Bits & Bytes: Cloud storage can help you organize
July 21, 2011
As more people become comfortable using multiple devices to access their information, services to keep information between these devices in sync is helpful. Many people already have a tablet or other large form factor PDA, handheld computer/PDA/Smartphone, along with a primary computer. Manually moving files between these devices is tedious and establishing your own synchronization server to centralize your information would be, for many people, beyond the point of diminished return. Thus, the popularity of cloud based storage services is rapidly increasing.
There are many cloud services available, all with their own distinct characteristics and distinguishing between them can be complex. This article aims to make your choices a bit easier and outlines two of the more user friendly services available today.
One of the obstacles with cloud storage is performance: when information is stored to a hard drive attached to a computer (internal or external), that information can be saved and read extremely quickly. This is not the case when saving to a storage account hosted by a cloud service provider (CSP) accessed via the Internet: Internet communication is much slower. This means that with many CSP's, accessing files can be uncomfortably slow.
To resolve this, the company Rackspace offers a handy solution via their Jungle Disk service, which provides an interesting approach to work around the typical speed issue associated with cloud services. With Jungle Disk the information you wish to save to your cloud account is actually saved to both your computer and the cloud account. This means that when you work with a file, you are working with the file that is saved directly to your computer and then it is copied to your cloud account (in the background) whenever changes are made. The end result is the best of both worlds: you experience the speed of saving a file "locally" while you also benefit from the advantage of centralized cloud storage that can be accessed by all of your computers and devices. Jungle Disk offers one of the easiest to use services. In less then 30 minutes the account can be established and computers can be configured. Once configured, your Jungle Disk account is displayed just as if it were another drive connected to your computer. Saving information to JD cloud account is as easy as saving to any other folder on your computer.
To make things easier, Jungle Disk is entirely cross platform. To benefit fully from their speed enhancement features, they offer a small program that is installed on your computer. This program facilitates the background copying (syncing) mentioned earlier and is available for all popular operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and, the newest of the group, GNU/Linux. For devices that don't run operating systems compatible with the Jungle Disk application such as PDAs and tablets, Jungle Disk supports a standard protocol called WebDAV which can be implemented on any device today which means that you can access your information from any device anywhere, anytime. Symbian, for example, contains built-in WebDAV support, and Android needs only a small program.
Of all of the CSP's available today, probably the easiest service to use is offered by the company Canonical. Canonical offers the ultra user friendly Ubuntu One service. Like Rackspace's Jungle Disk service, Ubuntu One works around the cloud speed issue by keeping your files stored "locally" and copying (syncing) them in the background to your cloud account. What sets Ubuntu One ahead is how the service is integrated with your computer environment. As you learned earlier, Jungle Disk is accessed via a drive icon so that you can copy files to JD as easy as you can copy them to a flash drive on any other device connected to your computer. Ubuntu One takes the approach of total integration: instead of creating a drive, the system integrates with your computer and you can simply click any file or folder and choose to have it synced. The beauty of this system is that the location of that file or folder is preserved across all of your computers.
If, for example, you have a folder called "Vacation Documents" that you would like available to all of your computers, simply right click that folder and, of the options displayed on your screen, choose "Synchronize on Ubuntu One" and that's it. Now that folder will automatically appear on your other computers in the same place it was on your original computer. As you add files to that folder, they will automatically be made available to all other computers connected to your Ubuntu One account. This means that you can instantly start using this service while preserving all of your current organization.
In addition, Ubuntu One fully supports tablets and handheld PDAs that utilize Android; with these you are able to experience the same level of integration. Whereas Rackspace focusses on providing exceptionally fast and easy to use service that does not compromise cross computability, Ubuntu One provides an easier approach by being more specialized. Ubuntu One services works with newest GNU/Linux computers and, if you already have such a computer as we know many readers do, you can instantly start using this service as a limited account (2GB) is available at no charge. Simply go to your System Menu and, from Preferences, choose Ubuntu One and follow the on screen instructions to be setup in less than fifteen minutes.
Rackspace's Jungle Disk and Canonical's Ubuntu One services represent the smoothest and easiest to use CSPs. Keep in mind, basic common cloud sense when using any storage service: never store sensitive information with any storage service as every employee of that storage provider could have the capability of accessing your information. For the rest of your information, storage providers and, especially, CSPs offer the pinnacle of 21st century convenience.
(Bits & Bytes is a computer troubleshooting advice column provided by Zebis, a single point of contact managed service provider located on Sanibel serving clients worldwide.)