My idea in writing this post is that the only system that works for a majority of people is p2p sync of actual files, because this results in multiple "live" replicas of a file, which can be verified to work all the time:
- Not backup to DVD/USB drive
- Not cloud backup over 128kbps DSL
- Not cloud sync.
First what we've got is the "cloud" guys purporting to store all our stuff online! What a great solution, and it is the right solution, because it doesn't get lost. But look at the actual cost:
Amazon S3: $1.80/GB/yr
1TB Box in colo: $1.50/GB/yr
MozyHome: $60/yr (unlimited magic)
1TB local hard drive: $90 ($0.09/GB, maybe $0.03/GB/yr)
Now the photos-only guys (no raw, limited video, etc.):
Let's first blow up the "unlimited" storage idea. We're in an era of stupidly slow upstream connections, and these guys get away with "surely nobody is going to upload stuff to us for 6 months".
I installed special traffic shaping on my firewall and bought a really fast line so I could upload for 6 months without really noticing it, and then I did it. But really, is this pricing model real? Only because people don't use it. So they have a theoretical backup, not a real one.
For instance, Mozy clearly isn't faring so well when I store 400GB there. Looks like they are losing $2340 on me annually, when you compare to their "pro" pricing. Ouch.
Same with Smugmug, Flickr, etc. Having Smugmug store my stuff in S3 at $1.44/GB/yr (Amazon's bulk rate) losing them about $536/yr. I imagine Flickr pays more than that, but I don't have any numbers.
So, PCs are 30x cheaper than the cloud
Storing an extra copy of this data on a new hard drive in my computer costs $12/year, plus maybe $8 for power if I leave it on all the time, or about $20/year.
I could even buy a netbook with a 160GB hard drive, and use that as a backup brick for $1/GB/year, cheaper than Amazon s3.
Sync today...tied to the cloud
So today, we have serious R&D going into things like "Microsoft Live Mesh" and Dropbox, and Zumodrive, and SugarSync. They handle the hard problem of folders that stay in sync no matter what you do to them. Lots of people are working on this.
But all of these services (except Mesh) today are tied to costs in the $1+/GB/year world of cloud storage. And so I can't use them for storing my "important" data. Even though maybe they are cool, I'm not paying an extra $1000/year for the privilege, and most don't scale to the level I'd need anyway.
Backup today...sort of
On the backup front, Mac users can get a Time Capsule and store their data on a second hard drive. And there are dozens of backup programs that will copy data you might or might not be able to restore in the future. Microsoft has some sorts of backup built into Windows 7, with the Time Machine equivalent being relegated to "Ultimate".
Crashplan is probably the best p2p backup for regular users. It mostly works, even if its CPU and memory usage is a bit high.
But the problem with backup is twofold:
1. Restore has to work. You're not watching daily for failures in your external USB drive, unless you're an enterprise IT guy whose job it is to keep the near-line backup device functioning.
2. You are using hardware for no incremental benefit. Backup is complex and there's no benefit for you to buy more of it to store more backups. Why buy it or install it? Why verify it still works? When you run out of space, what happens?
People need a benefit for backing up today.
What's missing: p2p Sync
Microsoft bought a little company called FolderShare a few years ago, and hasn't improved it much. 20,000 files, max, not so many folders. But what FolderShare did is approximately, sort of, the right thing: a PC-to-PC replication feature where files are actually usable while they're replicated. Why is this so important? Because you didn't know that all your backups were corrupted, or that your backup USB drive wasn't working.
But if your files stopped working on your laptop but were still good on your desktop, that would be noticeable. You could fix it, and you'd notice it, and you'd hopefully get a new laptop before it was too late.
The only system today that appears to do p2p replication is Mesh, and it's a complex weirdo with Silverlight UI in a browser (huh?!). My install on XP took an hour and asked to setup remote desktop more prominently than setting up stuff to sync, and I couldn't figure out exactly how to sync data to my wife's computer. Mesh appears to be a toolset to solve problems, but it doesn't really help you figure it out much.
Using Mesh is a letdown. When I clicked on a folder in the web UI, it took 20 seconds to show the 15 files inside it, and I'm apologizing in advance for not having really run it through its paces. I uninstalled it. I get the idea, but the implementation is just awful.
Mesh also lets you replicate folders from all over your hard drive, which is the other useful feature you really want. Dropbox doesn't do this.
I'm wondering if somehow Mesh will win despite its unreasonable bulk. I suppose the Microsoft 3.0 rule still applies. They are certainly thinking right, even if the execution is off.
Meanwhile, there are rumors of Dropbox doing useable p2p sync. I think this would be a great thing, and maybe people would understand it. Dropbox mostly just does one thing and does it really well.
But I need to be able to bring home a new computer, add it to my network, wait for all my files to show up, and turn off the old one. Three copies of everything I care about, files shared between my wife and I. Easy right?
But somebody...really just needs to do it.