As cloud storage use becomes more prevalent, so are the security issues around it. The US’ National Security Agency (NSA) has been known to eavesdrop into major cloud companies without any court order. Recently the government body also been found having bribed a major software company (RSA) into distributing encryption software with a weak bulkhead so that they can squeeze in. Closer to home, Australia’s spying in on Indonesia’s president and top leaders – countries which are supposedly be friendly towards each other – can’t be taken lightly.
Which brings us back to the topic of private cloud storage. I’ve been looking for alternatives to DropBox but something that can’t be eavesdropped. Just because there are plenty of publicly-accessible information, it doesn’t mean I have to open the kimono, so to speak. I found a number of alternatives, however I didn’t find any of them compelling.
These features are what makes me fond of DropBox and are the primary features that I’m looking for in my quest for alternatives:
- Fast, as least as far as laptops are concerned, because primary I/O happens locally while the DropBox app quietly syncs your files through the Internet.
- Works offline, it really is just a normal folder in many respects; useful when traveling and you’ll need to get something done on the road.
- Able to share folders remotely, without needing a LAN or even a VPN connection with the other computer.
- Works with existing apps, great for ad-hoc file sharing. Unlike iCloud which requires apps to be specially programmed to support it and can’t share arbitrary files. Granted, this generally does not apply for iOS.
However these are my primary gripes against DropBox:
- Privacy – (some) people in DropBox will be able to access your files without you knowing, and there has been a leakage where some accounts were exposed.
- Subscription costs aren’t negligible – especially if you’ll need a few hundred gigs available.
I found OwnCloud (version 5) to be too slow to be workable. I’ve tried to sync a set of 200MB files locally over ethernet, but it didn’t finish overnight. Granted I ran it on a less-than-ideal setup – a low-power CubieBoard that hosts the web server with the files hosted in a WD Live NAS via SMB. But if eight hours wasn’t enough to sync locally, I’d imagine performance over the Internet is going to be a lot worse.
On a side note, I recall reading somewhere that OwnCloud 5 fires eight SQL queries per file uploaded. So this could be the primary cause why the sync was too slow. Those set of files I’ve tried to sync initially are really a collection of many small files – primarily documents and source code.
This git-based personal cloud alternative was interesting. I got SparkleShare setup on the CubieBoard even with HTTPS. Then I found out that it doesn’t support HTTP proxy. Moreover SparkleShare handling of HTTP password was poor – the password needs to be embedded in the URL thus it shows up in log files. It doesn’t even use the OS X keychain for storing this sensitive information.
AeroFS‘ client software failed to install on my (secondary) Windows machine. So it got struck out prematurely.
Similar to AeroFS’ , AiCloud couldn’t install and work correctly in my Mac. So it’s immediately disqualified.
On the surface, Connected Data’s File Transporter looks like the best option. However they wont ship to Singapore, as of this writing. Furthermore I do have power consumption concerns, since it’s yet another gizmo that needs to be run 24×7 which could impact our flat’s electricity bill – wondering whether it’s worth it for something that has a low average utilization rate. We’re already running a wireless router and a WD MyBook Live NAS.
So I got DevonThink to sync my knowledge base documents over DropBox. Yes this is not really a “private” cloud. But at least they promise to encrypt anything that they put up to the cloud. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it’s workable.
However DevonThink only works with files that are “documents” don’t really fit with things software project files or even git repositories. Admirably DropBox works pretty well syncing git repositories, as long as if you restrict yourself to committing only from one machine. Then again, DevonThink wasn’t really made for keeping source code projects.
What do you suggest?
I’ve also been pondering to store an encrypted disk image in my DropBox folder. But judging from my bad experiences in running Time Machine over the home network, I’d reckon data corruption risks is going to be a lot higher to make the technique not worth the trouble.
So I’ll close with a question: what personal cloud solutions do you recommend? Are you experiencing similar problems as me? What would you wish to have? (I do came across an idea of coming up with an app ourselves to tackle this issue – but we’d like to have your opinion first).