The Pros and Cons of Personal Cloud Storage

While there are a dizzying array of cloud storage providers on the market today, almost all of them have the same fundamental problem: price. Sure, you’ll get a couple of gigabytes free, but if you want to backup, sync, and store all of your stuff in the cloud your wallet is going to feel the pinch. And when you compare cloud storage rates to the relatively low cost of local drive space you can quickly see why many people are searching for a personal cloud storage solution so they can avoid those costs.

One of the easiest and most powerful personal cloud storage solutions, either at home or for the office, is to purchase a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. NAS devices are basically little servers that you can easily hook into your network. Most NAS devices are Linux-based, but you don’t have to be a super techy person to set them up. The GUI interfaces make it easy to configure the device for file storage and media streaming. You can even use a NAS to host a website or run surveillance cameras. Most vendors offer mobile apps for accessing the stuff you’ve put on the NAS while out and about.

The major shortcoming of a private cloud storage solution is that it isn’t really a full disaster recovery plan. Backing up your stuff centrally is great for when your laptop drive dies, but what happens if your home or office floods or has a fire? Or a thief steals the stuff? Symform’s NAS cloud backup apps, which are available for some of the most popular NAS devices, can give you the best of both world’s. Our patented peer-to-peer architecture allows you to get the convenience, durability, and security of cloud storage, with the economics of local drive space. Read on to find out why it makes us the best cloud storage service available.


Two Peer-to-Peer Products You Didn’t Know Were P2P

A recent offhand comment by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has stirred up some conversation about whether the company could deliver content over P2P architecture, thereby avoiding paying ISPs for the bandwidth they use, reducing Netflix’s infrastructure costs, and improving the overall quality of service. In addition to some of the obscure services mentioned in that and other articles, as well as the well-known P2P services centered around users sharing (mostly pirated) media content, there are two notable businesses that use peer-to-peer as a key to their success.

Skype iconSkype – The IP telephony service, which started as Skyper way back in 2003, was built on the same backend used in KaZaA, the notorious (and not defunct) music sharing service. So it isn’t surprising that Skype is built from the ground up on P2P architecture. In fact, the name is a portmanteau of “sky” and “peer”. Skype is pretty up front about this, even outlining how the technology works on their website. Following their acquisition by Microsoft in 2011, Skype moved some of their “supernodes” onto dedicated servers within datacenters to address the increasing usage by mobile phones, but the underlying peer-to-peer system remains.

Spotify iconSpotify – While the popular Swedish-based subscription music streaming company has scrubbed most references off their website, the service still relies heavily on P2P technology to deliver a near instant play experience to users. To accomplish this, Spotify stores copies of the songs you play in a cache on your device and will then deliver those copies to other nearby users when needed. This allows them to avoid serving every song off centralized servers. Every user becomes another node in their content delivery network. Spotify saves on infrastructure and bandwidth costs while all users benefit from a more responsive playback experience.

So while Mr. Hastings may have just been trying to make a point, the idea that Netflix (or a competing service) could avoid the current ISP battles by moving to P2P architecture is far from a revolutionary or impossible idea. Maybe we have a slight bias, but we expect many more legitimate services to embrace the technology as the expense of storing and delivering data continues to rise.


Introducing the Symform Android App!

Android cloud storageWith the recent release of the Symform iOS App we heard a number of users ask about an Android App as well. It turns out that Android commanded 78% of worldwide smartphone sales last year, so building an Android App was a big priority for us. And now it’s here!

With Symform’s new Android App you can connect to your cloud storage account and access all of your devices and files on the go. Use it on your phone or tablet to browse pictures, stream videos, listen to music, or download documents.

Install the Symform Android App from Google Play and log in to your Symform account to get started. Once you’ve had a chance to experience the App, please leave us feedback on the Symform Community.

Read more about Symform on mobile devices.


Access your Synced Files with the New Symform iOS App

iOS cloud storage
Accessing your synced cloud storage files on a mobile device is easy with the new Symform iOS App. Whether you want to browse pictures, stream videos, listen to music, or download documents, the Symform app for iPhone and iPad gives you access to all your digital stuff.

Simply install the Symform iOS App from the Apple App Store, log in with your Symform credentials, and browse through all your connected devices, folders, and files.

Read more about Symform on mobile devices.

Once you’ve had a chance to experience the Symform iOS App, please leave us feedback on the Symform Community.


Welcome to the Symform 4 Public Beta!

We’re excited to announce that after many months of work the beta version of Symform’s next generation software is finally here!

So What’s New in this Beta?

  • Ability to view and download files directly on the web – our most requested feature!
  • New mobile app for iOS users.
  • Completely redesigned Windows and Mac apps emphasizing quick and easy setup.
  • Automated controls over bandwidth use to maximize throughput and minimize disruption to other internet activities.
  • Automated contribution configuration allowing the vast majority of users to contribute unused drive space by simply selecting to do so.
  • Updated web application allowing users to easily see the status of their connected devices and synced files.
  • A totally refreshed look and feel including a new logo and color scheme.

How to Join the Beta
This is a huge step forward for us and we feel that the software is ready for prime time. Therefore, all new users will experience the beta by default on both their local client app and the web app. Existing users have been invited to try out the beta as well. All users can go back to the existing experience if they choose to do so.

What’s Coming Next?
We are constantly working to improve the service, but some of the big projects in the works include:

  • Updated Linux/NAS apps to more closely match the new Windows and Mac experience.
  • New mobile app for Android users.

Give Us Feedback!
We want to know what you think about the new Symform 4 experience. Don’t hold back, we’re looking to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. Head over to the Symform Community to leave your thoughts. Got a new feature idea? There’s a place for that too.


What You Can Learn from Dan Woods

Dan Woods, columnist for Forbes and CTO at CITO Research, has been an expert blogger for Symform providing great content on cloud storage. He has offered tips and posed important questions to consider whether you are trying to maintain work or personal files.

Dan knows data is piling up for all of us and has highlighted three scenarios to better handle it. Whether you’re counting your pennies, there was a disaster or you just need to work with your data better; this blog can help you out. Check out the scenarios and start thinking about areas the cloud can resolve your data accumulation issues.

The go-getters of the world often complete tasks themselves, but when it comes to the cloud take some caution before you run your own. Saving money is important, but taking into account energy bills, maintenance, and your time, having others manage your cloud might be the better and less expensive choice. Before deciding to run your own cloud weigh what is best for you to take on yourself and what you should leave to the cloud professionals.

Those of you out there maintaining important family photos, personal files and home videos take a look at Dan’s blog on how to use cloud storage as a personal disaster recovery system. Here you can learn more about what Dan refers to as the freemium limbo and that syncing feeling. They are two important factors to consider when choosing a service. By now there’s an understanding hard drives won’t last forever and you need to know what you are prepared to lose should your device fail, you reach your storage limit or syncing doesn’t work as expected.

If you are someone who takes part in the freemium limbo you probably suffer from cloud sprawl. When trying to avoid the pay walls for cloud service you open an account here and account there and subsequently store files all over the place. If you are limbo fanatic, how do you manage? Have you established a system for storing files in the proper cloud without intermixing?

Dan has additional blogs that will be published here, so keep an eye out and please share his posts and jump in on the conversation.


Do You Suffer from Cloud Sprawl?

Free! Store 2 GB, 5 GB, or even more on our cloud! This is the pitch that draws us into putting data on yet another cloud service.

Soon we have some files here, more files there, photos everywhere, shared folders, and folders we don’t know how to unshare. Our digital lives are spread across many clouds and our files are in many locations. If you’re like me, you’re familiar with what I’m talking about. I’ve got so many files in so many free clouds, it fogs my brain.

Many cloud vendors have been generous with their free storage offers. Some range as low as 2 GB and many offer a standard 5 GB as a freebie. With special offers for new accounts activated on certain devices or referral bonuses, some users can earn as much as 50 GB for free.

Is it a bad thing to have more than one cloud storage vendor? And what about those shared folders that are syncing automatically, to one another? And what about the services you use strictly for backing up your data? They are a cloud somewhere over the rainbow you have to keep track of.

At the very least, you can agree with me that we will wind up with a problem of who’s on first? Where are those pictures I wanted to make into an album for my grandmother’s 90th? Where are all the videos I took of my daughter in her toddler years? And where are all the story ideas I’ve been squirreling away? On top of these personal items, there’s my professional writing to consider. I have shared links to articles to review through any number of online services. In fact, those who work with me know there are at least two clouds they should check before they ask me where something is. That’s fine for my team, but not the case when I’m on the phone with an executive or thought leader and have to remember which cloud I put our latest interview.

Then there’s the issue of terms of service. I’ll admit here and now that I haven’t read the terms of service for all the cloud vendors I use to know how safe my grandmother’s album-to-be really is. But I know some cloud vendors won’t let you store copyrighted information in the cloud, even if you have a right to the copy you own.

The takeaway here is that the more clouds I am using, the more terms of service I will ultimately have to keep track of. (I plan to explore this in more detail in future blogs on security and privacy in the cloud.) And for clouds services built on other clouds, there could be multiple layers to those terms of service. In other words, having more than one cloud doesn’t simply imply that I have to consciously keep track of which files are on which clouds, but I also have to take time to understand and sort through multiple terms of service. It’s more to manage overall. Now that I think about the other “costs” involved, these GB sound less free all the time. Multiple clouds inevitably lead to more management for users; that much is clear.

I’m not proposing any solutions here; I realize that. Maybe we are all works in progress when it comes to our personal use of the cloud. But it has started me thinking about where all those files are and that maybe I’ve signed up for (at least) one too many free services.

What do you think? How many cloud services are enough? Too much? How do you keep track of them all? Should we just keep accepting those limited GB free offers? What is the real cost of sprawl? Even with free services, there are costs in terms of peace of mind, trying to keep track of which files are where, which of my devices I can access them from, and what their terms of service are.


Symform is Visited by the Next Generation of Cloud Engineers

We had a number of young guests join us for the day at the Symform office for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Symform offered our sons and daughters a variety of roles to learn about; ranging from finance, support, sales, engineering, business development and marketing to learn about. Each department explained its role at Symform and then asked the TODSWDers if they would be interested in that area of work. They were quick to respond, “No!”. We won’t take it too personally; I think they are smart kids with a few more years of recess in them.

As a Symform employee listening to our CEO, CTO and co-founder, and SVP of product development talk about how Symform works was interesting. I really enjoyed their breaking down their technical and managerial roles into terms the TODSWers could understand.

Symform CTO and co-founder Bassam Tabbara> took them through an exercise to explain what Symform is. Starting at the basic idea of the cloud, he took their understanding from “they are made up of water and in the sky” to the way we talk about the cloud at Symform. But I might add 29% of Americans share a similar understanding of the cloud, so we can’t mark them down on their responses. Bassam then moved to show how Symform’s distributed cloud works. By scribbling over a picture with a black marker, ripping it into pieces, handing each kid a piece and having them spread out around the room he explained encryption, shredding and global distribution.

As the kids moved on through their tour at Symform, they stopped to talk with Omri Gazitt, Symform SVP of product development, about engineering. He did an awesome job using Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day as a stage to explain, “Programming is about taking ideas and translating them into something that a computer understands…Programming mostly involves creativity – from figuring out what you want to build, to how you solve the problems that you encounter.” Through demonstrations of simple coding, letting the kids interact with a program and talking about the ease of learning programming languages he gave them a quick introduction to the value of learning to code. Finally Omri played Code.org’s video Learn to Code which includes Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jack Doresey for further support of his message.

All and all it was a fun day around the office with some good laughs like when one kid asked a Symformer, “So why do you have the LITTLE ping pong trophy at your desk?” You may remember we have our pair daily ping-pong players and the little trophy is NOT the one to have.

Thanks to everyone on the Symform team that helped out and took time out of their day to talk about their jobs and get some kids excited about a potential career in the cloud!


Online Data Backup Best Practice 5: Dealing with Data Growth

IDC sounded its annual claxon about data growth trends and announced by 2020 we will be squirreling away 40,000 exabytes. That is an unapproachably large number. So, let me put it in clearer context for the layman. If all those exabytes fit on CD’s they would create a stack long enough to wrap around the Earth 12 times! And that’s not putting them side by side, that’s the 1.2mm thick CD’s stacked on top of each other.

As indicated in Symform’s own research, a majority of small businesses and the IT consultants that serve them estimate their annual data growth rates to be between 10 to 40% — with a full 7% expecting their data volumes to more than double in a year.

Dealing with Data growth

Most of us deal with the ongoing trend of data growth without making changes to our current behavior. We express some unhappiness, spend some more $ on our data, but still do not change any of our data generating and saving behaviors. But why does the data tide keep rising?

Four factors fan the flames of data growth.

  1. Kryder was Right

  2. Hard drives continue to get cheaper and memory storage density sports a sizzling slope as it obeys to Kryder’s Law. Kryder’s Law, by the way, makes the 18 month doubling of Moore’s Law look like a positively pokey pace. Bigger, cheaper hard drives bring down costs for both local and cloud data storage. SSDs just add form factor convenience.

  3. Clouds Cast a Big Data Shadow

  4. Cloud storage and its sprawling spawn –the sync, stream and sharing services –come with their own sets of data growth factors. You now have not only your own data growing, but also have growth from the copies of the files and folders shared with you by friends and colleagues. Fibonacci would be proud.

  5. Indiscriminate Devices

  6. Our oh-so-convenient devices inspire us to generate data. I am not talking about lowly spreadsheets, presentations and documents crafted in productive workplaces. The big volume growth is elsewhere. One always has a camera they can hold out the window of the tour bus to shoot awesome video of other tourists along with street signs, traffic signals and abutments. That video is just a Wifi connection away from the nearest cloud and sharing with the folks back home.

  7. Keep Data and Carry On

  8. Unless driven by unyielding corporate policy with rules engines that automatically clear out old files, folders and emails, we just don’t bother with proper data hygiene. And in truth, I have seen more activity to circumvent data governance than I have seen in obedience of it. Having a trove of data brings people great reassurance and comfort. By the way, plaintiffs’ attorneys, their clients and eDiscovery vendors love us for our laziness.

How are you planning for and coping with data growth? Does it deserve more than a shoulder shrug and a bump in the budget? What does it cost you and your organization in dollars, time, and attention?


Is Your Cloud Storage Green?

I have pulled together a couple blogs Symform has written around green cloud storage for Earth Day 2013. While talk continues around the cloud, green initiatives like clean power and saving energy what are you doing to be green and protect your data? Using the cloud to protect your information brings peace of mind everything will be there when you need it and being green conserves and protects natural resources.

In order to take a proactive approach to your data storage needs and green IT, here are five ways to evaluate if your cloud is green. Usually people are fans of big white fluffy clouds, but in this case plenty of green clouds are ideal. These evaluations require you to look at the hardware powering your cloud and their impact on the environment. Sometimes it can be hard to think there is something that makes up the cloud for storage, but often there is a brick and mortar data center powering the cloud that isn’t energy efficient.

In our next green blog, Tim Clark, a Symform expert blogger, discusses green IT initiatives in his Top Benefits of Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery piece. He brings attention to the cost savings your business will enjoy when you are no longer hosting a server room you have to power. As a company you can lower your carbon footprint by using a cloud storage provider rather than running your own data center. As a business you may feel like you should do everything, but when it comes to the cloud, this isn’t always the case.

There’s a lot you can do as a consumer who is purchasing a cloud solution for yourself of your small business. Simply asking the right questions can help you choose a solution that is both green and will work for your business. Symform offers a distributed storage solution that brings “green” to the environment and your wallet.