Saturday, April 16, 2011

Compare secure online and offline storages for your digital life

I'm talking about storing the videos (and pictures) permanently for your whole life.

Since a decade ago, hard drives are so reliable that parallel RAID drives aren't really necessary.  You need location diversity at the least.  I looked at all the online storage options and they are no match for an external hard drive.

A 1 TB (1024 GB? A Terrible Blob anyway) external drive (USB) cost about $60 for the bulkier models.   Whereas Amazon S3 cost 14 cents per GB per month.  For the same money you can only have 36 GB in S3 for a year! 

The speed of USB 2 drives are 480 Mb/s, while upload to S3 is about 100 Kb/s, a thousand times slower?

So the first line of defense is get a Terrible Blob and put it not next to your computer.  For your home computer put the TB it at work and vice versa.  I already have a fire proof (30 min or an hour) box for computer media.  Now the media are obsolete (except for memory cards).  I can put in an external drive with space to spare.  Then I'll wrap it in plastic so it will survive fire and putting off the fire.  You may not find a reliable airtight container to hold the drive, but making the whole thing float is easier.  If you go through with that you can put a GPS inside too!

This is quite a permanent solution, part of.  When the time comes, your fire proof box can hold many TB's and solid state drives/cards to replace your current TB.

The other solution is similar but very close to online backup.  You buddy up with someone, or buddy up your home computer with your company computer.  Get external drives or even cheaper internal drives.  There are free software to do the backup between the two sites as if they are attached local drives.  There are also encryption so your buddy can't see what's in your drive.

I still like the idea of online cloud backup.  But you can't get away with less than 14 cent / GB / month.  If that's not your only copy, you can opt for 9 cent / GB, which is already 400 times more reliable than your own disk drive, Amazon claims. 

The big 3, others being Google and Microsoft, are competing for the Amazon business, so all the other clouds services will be value-added providers, that is, more expensive, usually a lot more.  ADrive will give you 50GB for free but how long will it last?  I can tell you that, having uploaded 50GB, you are as good as married to those guys, in order not to have to upload again.

A surprise contender seems to be Google Docs!  Seems to be more than perfect except for the upload speed.

First, Google Picasa Web Album is useless.  You cannot have nested folders or albums.  You just can't put your whole life into it.

The Picasa software running on your computer is a rather good file management system, if only for your pictures.  The Linux version works fine but does not deal with videos yet!  You download via your browser and your Linux version will install it for you, with less hassle than in Windows.  Picasa is very good in locating deeply nested pictures in copies of all your old hard drive images.  So you will not missed in deleting some useless images.  Otherwise it works fine like any file manager.

The problem with Picasa is that it does not sync with your file system.  It will sync, on it's own will.  If you understand that and are not confused then it's a good additional tool.

Picasa only sees images and nothing else.  One good come out of it is that it's trivial to separate the images into a separate folder and move the image folder somewhere else.  Then you can sync the pure image folders with albums in Picasa Web Albums.  Of course you can still sync your mixed folders, but having to backup the same folder into PWA and something else is a nightmare.

Now back to Google Doc.  Actually you can "copy" over your nested directories or your whole hard drive for that matter.  It's video and picture aware, making you wonder why you still have PWB around?  You can view pictures and stream videos, and share like Youtube.

Google Doc provides 1GB of free storage.  Additional are at 25 cents / GB / year, not per month !!!  So this is more like a permanent archive for your digital life.  They didn't say about the reliability, in contrast to Amazon.  But everybody is using Google online services and I never heard of any data lost.

The fine prints are even surprising.  You can increase storage anytime and your rate prorated.  It's not surprising.  But if you reduce storage or unprescribed altogether, it looks like Google still keep all your data permanently, but you cannot edit or add to it.  So it's more like paying $5 once and you get 20GB permanently!  Of course Google can terminate and change terms of service, but this is the terms at the moment.  There's no guarantee but obviously Google is not aiming to get money from storage.  They want to get you to use their service and sell advertising.

Even more surprising is that pictures smaller than 800x800, and videos shorter than 15 min, are always free, that do not appear on your account.  So it appears to be too good to be true.  Forget about the pictures.  Cutting videos into 15 min pieces is trivial, and nowadays everybody only take interesting 1-minute clips.  But it seems to be true.  I uploaded a video and it doesn't show up in the total usage.  You can download the original, that you cannot do in PWA.

There's no worry about backup or upload/download software.  It's much easier than I found out in the last few posts.  For Linux you have SMEStorage software for free.  You download it as in Windows, and it will install itself.  You register, login and start the software via GUI.    Then you have a 1TB drive attached to your PC.  You can do whatever as a local drive, and everything goes to Google Doc.  And you can also access it online.  You can use the Linux file manager to do whatever to the files and folders like in Windows, and use any tools on Linux that can be used on ordinary local files.  Actually the file manager is much better than Windows because it can have tabs, and you know it takes IE a long time to catch up with the competition.

SME software includes how to automatically sync the remote directories to your local directories, as frequently as you want.  I'm pretty sure any backup software will work on the remote directories the same as local.

SMEStorage not only support Google Docs, but many storage services like Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Storage for developers, and many other add-on providers.  Windows is everybody's bread and butter so anyone can use them.  But I'm sure there are plenty of other software developers as good as SME, but they just don't bother with Linux.

For the free SME service, you can pick two storage providers, and multiple accounts on each I think.  For Amazon you need to have different payment cards and perhaps phones, but for Google I wonder how many free accounts you can have.

As I have said at first, Google Doc is very slow.  But everybody know it when you upload and work in Google services, same as attaching a large file to your email.  It turns out to be 10 Kb/s (<20), an order of magnitude slower than Amazon's speed of 100 Kb/s (<150).

So you need overnight to upload 1GB into Google Doc.  And you probably need 3 months to upload 100 GB.  That's why PWA doesn't support much fancy things, and Google never worried that users will cheat their disk space.  If you manage to upload 100GB to Google, you are likely to be chained to them for life.

If you have 10 to 100 GB of critical data to backup frequently, Amazon S3 is a no brainner.  For videos and pictures Google Doc is as permanent as it gets, close to free if you ever need to pay for it.  But if you can spare $60, an extra 1TB drive may be all that some people need.

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