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Cloud Storage Comparison – 2014 edition

You’d think you had this all figured out – there’s your Dropbox and Google Drive and OneDrive and… wait, that’s one too many already. Recently I have noticed that my paid-for 100GB of Dropbox space is over 80% full. There’s a folder with PSD images from my photography thing, there’s backups of web sites, both live and gone, there’s documents, receipts, some e-books I am reading, a few backups of software I may or may not need. I keep getting more and more of these – mostly photography, but other stuff as well. Backups of forms from our laser hair removal business. Clients’ backups. Clients’ digital assets and raw files. Clients’ photography – both RAW and edited. It looks like I’m gonna need a way bigger boat.

Before I started looking I had my own ideas and desires. First of all – I wanted to minimize the hassle of moving, so I was really looking forward to either stay with Dropbox or at least retain it in some form. I also have a huge collection of clients’ images on Picasa (including a lot of embedded ones) and I wasn’t looking forward to moving them around in any way. Last, but not least, I really wanted to like OneDrive – primarily because Microsoft bundles online versions of Office applications with it or grants additional 20GB of space should you subscribe to Office 365. Not everything came through, but I still was in less trouble than I thought.

First of all – I was not looking at free tier offerings. Given that I need to move around almost a terabyte of data I needed something better than a couple of gigs here and there. I also looked for a storage solution that won’t limit the size of the file – at least to a reasonable level, have been around for a while, allows sharing of files and whole folders, works on mobile and PC (I cannot imagine having another Mac in my household or business any time soon, so no iAnything for me as well) and allows multiple clients to work simultaneously (so I can upload stuff from my laptop in the field and get files on my home workstation – and vice versa). This eliminated most of exotic solutions (sorry, Mega.co.nz). Unfortunately, Box.com had to go as well due to their weird file size limits. Amazon S3, RRS and Glacier didn’t make it because their usability depends solely on the quality of the client you are using (and what happens when it gets discontinued?) plus their pricing is so through the roof I wasn’t even thinking about them. Some of the services I tried and ran away for various reasons – mostly because their client software lacks sanity, usability or both. What was left is in the table below. All prices are taken from each vendor’s web site on 6/4/2014.

Click image to enlarge

In order to compare these providers I got all their plans down into a single table, then calculated the lowest price per gigabyte per year. This way the comparison would make the most sense to me: if I were to buy a single gigabyte of space for a year at a most favorable price – what would it cost me.

The first place is shared between Google Drive and Bitcasa. No one comes close to their 12 cent per gigabyte. Additional benefits for Google Drive include easy sharing of photos from Picasa or Google+, small size images (under 2048×2048) don’t take up space, tight integration with multiple OSes and mobile systems and automatic upload of images from mobile device. With Bitcasa it’s a bit more complicated – although their pricing is just as good as Google’s – their support section is nonexistent and while I see a lot of happy reports on their services I have not seen them around long enough to put my files there (we’re talking about investing a lot of time to backup large amounts of data). They are also the only two providers with officially published prices for storage over 1TB – Bitcasa offers 5GB for $49/month and Unlimited for $100/month while Google doles out 10, 20 and 30GB for $100, $200 and $300 per month respectively. The only concern for Google’s storage is their uncertainty towards Google+ and the fact that Picasa hasn’t really been updated much.

Next in line, surprisingly, is 4Sync – not another big IT name, but these guys have been around long enough and their services make sense. They allow sharing of images and files, including direct link (although only for paid users), their sync client isn’t too complicated (although not without issues) and they are pretty generous on their free tier, so you can test the hell out of them. One the con side I’ve read about some issues with reliability and that does cast a shadow on their otherwise interesting offering.

Third place is (again) shared – between Microsoft’s OneDrive and SugarSync. Pricing is so very close that I decided that both deserve this position. OneDrive works pretty much the same way as Google Drive or DropBox, can sync across computers, backup current computer configuration and pull mobile device’s photos. The only (huge) problem with OneDrive is its inability to provide direct link to images for embedding – instead you’re getting an iFrame to embed and to click on. This, of course, is unacceptable for photo sharing and publication. SugarSync appears to be in the same boat, however, their advantage is that you can sync folders anywhere on your computer – not just a designated “dropbox” folder.

Runner-up to first three places is DropBox. Their $1 per gigabyte is one of the highest prices on the market. Embedding is possible, although requires some poking around links and features and, therefore, totally unacceptable if you want to publish a post with multiple images or if you want to build a gallery (and Dropbox’s own gallery view is extremely poorly designed which makes it practically useless). The sad part is that Dropbox has become a really robust and powerful solution, so it’s sad to see it losing the game due to price alone. Given that they are the least generous on their free tier offering I can see them losing out fast to many other providers.

The conclusion is rather simple, as far as my personal use is concern. In my case instead of 100GB for $100 that I am paying Dropbox I will be able to get a terabyte of storage for $120 from Google. My DropBox account expires some time in November so I expect to fully migrate all assets into Google Drive by then. It’s rather convenient that I won’t have to move 200+ albums of images to another provider, but everything else (all 80-something gigabytes) will have to be moved. I would still take advantage of OneDrive by migrating my documents there to be able to edit them using Online Word, but it’s a tiny chunk of a pie anyway.

Work Computer Is Not Dead

There is an interesting read on O’Reilly Radar today, called “Why the cloud may finally end the reign of the work computer”. The author, Jonathan Reichental, Ph.D., brings up an interesting topic – what if workers were allowed to bring their own computers to work. This will bring costs of support up. But since the advent of the cloud it won’t matter: “With the application, data, business logic, and security all provisioned in the cloud, the computer really does simply become a portal to information and utility.

As far as I know (and I have only worked in IT for 15 years) there are two major factors that push companies to provide their own computers to workers: data security and maintenance costs. Somehow it is widely believed that if you scare your users into believing that all those viruses are out there hunting for you only because you are not “doing work” and if you stick to software on the company-issued hardware then you are magically safe. No virus will touch you because you are “doing work”. The company data is safe because we all “doing work”.

Let’s talk about data security first.

Scene 1.
When I work as a consultant at the company bringing my own laptop is either highly encouraged or required. If I am an employee at the same company, bringing my own laptop may result in what they call a “disciplinary action”. Oh, the irony.

Can you steal sensitive company data? Yes, especially if you are a contractor and therefore have less ties with a company. Just copy whatever the hell you want on your very own contractor laptop and do whatever.

Scene 2.
HIPAA-compliant institution, no one (including consultants) is allowed to use anything, but bulk, ugly and oh-so-last-century laptops provided by IT department. Each laptop has a (disabled) hardware encryption chip and a hard drive encrypted by some software. Yep, that’s how clueless the IT department is, but that’s not the point. Every single useful web site is blocked by the firewall – web mail, hosting providers, you name it. What do you think the chance of BYOC there? Zero or less.

Can you steal sensitive company data? Still yes – just take your laptop home a few times and don’t connect to company’s VPN when you hook it up. Even if CD burning or USB writing is disabled – you can still e-mail pretty much anything on your laptop to your own self.

As you can see there is little of what you can do from an IT prospective that would ensure the safety of the data. There is nothing technically sophisticated in each scene. The safety of the data relies not on technology, but on people employing it. Once C-level executives figure that out (in only hundred years or so) – no one would care what is it that you are using to get your job done.

Now, part two, maintenance cost. That’s a real one, boys and girls. It is indeed true that company buys hardware at a special discount, so if you see that brand new Dell for $600 your company may be buying the same exact model for anywhere between $300 and $500 – depending on company size, aggressiveness of Dell’s sales person and myriad of other factors. It is also a big deal to support all this hardware and it’s no joke – with all the in-house applications it becomes a nightmare to test that brand new billing system developed in shiny .NET 4.0 on your Accounting 5-year old clunkers.

Here comes the cloud, as the author of the original material says, and everything is magically working again. I say – it worked a long time ago without any cloud – just recall magic words “remote desktop”, “citrix” or even ancient “application server”. Yep, I remember environment with 50 users running the same DOS program on the server via some sort of remote terminal connection – each got their own instance, of course. Today, with virtualization, it so damn easy to have a truly unified workstation across any number of workers – it’s not even worth discussing. Just do it, back it up each night and fuhgeddaboudit.

See, ma, no hands. I mean – no clouds. Bright and sunny. And, what’s the most important part of it – no data leaves the company, even if you DO take your laptop home. Some added benefit of security, right?

Mobile In The Cloud Is Too Hot To Handle For Small Biz

Mobile To Cloud - Too Hot To Handle For A Biz The topic of mobile computing in the cloud seems to occupy every tech blogger’s mind on the planet. The idea of storing all your data on the cloud (in the clouds?) is so fascinating that anyone who dares to say otherwise is considered almost a Luddite. Well, let me play a little bit of devil’s advocate here.

When we are talking about mobile in the cloud we essentially talking about two different things. One – being on the go and storing your data on some network storage so that such data is accessible from any computer. As long as you are able to log in to that storage – you’re good to go.

Second thing – is having all of the above at our fingertips on our smartphone or mobile internet device (iPhone, iTouch and so on). For some reason, still mostly invisible to me, most tech bloggers have decided that by the end of 2010 it will be hot to have all your data in the cloud and accessible from your smart phone.

I did a little experiment recently. I purchased plenty of space on Google’s Picasa and uploaded every single photo I have since I bought my first digital camera. That includes raw images and edited images, so there was approximately 30% overhead. Still, the overall volume hit 110 Gigabyte. Nothing much in terms of current disk space. It took me a week to realize that I don’t want to wait any longer for all these pictures to be uploaded, so I canceled the process. Of course, if I had a dedicated channel it would not have taken so long, but I don’t. My nightly backups have to run. I have work to do. VPN connections eat up a lot as well. So my personal photo collection failed to upload completely.

What about small business use? Will small business owner upload all his documents, data (whatever that may be) or images if it will take away his time? I don’t think so. A few Word documents are fine, but once you start talking hundreds of megabytes, anywhere outside of the corporate networks that might be a problem. Just recently as we have finalized one of the projects, we needed to upload about 100 Megs of files – already compressed – to the client’s representative. It took other party in South Carolina full 15 minutes from receiving a download link to getting a complete download. Sure, storing on the cloud sounds like fun, but until whatever you have stored is half an hour away from you – it’s not a working solution, it’s a storage room out of town.

Next stop – mobile phone use. I know people who live and breath their Blackberry, but I also know people who don’t. And I know more people who don’t want to exhaust their eyes reading things on Blackberry screen than those that would. iPhone is a great entertainment device, but I can’t – for the life of me – type anything long there. Same is with BlackJack, Tilt or Droid. I just don’t see a particular reason to do it, if I can always get back to my X61s which at least has a decent size keyboard. Another issue with doing some kinds of work on a smart phone is the limited screen real estate. I am yet to see one client who can grasp an idea of a regular web site mock up, a desktop software GUI draft or even an income statement from the cell phone screen. Of course, a CPA with 20 years of experience under his belt might pull this off with income statement, but not a regular small business owner.

Overall, having your data available both on the cloud and off is a great idea. However, until we will be able to use a real high-speed connection to that data, nothing major is going to happen. Storage rooms are a great business, but having storage room doesn’t mean your car gets to move faster.