Cloud storage for consumers and small businesses (i.e. not enterprise) has “traditionally” been associated with the concept of syncing a dedicated local folder with the cloud, because it’s the way desktop apps from DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive and the likes work. You pretty much have to adapt your file organization to their way of thinking and use their client. [Edit: this is changing, as you’ll see at the bottom of this entry.]
But what if you want to back up existing folders or network drives? Then you have “cold storage” solutions such as CrashPlan or BackBlaze, but they have their own hard-set constraints and perspective on how things should work that you have to adhere to.
And what if you want to extend your storage into the cloud, to store stuff that you are not going to keep around locally? That’s just how sync works by definition, while the backup-oriented services will eventually (some earlier than others) drop the files that they no longer see on your local system. This is a data retention policy and business model choice from the likes of Backblaze, not a technical limitation.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have more flexibility and use the cloud as if it was just another drive? That’s what we’re going to explore in this entry.
To make files and portable applications available across devices, I’m pretty happy with Google Drive and OneDrive respectively:
- Google Drive is great to index, search and consult PDFs and MS Office files.
- OneDrive already comes with Windows and as such is a good way to get a core toolkit of portable applications on any of your PCs. Think of it as a virtual USB drive.
However neither of them is affordable enough to back up terabytes indefinitely (well apparently GDrive can be, but not officially), so they don’t meet all my needs.
On the other hand I’ve grown frustrated with CrashPlan’s increasing memory and CPU use as the size of my backups have increased. Their java client also feels very stagnant.
So I’ve started looking into third-party apps that let you mount cloud storage as a network drive and/or back up to one or several cloud storage providers among those that offer the most terabytes for the buck.
1. Placeholder files/links for hybrid storage
After some back and forth, the big cloud storage vendors have all moved to implement placeholder files:
- OneDrive Files On-Demand (this is a reintroduction of the discontinued “smart files”). This works well.
- Google Drive File Stream (for G Suite customers only). This also works well, but I’m not using it as my primary storage solution for work files as it doesn’t work in Windows Server, which I regularly use on an Azure virtual machine.
- Dropbox Smart Sync (formerly known as Project Infinity)
- Box Drive
2. Unlimited Cloud Storage?
Google Drive. Google’s G Suite Business has a plan for $10/user/month with 1TB of storage, and in theory you need to have at least 5 users to get unlimited storage. However, in practice the limit on smaller account is not enforced, I and many other people have several TBs on single-user GSuite accounts. Of course this may change at any moment, but Google has closed their eyes on this for years.
Microsoft OneDrive. Microsoft discontinued unlimited storage in November 2015. I have 1TB with my O365 subscription for $12.5/mo, which I’d pay just for Office desktop apps anyway. $0.2/mo for each extra GB is prohibitive though.
Dropbox. To go beyond the 2TB max for personal plans (“As much space as needed” which I guess doesn’t quite mean unlimited), you need at least 3 Business users at $20/mo each, or $60/mo total.
Box. To go beyond 100GB into “unlimited”, you need 3 Business users at $17.3/mo, putting us again in the $50/mo ballpark. They called The End of the Storage Wars back in July 2014, yet one of their big competitors eventually blinked…
Amazon Cloud Drive (ACD). When it was introduced in 2016, the $60/y unlimited plan made it the most cost-effective competitor to CrashPlan or BackBlaze, but that was discontinued in June 2017. Some users took the unlimited part quite literally. The 1TB plan now costs $60/y
Bitcasa. $99/mo to manage up to 10TB?! I don’t think so. They dropped unlimited storage in October 2014.
3. Finding the Right End-to-End Solution
As of 2018 I am using:
- The OneDrive and Amazon File Stream sync clients to keep files in sync between PCs.
- StableBit CloudDrive to mount encrypted volumes in OneDrive and Google
- Bvckup 2 to back up local data to the StableBit-managed volumes.
This stacks works really well with several TBs of data, for a very reasonable amount of money, as I spent $80 upfront then spend $22.5/mo.
I can be up and running from a new machine very quickly and have several layers of backup so even if there’s a major problem with one cloud vendor, I have effectively a mirror in another one, as well as local copies.
3.1. Automated Backups
Bvckup 2 is a slick, fast option for just $20. For the record, before settling on that stack, I tested (back in 2016):
ACDDokanNet. I use this to mount ACD as a network drive. Free, nothing fancy but does the job. That’s a pretty good solution to just drag and drop files from a local folder to ACD, which works to back up files you know are not going to change like, say, old family pictures. I got an error message trying to mount OneDrive, and there’s no support for other services.
- Arq. I tried this for a few days, it does encrypt and back up to ACD at reasonable speeds but I’ve found file scanning incredibly slow. And that scanning process restarts apparently from scratch when you relaunch a backup process. The Windows UI is also pretty limited. Their founder Stefan Reitshamer is engaging users in forums (e.g. Reddit), they are aware of these shortcomings and willing to address them, but for now this feels a bit immature, at least on Windows.
- Syncovery. I tried it for a couple of days. The UI and scanning speed are both significantly better than Arq, and there are plenty of options you can finetune, if that’s your thing. I’m getting speeds between 0.5MB and 1MB/s, which is bottlenecked by the measly 8Mbps (=1MB/s) upstream bandwidth from my cable provider. CPU and RAM usage seem very reasonable so far.
I’m using Glasswire to chart bandwidth usage by application. Some people suggest using a VPN to get better upload speeds to ACD, but my brief test was not conclusive to that effect.
See also these threads on /r/DataHoarder:
- Windows-based CrashPlan alternative for 15TB with decent upload speed, encryption, and versioning?
- Experienced Amazon Cloud Drive users – Tips? Useful utilities?
- Looking for a Backup to ACD solution
- Duplicati 2.0 usability?
- Best Amazon Drive manager / drive mounter?
- Expandrive Vs. Netdrive…
- Alternative to StableBit CloudDrive
- Mount acd in Windows
And these posts:
- Backing Up Photos to the Cloud [Have Camera, Will Travel]
- The Best Online Backup Service [The Wirecutter, see also the discussion thread at the bottom of the article]
- Syncovery & Arq – Syncing & Backup [Sheldon Hull]
3.2. Cloud Mount Alternatives
There’s a number of apps that more or less promise the same type of functionality, including:
- StableBit CloudDrive – I paid $60 for a bundle with two other of their apps. Files are encrypted so that Googosoft can’t snoop on my data. I love this, however you can’t move files from one cloud provider to the other without going through your own network (source). You have to understand that this is block-level storage so the content of your StableBit-managed drives is not mixed with the existing files within the OneDrive/Gdrive interfaces. Read this thread so you fully understand the architectural choice you’re making with this tool.
- NetDrive – $50. ACD support. They also provide the CloudSync service for $20/y, but file transfer goes through your PC anyway (i.e. it’s not direct cloud-cloud) so I’m just copying from OneDrive to GDrive with bvckup.
- ExpanDrive – $50. ACD support – blog. Their lead dev is on Reddit.
- WebDrive – $40. ACD support. Online feedback seems positive.
- SyncBackPro – $55. ACD support.
- GoodSync – $35. ACD support.
- Odrive – free or $99/y for premium features such as unsync and encryption. ACD support.
- CloudBerry Backup – $30 edition limits your storage to 1TB even though they’re not in the storage business. You need to shell $300 to get unlimited backups, i.e. they priced themselves out of the personal user market for users who need to back up more than 1TB. ACD support.
- Mountain Duck – $40, looks pretty good but as of November 2016 they had not been given access to the ACD SDK (it’s invitation only and my overall impression is that Amazon is not that helpful with developers on this one).
- OwnCloud – free. No native ACD support.
(The links above mention ACD because at the time it offered unlimited storage.)
3.3. Cloud to Cloud Backup
I’m not yet using any of this, but for future consideration:
- Spanning G Suite Backup – $48/user/year for unlimited storage and versions, I wonder how much data they’d really accept in practice. They also do O365.
- Backupify – G Suite and O365, not sure about pricing.
- CloudBerry Backup ($50) – Not sure they do cloud to cloud actually!
- Cloud Storage Reviewed has some content on this.
3.4. Self Cloud
I haven’t researched this much yet, but might later. Owncloud, already mentioned earlier, also plays in this space besides:
3.5. Cloud Media Server
I haven’t tried the Gdrive + Stablebit + Plex combo yet, but that’s on my to-do list, I’ll update this post when I’ve tested it. For reference: