Mount, Backup, Sync: Flexible Cloud Storage Options for Windows Users

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.

Unlimited Cloud Storage?

Amazon Cloud Drive (ACD). the $60/y unlimited plan makes it the most cost-effective competitor to CrashPlan or BackBlaze.

Google Drive. Google’s G Suite Business has a plan for $10/user/month, but you need to have at least 5 users to get unlimited storage (though reportedly that’s not enforced). Currently I have a 100GB Google Drive, I’ll give G Suite a try eventually as a plan B to ACD. I think I may eventually feel safe in storing some data only in the cloud (i.e. no local copy), provided it’s at least in two separate clouds.

Dropbox. To go beyond 1TB, you need 5 Business users at $12.5/mo, in other words the monthly cost is similar to what ACD costs for a year. I know I’m comparing apples and oranges, but I’m basically looking for drive space here.

Box. To go beyond 100GB you need 3 Business users at $17/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…

OneDrive. Microsoft discontinued unlimited storage in November 2015.

Bitcasa. $99/mo to manage up to 10TB?! I don’t think so. They dropped unlimited storage in October 2014.

End-to-End Solutions Under Trial

I have not adopted anything definitive yet, but recently I’ve been testing:

  • Dokan

    Dokan

    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’ve been trying it for a couple of days so far. 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.
Mounted LAN NAS to Mounted ACD

Mounted LAN Synology NAS to mounted ACD, from Windows PC, in Directory Opus

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.

I will update this entry once I’ve had more experience with Syncovery, including running several backup jobs in parallel and testing downloads.

I may give Duplicati a try depending. I’d rather not have to deal with a CLI tool such as Rclone or acd_cli that don’t have a GUI.

See also these threads on /r/DataHoarder:

And these posts:

Cloud Mount Alternatives

One of several

One of several

There’s a number of apps that more or less promise the same type of functionality, including:

  • StableBit CloudDrive – $10. ACD not officially supported yet because of issues with Amazon that they have been vocal about. Still, ACD is available under “experimental providers.” I hear good things about this one and am testing it. It’s pretty good so far, but because of the way it “stores data as raw chunks of disk data”, it can’t move files from one cloud provider to the other without going through your own network (source).
  • NetDrive – $50. ACD support. They also provide the CloudSync service for $10/y, which may come handy if/when I get around to setting up ACD-G Suite mirroring.
  • 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 have 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.

Self Cloud

To be researched later. Owncloud, already mentioned earlier, also plays in this space:

June 2017 Update: But Wait!

After some back and forth, it seems the big cloud storage vendors are all moving to implement placeholder files:

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