Online Cloud Storage...Which one?

In a recent article, I wrote about cloud storage to use for my source-code repository.  I chose ZumoDrive as the tool to implement this because it allowed filesystem level access to my files from the desktop.  Or, in other words, my desktop sees the ZumoDrive like another physical device attached to my computer. However, in actually using ZumoDrive, I noticed some ... features ... that I wasn't too pleased with.  Instead of capping on just ZumoDrive, I thought I'd offer a narrow perspective on the capabilities and ... features ... of some of the more popular online cloud-based storage options.

My selection process was based on simply whether or not I could use the storage from my Mac.  Let's get started...

The first system tested was Memopal -- this solution is available on all platforms, (Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, iPhone), and offers 2Gb of free storage.  It advertises itself as "online backup and storage" as it archives your files in real-time to their remote servers.

You can browse any of your files online, using a web-browser, and you can also share these files with other users.  Memopal allows transfers of files that are larger than 1Gb, so using this service as a means to copy files to other users, because you can't send large attachments though email, make this a handy solution.

What's also amazing is that you can get 200Gb for only $49 per year.

What's not so amazing is that it doesn't provide you with desktop level access to your files so you can't use the offline storage as a real-time disk file system.  For my needs and purposes, I'm going to pass and un-install the product.

I have been a .mac (or .me) account owner since 2007 and have witnessed several upgrades to the service.  I was in the process of dumping my me.com account when Apple suddenly extended my account until June 30, 2012 in anticipation of the release of their iCloud offering.

The iDisk, as it's referred to via your mobile-me account, is slightly more than 15Gb of online storage which used to cost you $99/year.  (You got other stuff besides the storage which supposedly made it a "deal", but Apple has been forced to re-price their offerings in order to remain strategically competitive with other cloud vendors.)  The iDisk is configurable from your System Preferences menu and, if you're one of the account holders at the time Apple froze the offering, you can no longer upgrade or increase your storage capacity.  What you had is what you have until the iCloud becomes available.

What's good about this storage is that it's accessible as a mount-point (file system access as a device drive) to your system which means you an use it finder, or through any application, to access your files.  It's totally transparent as a remote device.  I also like that I have to manually mount the device to access it so there's never any background "sync" happening to slow my system down when I don't need it.

The downside is the bandwidth limitation of 200Gb of data transfer per month.  If I'm doing a lot of development, I'd imagine I could hit that pretty quickly just checking-in, and then creating and modifying the existing code base.  So I've never tried to use my iDisk for anything other than storing static documents that I don't need clogging up my physical devices.

Because of the bandwidth limitation, Mobile-Me does not satisfy my requirements.

ZumoDrive is the software I initially chose to use as my cloud-storage choice for my source-code control.  ZumoDrive is also the reason why I am writing this article, wishing I had done my due-dilligence in evaluating the software before committing (svn pun) to it.

ZumoDrive offers you 1Gb of free storage which is easily expandable to 2Gb once you complete the "belts" in their "dojo".  Cute.  Basically a test-drive through the product, training in the Dojo advances you through the belts until your max your training at black-belt and you've doubled your storage to 2Gb.

ZumoDrive is software you download and install.  It's available on all desktop and mobile platforms.  ZumoDrive mounts on your desktop as a virtual drive, which meets our purposes of remote file-system storage.  Unfortunately, ZumoDrive caches a copy of your file(s) on your local drive and then updates the remote drive when not in use.  Like, when you're playing World-of-Warcraft and need the network bandwidth because, you know, it's not already laggy enough in capital cities.

If you've followed my previous tutorial and created a TrueCrypt container on your cloud drive, then the real downside of this system makes itself readily apparent.  Uploading a 500Mb file to the server at (average speed) 77Kb/sec is going to take a LONG time.  Changing the cache options to minimize the amount of diskspace stored locally didn't impact this -- the software still sees a single, 500Mb file.

While I love the concept of ZumoDrive -- MobileMe without the bandwidth constraints -- the local caching of the TrueCrypt volume murders the concept since it's doesn't see the files within the TrueCrypt container.

SugarSync is an online cloud storage system that offers a 30-day free trial.  You can get 30Gb of online cloud storage for $5/month or $50/year.  They have a 250Gb plan for $250/year which is sort of funny when you look at what Memopal was charging: $50 for 200Gb...

I'm not going to incur another monthly charge for online storage so, to be honest, I didn't even bother to download and install the product for evaluation.

TeamDrive offers 2Gb of free cloud storage.  From reviewing the product on the website, I knew it wouldn't meet my requirements, but there were enough enticements to the feature-set that I went ahead and downloaded and installed the 100Mb file anyway.  TeamDrive is accessed through a custom-application that's finder-like in it's UX.  You can also access the application my clicking on the relevant icon in the menubar.  TeamDrive offers collaboration and synchronization as it's main features.

The UX is intuitive although window's-like.  Since TeamDrive is primarily collaboration software, it keeps track of the users who are in your team.  Although I didn't think much of the product for what I need, I was encouraged to evaluate the offering because it had a feature I'd not seen before -- the ability to create and host your own TeamDrive server.

I've been using Dropbox for over a year now.  It's my primary means of transferring files between home and work.  I also like the fact that 1Password uses it automagically to synchronize itself.  Dropbox offers 2Gb of free cloud storage that is accessible from pretty much every known appliance available on the market today.  Dropbox provides you with a file-system mount point so that you can access your files via Finder making it perfect for what I need.

The only downside, for me, is that I depend on Dropbox for file storage for other things such that my available bandwidth is only about a 500Mb.  The upgrade costs are prohibitively expensive, especially when compared with other offerings in the industry.  Sorry, Dropbox, but $200/year for 100Gb is not a value-add.

The final note, for DropBox, is that it, too, views an encrypted file container as a single file.  Dropbox's upload/synchronization speed was even worse than ZumoDrive's at 55K/sec.

I also have an Amazon Cloud account -- which is 20Gb of free storage -- because I use Amazon's MP3 cloud on my Android device.  I mention it here because of the phenomenal amount of storage that you get for FREE.  I can only access my cloud storage through the web, which is ok since all I'm storing there are my MP3 files that I've downloaded (DRM Free - hear that, Apple?) from their music service. Unfortunately, I can't access the storage from my desktop...

Other Mentions:

I looked at these products but didn't bother with the evaluation since I could read, from the product descriptions, that they would not satisfy my requirements.

idrive.com -- 5Gb basic (free) solution limited to only back-up and recovery.

syncplicity.com - web-based back-up and recovery tool.  Free, but limited to 2-computer access and 2Gb storage.

spideroak.com - pretty much web-based b&r and file sharing through the web ux.

Conclusions

What I want to do just isn't possible at the current time because of restrictions of my DSL and the way cloud services view a TrueCrypt container.  I've got a pretty good working overview of what's available and I explored a lot of solutions that were pretty damn exciting.  I also think that we're going to see the cloud marketplace evolve rapidly and those companies which are charging significant amounts per megabyte are going to have to rethink their pricing strategies or risk becoming fossil fuel.

I'm also excited by what Apple will bring to the table with iCloud -- I think that we'll be able to have file-system level access to our cloud storage but I'm also sure that the same limitations will apply for synchronization...