Monday, 7 November 2011

Cloud Storage Shootout - Dropbox vs. SugarSync

We are talking Cloud storage here and not technical geek stuff but practical advice and commercials.

Free online, Cloud based storage is two a penny - I mean free - these days. You can get about 5Gb of storage for free practically anywhere and that's usually plenty for the average home user or even a small business person like myself.

You could even get sassy and play with a few of them and up your available storage but keeping track isn't easy. The nice thing about Dropbox is that it is easy to set up on any device with minimal installation and it just appears as a place to store your files. On a PC it opens a 'My Dropbox' folder in your Documents area which is easy and it's the same on your Mac. On your iPad, most of the applications seem to have an option to store to Dropbox and this gives the device some semblance of a file manager which is horribly lacking for local storage which is done per application. The same for iPhones and Android devices. Dropbox is neat, easy and works across all platforms.

Where it is ideal is that if you are working in a project, you can simply designate a folder to be available for anyone in the project to see by giving permission and the link. Version control is an issue and so it doesn't work like SharePoint which has dreadful limitations but at least version control is good. But getting over that, it makes projects easy to manage.

The downside of Dropbox is that it is not really secure. Permissions can be handed out too easily and there is no restriction once permissions have been given. Further, if your iPad is stolen or lost, it would be easy for someone to swipe their way in, run Dropbox and have access to all the files on there. For larger firms, Dropbox does not have many certifications to make it compliant with things like Sarbanes-Oxley or Payment card Industry bodies. 

Finally, it doesn't solve an important issue. If you work on some files and store them locally, maybe offline, then there is no way of synchronising with files on the Dropbox. You have to remember what you have done and then manually store the new file, overwriting the old. There is no automatic storage facility or synchronisation gizmo.

Last week I mentioned SugarSync. This seems to be a really good mix product although it isn't as good looking in its look and feel as Dropbox. Again you get 5Gb for free but what it allows you to do is to synchronise common files over all devices. This means if I designate that My Documents should be synchronised to SugarSync, then not only does the whole directory get automatically backed up but it is synchronised with the same directory for any of my other devices that I want those files to be seen on. So I have my PC, Mac, iPad and iPhone seeing the same directory. It means I can change any file in that directory on any device and it automatically synchronises across all the devices.

It takes a short while to get set up and needs decent bandwidth at the start but after that it works on a per file changed basis so it doesn't do lengthy back up cycles. Like Evernote, this is the first really useful application dedicated to synchronising and it really makes a difference.

To be clear, SugarSync doesn't need to have a 'My SugarSync' folder as it synchronises your on device folders. It's a back up service and synchroniser in one. So all you do is designate which folders you want to synchronise with what devices. It's that simple.

I have upgraded at $49.99 per year to have 60Gb available and so I can also synchronise my files on my Parallels virtual machine with my Mac, my old PC, iPad and iPhone. I can still share folders or files in the same way as Dropbox and there is still some doubt on security if a device goes missing but you can set a PIN on any device to stop prying eyes and I use this on my iPad.

So in my book SugarSync is the more useful of these applications. You can also have a small business plan which effectively gives you network storage in the Cloud and starts at around $299 a year which is really pretty good value. As with any Cloud application, make sure you are comfortable with the security aspects for your business and take the proper care but this seems to be a great way to make files available across all devices cheaply and flexibly.

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