SugarSync: Cloud Backup

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A couple months ago my laptop got into an unbootable state after a software update.  As annoying as that was, the timing was particularly problematic.   I had documents that I urgently needed.  I worked though the issue, but it made me rethink a few things.  Namely my backups.

I did have backups, but not that covered the files I worked on the previous night.  I had a desktop computer that I used for other reasons, and I wondered why I was not able to just bring my documents up there.  This lead me to look into cloud backup offerings.  It turns out that there are quite a few.

I started looking at some of the whole computer backup solutions like Carbonite, Mozy, and BackBlaze.  I know a few people that use Carbonite (and speak well of it) and I read articles years ago from BackBlaze on their architecture that was very interesting.  Still, I found myself wanting to look at other alternatives.

This lead me to look at Dropbox and then to look at other similar options.  After reading through the features, prices, and reviews on a number I found I was most interested in SugarSync.  The generous 5GB free offering made be interested, but the reviews and features are what won me over.   The PC Magazine review is very good and so is the Gizmodo review.

As you have probably guessed, I went with SugarSync. I have been running it for about 2 months now.  So now lets go through the features I was looking for and what I found as well as issues.

  Features

  • File Selection: I want to be able to pick and choose the files and folders that I want to sync to the cloud.  I do not want to change my file structure or location to fit the product, I want it to fit to me.  I was surprised to find that that Dropbox did not allow me to do this.  SugarSync allows me to specify any folder to sync or use the Magic Briefcase to drop files into.
  • Mobile: I would like to be able to access my files from my new Droid Bionic phone.  It turns out that SugarSync has very nice mobile support.  In fact it supports iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile.  I have already found myself using this to bring up a document I was working on to review a few notes with a colleague during lunch.  You can even instruct SugarSync to snyc files from your mobile device (like photos or video).  Your photos are already on your computer when you get home.  Nice.
  • Versioning: I want more that just a remote sync.  I want to be able to rollback to an old version easily when I accidentally screw something up.  A few days ago, my neighbor just overwrote her research paper with a different document. The ability to rollback 15 minutes would have saved her hours of rewrite. SugarSync keeps the last 5 versions of each file.  I would like more, just in case, but that is pretty good.
  • File Share: SugarSync supports a file share option that allows you to share any synced file with anyone via a simple URL.  You can even allow them edit access.  No more emailing 20MB files to someone.  This isn’t something I was looking for when I started, but it is a nice feature.  I’ve even used it and it worked great.
  • Multi-Computer: I would like to auto sync selected files to one of my secondary computers. SugarSync supports this as well. From my second computer I can subscribe to any synced folder from my primary computer (or any other).  I am using this now and it is nice.  When on my second computer my documents are already there if I need them.  No need to take any steps to get them.
  • Multi-Client: In addition to the PC and mobile support, Mac and Linux support would be nice as well. SugarSync supports everything except Linux.  When I was doing my initial research I mistakenly believed that a Linux client was in beta.  On further research, that is not currently the case.  I have only tried the Windows client so far, so I can not speak to how well it works on the Mac.  It is nice to know that I can use the same system on whatever computer I am using.
  • Web Client:When all else fails, I want to be able to access my synced files from a web browser.  Just in case.  SugarSync has that covered.
  • Security: I expect my data to be encrypted when transferring over the Internet and to be encrypted on the servers.  I may not have anything worth stealing, but I want my files secured as if I did.  The SugarSync Security page does a good job covering my concerns.  Data is transmitted using SSL and encrypted on the server using 128-bit AES. I have some reservations, but I’ll address those a little later.
  • Corporate Support: SugarSync supports individuals and business users.  This was not one of my criteria, however now that I have been using it I can see how useful this can be on corporate systems.
  • Support:I have not availed myself SugarSync support so far. But I

Issues

  • Get Public Link: I haven’t run into any major issues so far.I did encounter one odd behavior when trying to use the file share feature.  I created a fairly large excel file, about 12 MB and wanted to send it to someone.  I dropped it into the Magic Briefcase folder to auto sync it. While I right clicked on the file I expected to find the “Get Public Link” option for the file, but did not find it. I realized that it was still syncing the file, so I waited a minute until it indicated that it was synced (the icon indicator on the file changes color).  I tried again and still nothing.  I went into the SugarSync File Manager and from there I got the URL and dropped it into my email.  I’m not sure if there is a little issue there or not, but the feature itself worked fine.  Sometime later I did check again and the option was there.
  • Delete Sync: A potential issue relates to the multi computer sync.  If you have the  multi computer sync setup, you might be tempted to delete some of your synced files from your secondary computer.  In which case the sync would delete the files from your primary computer as well. This isn’t a problem, it is just what it should do.  However if you are not expecting it, it could come as a surprise.  This hasn’t caused me any issue, but I have noticed a couple reviewers comment getting caught by this.
  • Security:I mentioned earlier that SugarSync transmits user data encrypted and stores it encrypted on the servers.  So that’s great.  But who has access to the encryption keys?  Can someone other than me get into my files on the server?  customer service or development?  What if a court order turns up? So after some research it turns out that they do have access.  That is fairly typical.  And really, when you find your thesis paper has been corrupted due to to a bug and the developers are able to use the keys to repair it.  Well you’ll be happy about it then.  It is not really an issue for most people, but it is worth noting in case you are one of the people that it does matter to.
  • Support: I have seen several comments from people regarding “slow” responses from SugarSync support.  I have not availed my thier support so I can not really comment on it.  However I will note that of the comments I read, they all appeared to be from individuals using the system for free.  Frankly I am surprised they got any support at all.  I expect there is a tiered support structure and paying individuals probably get better support than non-paying individuals.  So I don’t see this as an issue, I am just noting it.
  • Corruption: My final issue is more theoretical in nature. The SugarSync client has access to sync updates back to your computer.  So what happens if something goes wrong?  Can it corrupt, delete, or otherwise make unavailable your files?  The software does seem to be fairly mature, in fact it was started in 2004.  Really, if this were to happen, you could still go into the SugarSync File Manager and redownload your files. I should point out here that if you have some files that are really, really, really important, then you should probably have multiple backup solutions in place in case one should fail.

Pricing

You can do a lot with the free version of SugarSync.  You get 5GBs of data to start for free and you can add to that through several means.  I completed some tutorial activities and received an extra 875MBs.  If you are referred by an existing member you get an extra 500MBs at signup and so does the referrer (see my signup link below 🙂 ).  This is enough to cover a typical persons document data.  If they want to cover a lot of photo and music, or some video, then they may go beyond this and would need to upgrade the storage space.

The pay version of SugarSync is pretty reasonably priced.  Prices start at $4.99/mo for 30GBs for personal users.  You still get to keep your “bonus” storage you got from the tutorials or referrals as well.  They are pretty frequently running discounts.  I have received multiple offers for 50% discounts for the first year.

Sign Up

You can use this referral link to sign up and you get a bonus 500MB of free storage (and so do I).  That is nothing to sneeze at, and you may as well get the bonus.

Summary

In summary I am very impressed with SugarSync. I highly recommend it if you are in search of a simple, but feature rich, cloud backup solution.  While I have noted a few items  where it may not have reached my fairly high standards, you will be very hard pressed to find anything that does.  Give it a try.

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