Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wuala, SpiderOak, and Dropbox: Feature Summary and a Little Testing

Dropbox, SpiderOak, and Wuala seem to be the current contenders for someone who wants synchronized cloud storage together with Linux/Mac support. I've tried all three and come up with a few observations that may be of use.

First I did a little test of Dropbox, SpiderOak, and Wuala. I wrote to a text file on one machine inside my LAN and timed how long it took for the file to appear on the other machine. It took 5, 24, and 68 seconds respectively.

These times are not surprising given that Dropbox implements a "LAN sync" capability, whereas SpiderOak goes through the central server, and Wuala not only goes through the server (in Europe; I'm in Indiana) it further does not use inotify, i.e. it has to periodically scan the file system for changes.

But there are some major reasons to chose SpiderOak or Wuala over Dropbox. One of them is that both SpiderOak and Wuala have client-side encryption such that their employees shouldn't be able to access your files.

Further, there's the handling of symbolic links, which I have complained about before ***. Wuala syncs them. SpiderOak ignores them (which is still better than Dropbox, which follows them resulting in weird behavior).

Wuala also has some other unique desirable features as well as some major technical drawbacks.
  1. Wuala used to allow a P2P mode in which users traded space on their own machines to become part of the storage network. A very neat concept and a good way to get a lot of cloud storage at a reasonable price. (By contrast, 3TB of storage on Amazon, to match one external HD, is $5000 a year).
  2. Wuala has a time travel view that lets you see the previous state of an entire folder. Dropbox and SpiderOak have a single file fixation. You can view previous versions of an individual file using their respective UIs. This is great for, say, a word document, but very poor for a directory containing code or multiple latex files.
  3. FUSE support. Wuala allows the remote drive to be directly mounted via FUSE without requiring everything to be sync'd locally. In theory this would seem to combine the benefits of something like Dropbox with traditional network file systems like NFS and AFS.
And then the drawbacks. Unfortunately these are drawbacks that strike at the core -- the bread and butter of syncing. First, as mentioned above, Wuala doesn't use inotify for to allow the OS to alert it of changed files. Second, Wuala doesn't allow exclusion of files based on name or extension -- a major drawback it shares with Dropbox which makes it inefficient to rebuild compiled projects inside a synced folder. (Note: Wuala also used to not support incremental/differential uploads. That has been implemented.)

In summary:

  • + Ignores symbolic links (rather than doing something terrible)
  • + Exclude files from sync via extension or regex
  • + LAN sync
  • ? More geographic coverage (amazon)

*** P.S. In an ironic act of data non-preservation it looks like the work-arounds I'd posted to the dropbox wiki (http://wiki.dropbox.com/Symlink%20Semantics%20and%20Workarounds) were lost because they took down the entire wiki.