A Search for Online Storage

I spent the evening looking for some online storage. I currently make use of spare disk space on the hosting servers (for client storage) and Amazon S3 for backups (using Duplicity). Amazon is great for having one, unlimited account where I can back almost anything up, but it’s not so useful for clients as they need to have a login to up- and down-load files. And using space on the hosting servers has got to be about the most expensive way of handling storage needs. Time to check out some alternatives…There are a lot of ‘Online Backup’ solutions, but backup is not what I’m looking for. What I need is Online Storage and a short search threw up a short list: DropBox, MyOtherDrive, Diino, SpiderOak and some others that appeared to be Windows only.

My needs are quite specific:

  • My clients use Windows and Mac, I use Linux, so it must be multiplatform
  • I need to create folders and specify who can access them. Bonus points if I can give permissions to a client for a folder and he can then assign different permissions for his folders.
  • Bonus points if there is a command line access to the system.
  • Should be accessible from anywhere through a browser. It’s OK to have a desktop client, but that shouldn’t be the only way to access the files.Price is not an issue, I’m happy to pay for a company that will stick around and take care of the data for me, but the price must be reasonable. A dollar per gigabyte per year would work for me. All the companies I looked at provide free packages and trials of the full package.

And, of course, it must be easy to use. One of the drawbacks of many systems that I looked at is that they are oriented towards either backing up files or synchronizing a directory with an online mirror. So you specify, say, MyDocuments on your computer and the program uploads the files and keeps them in sync. This isn’t what I need for sharing files between groups, although it will work (create a folder, put the files in it that you want to share and send the link and permissions to the other users). But, there is a danger that if you delete the files from that folder, the online version will also disappear, which is not what your users expect. There are ways around this, but it is a point of failure. In fact my first test with DropBox, I created a folder, sync’ed it up to the server and when they were up there, deleted the copies off my local folder (they were copies from elsewhere in the system). Then I sent out the link to someone to share the files with. But by then the daemon had removed them from the server as part of the sync process.

Dropbox

Dropbox offer backup, sharing and synchronization, either through a web browser or through a desktop application. They were the only company that offers a Linux daemon that can run in the background (although SpiderOak can run in headless mode). Dropbox have a strong reputation in the online storage business with an active development team and active forums. The focus of DropBox does seem to be in mirroring and synchronizing files and folders, which makes it less intuitive for sharing files between different users and groups.

  • 2Gb - Free
  • 50Gb - $10/m or $100/yr

MyOtherDrive

MyOtherDrive offer backup, sharing and linking. Access is either through the web or through a desktop client.
At first, both desktop client and web browser applet just hang there without errors.  Later, I setup Java from Sun, and the desktop app works correctly and has a clear, straightforward interface, although the applet still failed.

  •  2Gb - free
  • 50Gb - $10/m or $100/yr

Diino

Diino provide a desktop client in Java for Windows, Mac and Linux. Unfortunately, the Linux version is 32bit only so I couldn’t test that. However, there is a web interface, so after I login, I can create folders and share them. The only thing I can’t seem to do is upload files, as the interface just hangs there and does nothing, which also means I couldn’t test the downloading of the files. So, off to Windows, where the client installs without problem. It’s a pretty basic, straightforward client but the lack of Linux meant it was a no-go for me.

  • 2Gb - Free
  • 100Gb - $5/m
  • 500Gb - $10/m

SpiderOak

SpiderOak sport a nice web site, lots of useful information and generally inspire confidence in their system. They also have a page of code downloads (giving back to the community) and reasonable help and support files. What they didn’t have was software for openSuSE Linux. They have packages for Windows, Mac, Fedora, Ubuntu, Slackware and Debian and as the software is Java based, the limitation of packaging seemed strange. (Update: Apparently it is written in Python and C). You can’t even open an account without installing the software, so I had to sign up using Windows, then I can login through Firefox in Linux. Later I managed to download the Ubuntu 64 bit package and install that under openSuse and that works fine. There is no simple way to upload files through, it is strictly backup of files and sharing folders between computers.
They also offer a headless client that can do a lot more than the GUI and is ideal for servers. I haven’t tried that yet.

  • 2Gb - Free
  • 100Gb - $10/m
  • additional 100Gb at $10/m

SMEStorage

SMEStorage offer a web based FTP style interface and use Amazon S3 as a storage medium. What was more interesting is that they have a version of their interface that allows you to use your own S3 keys through their interface. The option is in beta at the moment and I signed up to give it a try. Basically, it works… however, it is beta and there are many aspects that didn’t work or would time out or act unpredictably. Not ready for production use but a system to keep an eye on.

  • The beta is free at the moment (you pay your own storage costs with Amazon) but they hint at it being $2/month later on. Although what that covers I have no idea.

ZumoDrive

No linux support so I didn’t try it out, although they promise that it is in development. Very much oriented towards synchronizing and backing up, although sharing files and folders is also an option.

  • 1Gb -Free
  • 10Gb - $3/m
  • 25Gb - $7/m
  • 50Gb - $12/m

Conclusion

From my first overview, I’ve narrowed it down to DropBox, MyOtherDrive and SpiderOak and I’m playing around with their 2Gb of free space at present. DropBox has a nice solid feel to it, although it is a little more expensive. I’m not sure how easy it will be for sharing files around, i’ll look more closely at that soon. SpiderOak appealed to my programmer side, which is not necessarily a good thing for user-friendliness, but so far it works well.
The next stage will be to upload some files and try sharing them with some none technical people and see how that works.