Let’s Talk about Cloud Storage

Steve Jobs, the late great technological innovator, announced in June that iCloud service would be inbuilt in the coming iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion. This new service would provide users an ubiquitous cloud storage space in their iPhone, iPad and Mac.

In the late Apple CEO’s vision, apps running on the so-called post-PC era will share a convenient way to exchange and sync documents through a cloud storage service. The old idea of backing up mobile devices to iTunes running on a PC should be dropped — the space on the PC should be moved onto cloud so they can be available without boundaries.

Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) has been providing a premium cloud backup service that charges users based on the space and bandwidth used. On the other hand, Synology DSM has integrated the idea of cloud in the Backup and Restore service for a while. So, what’s the best strategy that DiskStation users can employ for their backup solution?

Various cloud storage vendors like Dropbox and Box.net also provide a free/premium storage service that allows users to store normal files. Yet, users will be charged more for additional storage space. Is it justified to replace DiskStation with these cloud storage services?

Could NAS, as a private cloud storage, provide better and general solutions than the public cloud storages?

In this article, I will provide the backgrounds and guidelines to help users decide what solutions they can seek for, or potential combinations that could be utilized.

iCloud – Ideal Sync/Backup solutions for iOS users

iCould is built to replace iTunes on your PC/Mac and sync documents seamlessly for apps both on iPad and iPhone. However, it is not a general hierarchical file system that you can store everything in it. An app from other vendors couldn’t see data stored transparently by different apps in iCloud. It will only be convenient for Apple users to have multiple iOS devices and use common productivity apps like iWork or Note Takers in both iPhone and iPad. In this way, every modification you make in iPhone that’s been stored in iCloud would be seamlessly synced in another iOS device, say, the iPad.

iCloud is a great sync/backup solution for iOS users but it has limited support for other clients, even in Mac. Simply put, don’t mainly count on iCloud as your primary storage/backup solution unless you only own iOS devices.

Amazon S3 – Cloud Backup solution

In addition to being the biggest on-line retail store, Amazon has been developing its cloud service business pretty well over the past five years. One of its popular cloud services is the S3 (Simple Storage Service). S3 allow its users to store data in one or more opaque objects with sizes varying from 1 byte to 5 terabytes. Each object is assigned to a unique key for accessing it. If you are a programmer or are familiar with data structures, you might wonder the similarity between S3 and the hash table!

Indeed, S3 service can’t be used directly by end users as a storage solution just as it doesn’t specify the data format of these objects. You must have an application developed so objects can be read/write via the web service API that’s defined by Amazon.

A good example is the Synology DSM’s Backup and Restore utility, which has integrated S3 as a backup target since DSM 2.3. Basically DSM Backup and Restore uses the file path as the object key and store each file in a single object.

Amazon S3 charges users not only the taken spaces, but also additional fees based on the transfer amount and the numbers of request data. This means that you will be charged more if you access your data frequently or the application isn’t designed correctly to minimize the request number.

In this respect, I would suggest users to employ S3 as an offsite backup target for your important data. You should also take the backup performance into consideration based on your internet connection bandwidth.

Dropbox-like cloud storage – Sync everywhere

Recently, lots of cloud storage companies surge to provide end-users storage space on the cloud. Their business models are very similar which they give users a limited free space (typically 2GB ~ 5GB) and charging monthly for additional usage. Three key features have made them popular among the end users. First of all, these solutions include a PC/Mac client to synchronize seamlessly across multiple computers. Secondly, they provide mobile apps to access files on your iPhone, Android or web access via a supported browser. Lastly, some vendors allow you to restore previous versions of overwritten files.

I think the most important feature is the synchronization, which solves the performance issue that has been typical in remote access. The usability should be tremendously improved when the seamless synchronization is implemented well.

The weaknesses of these solutions are the cost and performance issue when you have substantial amount of data files. In Dropbox pricing package, you have to pay $240 for 100GB space per year. Also, it doesn’t only take a lot of time to synchronize large files, but you need to prepare 100GB space on your PC to store a complete copy.

Synology DiskStation – Beyond Cloud Storage

People could store their music, photos and videos in a public cloud storage by paying a premium fee depending on the space you use. Yet, how do you access and manage your data?

Synology DiskStation is a new style NAS server. It can be a private cloud storage and offers various protocols and applications for users  to access and manage data in different environments. Users could transparently access files in LAN with extremely high gigabit performance. When you access data via the Internet, tons of applications and protocols like File Station, FTP and WebDAV would offer headache-free assistance. If transparent access is needed, a VPN connection can be securely setup to open files directly.

Synology is also professionally-skilled at managing your data. For your music collections, we have Audio Station which not only streams to browsers and various devices but also provides a very easy-to-use interface. For the huge amount of photos you’ve taken, Photo Station can manage them and make it easy to share your personal life to your friends and family. What’s more, Synology is the first vendor that has integrated the Surveillance functionality into a NAS server system. This is a result after we observed the trend that users need flexible storage size to fit different requirements. Various packages are available on the Package Center to install at your needs and preferences. In order to bring the best user experience via UI technology, Synology has been motivated to stand in the most frontline of innovation. By incrementally adding the rich functionalities to a DiskStation, it has become a versatile service that goes beyond just a simple network file system.

The personal computing era has arrived due to the popularity of smartphones and other consumer gadgets. The size of media contents that’s been generated by these personal computing devices is increasing without boundaries. If you need much greater spaces and better performance for data access and storage, it is certain that DiskStation would be your ideal solution. Public cloud storage would still need time to convince people that paying for the extra quota of storage is an economically-wise decision.

So, what’s your ideal choice for the best personal storage solution?