugarSync and shared folders
+1 for SugarSync, and one nice feature vs dropbox: in dropbox, a shared folder counts against the storage quotas of both the sharer and the sharee. In SugarSync, it only counts against the sharer's quota. This was a big factor for me, as I use the service to sync 10 years worth of digital photos between my wife's computer and mine.
For those worried about "the cloud".
There is always pogo plug which provides cloud like usability, however you own the storage and have it located locally.
The only drawbacks are it isn't offsite backup and the horrible pink colour.
I wonder why no full backup
I wonder why none of them seem to encourage full backups. It seems quite a reasonable use. I've got a couple of TiB of data total, but I bet 95%+ of that is duplicated on other machines with the same old apps, games and pr0n as other people.
I'd be interested to know if any of them were smart enough to recognise that they already had the files you had somewhere (hash it?) on their cloud and not make you upload it if so. The only downsides I can see are:
1) They'd know what files you had, which dependant on how its done with uploads they wouldn't necessarily know.
2) It'd be harder to explain pricing to customers if they started charging for what the service cost rather than just per GiB. It presumably costs them next to nothing to store the same identical file as another 1000 customers have.
Another vote for dropbox here. The previous version file restore really saved my bacon last week, and I also use it on two windows PC's, a Linux PC, my Android phone, and iPad!
You can also get more than 2GB free by referring more people to use the service.
A couple of alternatives
It should be noted that Mozy has some limitations in my experience. There was no Linux client available the last time I looked and you can't back up a network drive as the Windows client will only let you back up disks that are part of the machine on which you're running the client. (This applies to many of the other services mentioned as well)
The only service I've found that lets you back up unlimited amounts of data, allows backup of NAS boxes, that's cheap and works with all platforms comes from www.onlinestoragesolutions.com. It has to be said that the connection is not the most robust I've come across and the software offered is pigging awful, but if you're prepared to use (Secure) FTP then for $39 p.a. you can back up all of that 2TB hard disk just in case your house or office burns down. Bear in mind that it'll take you a few weeks or months to get it up onto the remote server, though.
I used to use Memopal as their service works with Linux as well and is reasonably cheap - I think it was €120 for 200Gb for 2 years. Again, pretty frill-free software but it worked.
Surprised SpiderOak hasn't been mentioned thus far. It's cross platform (Windows/Linux/Mac and iOS/Android apps), reasonably cheap ($10 per 100GB), backs up any specified folders, and does folder syncing across machines. Main feature though is that all data is encrypted locally before it goes to the cloud, so (supposedly) cannot be accessed by SpiderOak themselves (or subpoena-brandishing US authorities).
Only downside is that the client software can be a bit clunky at times (probably due to all the encryption/decryption).
SpiderOak looks good
Assuming it is all honest, then SpiderOak looks like the sort of answer to on-line backup/syncing, client-side encrypted hence no real worries about where the servers are, etc.
Still, keep your local copy just in case!
man, do I miss the days when this site was actually for geeks.
[adamw@vaioz ~]$ cat .ssh/config
[adamw@vaioz ~]$ ssh ext_adam
Last login: Tue Dec 14 03:13:04 2010 from 81-86-247-164.dsl.pipex.com
OH HAI LOOK IT'S ALL MY FILES! Can I get a patent on Web 0.1?
for the semi-advanced class: just set up a git repo. Which is, actually, what dropbox does, behind the scenes, IIRC.
It would have been nice to see an article which broke down what these services are actually offering - really, just hosting space and a GUI app and some kind of repository on the backend - and the different ways you can spin this, rather than just a boring round-up which pretends they're clicky clicky GUI apps for morons. Sigh. Also, get off my lawn.
Went to this from Mozy and it works good for me, select my own folders to back up (which is what I don't like about DropBox, move all my files to a special folder just to back them up? Eh?), has some flexibility in include/exclude rules (although needs better support for this imo) and best of all you can get up to 12GB free if you are willing to share your address book of an email account (which doesn't have to necessarily be your MAIN email account address book if you get my drift).
As others have said, this isn't anywhere near as convenient as a local backup (to a spare drive) or to another machine (such as a laptop) or to an external device like a HDD, but I only use it for 'must not lose' files as a repository of last resort (such as if the house burns down and I lose all the contents).
Horses for courses and all that.
Backups or additional storage?
Whilst I can see the advantage of something like drop box for backing up my data. My question is how realistic is it to use these services as a HDD replacement? I guess I am thinking that ChromeOS is just round the corner, so realisticly how prepared is the Cloud for being a replacement for a hard drive?
If I shoved all my music on it can an MP3 player connected to my laptop sync with the cloud? Is it fast enough to provide instant access to my documents? Can they provide offline modes to access some information if your net connection goes down?
I like the idea of moving to the cloud and having access to all my documents from anything and from anywhere. But so much of our consumer tech (like cameras, MP3 players etc) require locally stored documents to sync I can't see it as anything more then a handy way to backup.
Persistence of data.
Thanks for the article, but what about where and how your backups are stored? I would have thought that after ease of use of the interface and cost this would be the most important point but there is no mention of it. After all the reason I'm backing up, apart from syncing across multiple devices is because my hard drive might fail. If the service I choose is just another HDD on a server in a data centre that may also fail that's not ideal. I want to know how persistent that data storage is.
I use S3 but Dropbox is my favourite. It syncs across everything and the integration into my desktop is superb, but how safe is my data? Are they going to loose it.? It's not a stupid question, if the backup service is only another disk drive on another computer. At least with S3 I know that all my data is duplicated across at least 3 geographically diverse facilities and on different nodes within each data centre. That's persistence of data.
What do the other services offer? I don't know and it's not discussed in the article or the comments. I would have thought it worth more investigation.
Anyway I've had a quick look at Dropbox and in the support section of their website it turns out that Dropbox back up to S3. So I'm happy with that.
What do the others do? Anyone know?
Spideroak is fantastic
Having actually installed & tried quite a few of the alternatives, I concluded that Spideroak was fantastic and suited my requirements....
One of the best aspects of Spideroak is that you are not forced to use a single folder for synchronization, but you are able to backup and synchronize any of your existing folders.
One feature I found appealing is their 'Zero-knowledge' encryption policy... (https://spideroak.com/engineering_matters#true_privacy)
Another plus is that it is multiplatform. I have documents/folders synchronized between my Mac & XP machines, in sync and backed up to the cloud. Very easy to use.
Missing - SpiderOak and Ubuntu One
I can see why you didn't include UbuntuOne since it's Thought to be Ubuntu only. But with the Windows client coming out or beta soon you might have wanted to take a look at that. (The Ubuntu One Music stream function is a nice feature)
But not including or mentioning SpiderOak? That's probably one of the most secure (i.e. no snooping by the hosts at your files) out of all the ones listed.
The ability to back up your machine's encrypted data to both a Cloud server and a local drive means you've got both a quick recovery of a machine as well as a secure remote storage.
I've used SpiderOak for nearly 2 years now! I've used it a lot (lot more than I would have thought) as a backup solution.
I use SpiderOak for my whole system and UbuntuOne for my personal documents and music. Both are easy to use and setup (SpiderOak can be slow when doing the first few big backups but after that you hardly notice it.)
Sort of DIY
I can highly recommend OWL (http://owl.anytimecomm.com/) and any web hosting provider or vps etc.
It works on anything with a browser
MS Live Mesh.
The Mesh client is only available for Se7en and Vista, no XP version (although there is apparently a Mac OS version - WTF?).
Given that it's astonishingly likely that ones work machine runs XP, I don't quite see where the recommendation comes from. Yes there's web access for other OSs and versions via SkyDrive, but it's a Byzantine POS and sloooooooowwwww as hell. 5Gb that you can only access easily from a very limited number of clients just doesn't cut it.
The other problem here is size ain't everything. It may be very generous of 'em to give away 25Gigs with 5Gigs Mesh, but I reckon that unless your patience levels make Job look like an ADD-afflicted toddler you'll be wanting a USB drive for anything over about 2Gigs anyway. Just remember, the fact that you want it accessible whereever you are just about dictates that sometimes you'll want it when you're sat somewhere where bandwidth is limited.
What I've looked for a few times and never found is sort of an opensource implementation of dropbox. I used to access my NAS via FTP or SSH to move files between my machines/phone over the net, but dropbox/sugarsync are just so efficient and convenient, they tirelessly keep a near instant mirror of a folder up to date across multiple machines and seem to deal nicely with duplicates and changes on several machines at once, not to mention the file history features, all without ever having to think about it.
Is there an opensource project that does what dropbox does but where you provide the server/NAS IP? Would be nice to keep my own data and set my own storage limit...
TeamDrive claims to do this exactly, replicate Dropbox functionality but you provide the serverspace !
Oh Google, where art thou?
Funny that Google wouldn't be anywhere in this list... And rightly so, as their main cloud storage offering (Google Docs' "file upload" feature) is still too cumbersome for everyday use. Perhaps – specially considering that Google Docs now allows arbitrary file upload – it's about time to revisit the concept of a Google Docs filesystem? It could very well prove a Dropbox contender, particularly among Google whores such as myself.
Paris, because of them goggles.
Another Dropbox fan
I use this too (as an online data backup rather than multiple device sync) and would recommend it. I back up my data to a USB disk but this is in case my house burns down or my PC and disk are stolen. The iphone app is very good too and it allows me to access my many photos from anywhere.
The only complaint is I would prefer to be able to select folders outside of the dropbox folder to backup.
Not being ready to entrust my digital life to strangers, even encrypted, I use the old 2 x memory stick routine. Both sticks contain encrypted backups, full and incremental. They are never in my house at the same time. One is always... somewhere else. Offsiting for cheapskates, but it works.