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Last saved on August 16, 2020
These companies exist to allow you to work in several place - home or work, with very rapid file access. The way they do this is to run a "sync" service on your computer, that keeps a master copy of your data in the "Cloud", and local copies of it on each device.
This is a terrific idea, as it provides both backup (in the cloud), as well as very rapid access. It is a "killer" type application, worthy of being on everyone's desktop. The trickiness to it is that it requires integration between the cloud and network attached storage. If you don't integrate your NAS with the cloud drive, you end up with multiple devices with copies of many files, all running synchronization programs. This integration is not very practical for the cloud drive providers themselves, but it can be done with some thought and the right supporting devices.
The core things you need is: 1. A cloud drive account 2. A NAS 3. A backup program such as "syncovery" 4. Optionally, a second form of cloud storage such as business google drive.
For comments about NAS devices, see this page. For comments about backup applications (which are needed), see this page.
There are numerous options for cloud drives.
The main things to consider with cloud drives are: Does it work ? Cost ? Speed ? Security
|Service||Does it work ?||Cost /year||Speed ?||Security|
|Dropbox||Not all the time, sometimes fatal.||$100||OK||Not so clear|
|SpiderOak||Not sure||similar||OK||Very secure|
|Sync.com||Lots of rough edges. May be fatal.||$49||OK||Supposedly good, but needs work.|
|Box||Not sure||$500 due to 3 user requirement||Not sure||Supposedly good|
A business type user who wants to work anywhere wants reasonably rapid access to large amouts of data, security, and ability to divide up the file system to keep separate personal files, general business wide files, and restricted access files.
Large amounts of data:
Practically, this means that you either need to be able to "sync" network attached storage, or use an iscsi drive to "fool" the sync program into thinking that the network attached storage is local. This is technically beyond the ability of most users, but essential in working with Dropbox. The way you do this is to go to your NAS's support page, and create an iSCSI target. Then you go to your PC hosting your cloud sync application, and assign an "initiator" to the target. Then you go to computer management, and format it as a drive. Then you go to "my PC", and share it. Then you go to all of the other PC's on your local network, and map that drive. So 5 steps. Takes about 30 min, maybe more. However, it is hard to break.
We think it is prudent to run a nightly backup job on your local storage to your local NAS. Here we think it is best to make the NAS copy on a password protected volume, so that ransomware cannot get to it. Another trick is to back it up to google drive, if you have a large business style google drive (with unlimited storage). Thus you have 4 copies of your data -- cloud, iscsi, and NAS, and iscsi. The "syncovery" program is a good way to make backups in this way.
One does not want one's files viewed by others without one's permission. It is certainly possible that any one of these groups could be hacked, and all of one's files exposed to a potentially inimical party Practically, this means that one wants files on the server side to be encrypted so well, that it takes considerable computer power to decrypt them by an unfriendly group.
Our thought is that it is OK if law enforcement agencies can, after suitable protections, "see" our data. We have nothing to hide from the government, and we also think that the positives to allowing law enforcement to monitor criminals are greater than the negatives of being less private.
What happens if ransomware gets into your local network ? Presumably isci and the cloud host will be encrypted because if you can get to a network attached drive, so can your ransomware, and the sync client will just copy your iscsi drive to the cloud. The only remaining copies will be your remote backup(s) -- i.e. your password protected NAS volume, and your google drive copy. These copies should be safe until your scheduled backup time - -so you might have to move quickly. In theory, the multiple versioning in the cloud drive might protect you, but we will believe this when we see it.
Folders should be able to be restricted to certain groups. There are many ways to go about doing this. If you are using iscsi, it has to be using windows file permissions. You don't really need a business account for any of these services.
Dropbox is one of the oldest of these cloud sync services, and it has a very large installed base. Dropbox certainly "works", but it seems to have some built in "gotchas".
Dropbox refuses to "sync" network attached storage drives. What a shame -- otherwise one could just sync a big directory on your NAS.
On the other hand, a drive that Dropbox is syncing, can be mapped to another PC and become it's network attached drive. Thus the Dropbox refusal to sync network drives can be gotten around by creating an iscsi target (see below). Another way to get around this is to use NAS native programs (such as on Synology or QNAP NAS). My suggestion here -- stay away from these NAS sync programs (see bottom of this page). The cloud drive providers should be responsible for keeping the sync running. Still, if your cloud drive provider goes fatal, this may be your only remaining option.
- Dropbox will sometimes just mysteriously stop working, without any warning. There are three patterns:
- PC hosting dropbox sync application will freeze -- no keyboard interaction. Only fixed by rebooting. Our IT guy told me that the local Dropbox client (32 bit) is just broken. I don't know, but something is certainly wrong. This doesn't happen so often in 2018.
- Dropbox will wrongly report that files are synced, when they aren't. This is the "Fatal flaw", that lead me to look for another client. It can be "worked around", by restarting Dropbox every few days (see below).
- Dropbox also will stop after windows installs updates (as it is prone to do, without asking). This is annoying to say the least. See workarounds again.
- Syncing -- it consumes lots of disk space and computer power. This problem can be avoided by devoting another computer to the syncing (a NAS), using an iscsi target that is shared. See below -- not for the faint of heart.
- Dropbox (as well as VPN and google) does not work in China (although other clouds such as Microsoft's cloud work to some extent). We would not ever want to rely on Microsofts cloud however. If you need to use dropbox in China, we think the best way is to copy as much of it as practical on a large USB key drive and just bring it in your pocket.
- Dropbox does not work with the Endnote reference manager. On the other hand, I am not sure if any of these others work with Endnote either. The problem seems to be that Dropbox is doing something to an open endnote file -- maybe trying to sync it to the cloud, and this breaks Endnote. This is not fatal, but of course it is very annoying. One can "work around" this by keeping a local copy of endnote on a NAS, and resyncing every night
- Dropbox also does not work with Dreamweaver -- Dreamweaver of almost any variety will crash without any explanation, if you are using a dropbox directory to hold your files. This is very erratic, and nothing is written about this online. The only real workaround is to use a local directory, and then make some arrangement to synchronize it, perhap using the "syncovery" application, well after you have done your updates (i.e. perhaps 3 AM)
Dropbox workaround for lack of network drive syncing.
- Dropbox can be made to work both at work and home with "eternal vigilance". This involves using network attached drives. This is the method.
- First, set up an iscsi drive (or maybe several), on your NAS (or NASs). Dropbox cannot tell an iscsi drive from a native drive, so it will index stuff on it.
- This is not so easy a task. You will probably have to read your NAS's documentation on how to set up an iSCSI drive. It might take you 30 min.
- Mount that iscsi drive to a windows client (ideally not your desktop) -- for example, it might be named "dropbox". Also not so easy, but windows documentation can help you here.
- Install the dropbox client wherever you have these isci drives mounted (i.e. maybe home and work).
- LOGIN EVERY DAY TO SEE IF THE DROPBOX CLIENT IS STILL WORKING
- We cannot emphasize this too much. Dropbox will certainly stop running every week or so. It will certainly stop running after Microsoft security updates.
- This means you will need at least remote access to every PC where Dropbox is running
- If things seem crazy, stop Dropbox, and then restart it, to force it to reindex.
After becoming discouraged with Dropbox, I experimented with Spideroak. I did not purchase a plan, because I couldn't figure it out. Spideroak seems to be designed to be so safe, that nobody can crack it. One would imagine, great place for cult groups or terrorists. I am not so sure I want to support a company that does this.
Spideroak uses strange terms like "Hive". Perhaps they are trying to be cute -- some sort of insect theme (why not cockroach) ?, but what they achieve is incomprehensibility. I was unable to figure out how their "sync" application works. Perhaps "Hive" is just their term for dropbox. Already taken I guess. The documentation is difficult and exists in multiple versions. My guess is that Spideroak is waiting to be bought by another group. Or perhaps they are subspecializing to support the dark web.
Sync is a recent startup (i.e. in 2017), that is supposedly a better Dropbox. It is reasonably priced -- not quite as cheap as Dropbox, but it is priced similarly with a little more functionality. Supposedly Sync is HIPPA compliant. This is important.
I implemented Sync using the same method as Dropbox -- I created an iscsi drive on two NAS boxes, one at home and one at work, and I set up two separate Sync clients on PC's that don't do much, to keep the isci drive the same across home and work. I "map" the drive to access it on other PC's at work or home. One NAS box is a synology box, and the other is a QNAP. Both do the iscsi thing easily.
Right now (i.e. 7/8/2017-7/17/2017), Sync is loaded with software bugs.
Interacting with sync for 5 minutes will give you a bug. Fortunately, none of the bugs were fatal, but this group needs to improve rapidly. If they don't, they will go out of business rapidly.
Examples of problems.
1. I changed my password to sync.com on one PC. There was no option to change one's password on the web admin page. The linked PC's didn't notice -- they didn't ask for the new password (they should). This is not fatal, but it is getting pretty close (as it is a security flaw)Not fatal, but sloppy.
2. I moved my "sync" directory to an isci target as mentioned above. On one PC, this worked fine. On the other, it gave me an error. Nevertheless, in spite of the error, it seemed to be OK. Not fatal either. Still looks like somebody was sloppy.
3. I attempted to create a shared directory on the PRO business plan. It asked for another user's login (there were none). I backed out, but the new shared directory was already there.
4. I attempted to use the "vault" feature. This really doesn't work. There is no "right-click" menu from the desktop. Second, while one can "move to vault" from the web interface, it does it in a very unthoughtful way -- the directory tree is not preserved, only a leaf is moved. This is overally qute a shame, as the "vault" is a good idea, not because it saves disk space, but because it makes you more resistant to viruses.
With more experience with sync, it fails even more frequently than does dropbox. Every day, the "sync worker" stops, and has to be restarted. It produces mysterious errors like "item delayed", and "network not reachable".
All of these bugs are worrisome. Sadly, someone who is so sloppy that there are these many flaws, is probably sloppy on the back end as well. If Sync loses some of my files, thats a fatal flaw, and I will be done with sync.com. Time will tell.
So the pattern as of 7/8/2017 is that sync.com is loaded with errors - it is not at all a mature product. Still, it is reasonably priced, and so far anyway, I have not encountered a "fatal" flaw as in Dropbox.
As of 7/17/2017, it looks like sync.com is not a keeper. It is just as prone to errors as is dropbox, and some of the errors are fatal. Sync is history.
Box is mature, and seems to be similar to Dropbox in function, but very expensive. I did not look into it in detail due to the cost. The trickiness is that they require 3 users, at $15/month. This works out to a minimum charge of $45/month, or about $600/year -- which is way more than dropbox (about $100/year for 1TB), and Sync (about $120/year for 2 users). Box would certaily be worth considering if it didn't cost so much. If it turns out that Box is the only cloud-drive service left standing without a fatal flaw -- thats where I will be going.
Microsoft's cloud drive is called "onedrive". This is the annoying thing that pops up every day. Onedrive is so annoying, I just decided to ignore it.
NAS sync accounts.
I tried out the synchronizing software on Synology. This was a nightmare. Files would vanish, supposedly be synced and not. The Synology sync routine did not seem to work well with the Dropbox sync system. Eventually we just deleted it. We don't think NAS sync programs are a good idea. These are nearly always just an afterthought bolted on top of some file storage software. Internet security these days is pretty awful. It makes little sense to trust your files with a 3rd party based in China.
|© Copyright August 16, 2020 , Timothy C. Hain, M.D. All rights reserved.|
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