Ma.Gnolia Data Loss – Is Your Data Safe?

Ma.gnolia, a social bookmarking service is down, lost all their user data and they don’t know if / when they can recover

This is as bad as it can get for any Web 2.0 service (and more importantly for users), and the backlash against Cloud services has already started.   My first reaction is taking Stowe Boyd’s approach – a quick overview of how safe my own data is.

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Update: also read Krish’s post @ ClouDave: Magnolia Effect – Should We Trust The Clouds?


Syncplicity: Simply Excellent Synchronization, Online Backup and More

In today’s world where features are hyped as products and project teams masquerade as companies it’s truly refreshing to see a service that’s almost an All-in-One (OK, perhaps Four-in-One) in it’s category, which I would loosely define as protecting, sharing and synchronizing one’s data.

Recently launched Syncplicity:

  • Synchronizes your data across multiple computers a’la Foldershare
  • Provides secure online backup a’la Mozy
  • Facilitates easy online file sharing a’la
  • Integrates with  online services like Google, Zoho, Scribd, Picnik (somewhat like now defunct Docsyncer?)

An impressive list by all means.   Oh, and congrat’s to the team for finding an available domain name that’s actually a perfect description of what they do.  The simplicity part probably refers to the ease of installation and use not the task they perform in the background. smile_wink.

Getting Started
Registration, installation of the client is quick and easy, more importantly, after the initial configuration you can forget about the software – it works for you in the background non-intrusively, allowing you peace of mind.  You can leave it to Syncplicity to find all your document and media files or specify directories to be synchronized.  The process allows more granular control than Foldershare, where one of my gripes was that if I select My Documents ( a fairly obvious choice), I cannot exempt subdirectories, which results in conflict with some stubborn programs (e.g. Evernote).  With Syncplicity you can precisely fine-tune what you want synchronized, in fact they indicated that filename-based exclusion is in the development plan. (If you ever had your Picasa.ini files messed up by Foldershare, you know what I am talking about…)

The major difference compared to Foldershare is that Syncplicity is not a peer-to-peer product: it actually uploads your files to their servers, where they are encrypted (AES-256) and are available either to the Syncplicity clients on your other computers, or directly, via a Web browser.  This may be a show-stopper for some, and a convenience for others: unlike Foldershare, this approach does not require all synchronized computers to be online at the same time.  And since the files are stored online, it might as well be used as a backup service – this is where we enter Mozy-land.

The two major differences vs. Mozy are encryption and ease of restoring files from the backup set.
Mozy performs all encryption on your computer and even allows you to pick your private key: it can hardly be any safer (so safe, that if you lose the key, you’re files are gone forever).  Syncplicity transmits your files using SSL and the AES 256-bit encryption occurs in their data center, using a random key that is then sent off to a different location. Since they hold the key, there’s definitely a trust issue to ponder here.
Of course a backup solution is only as good as the restore, and, unlike Mozy, which will send a zip file hours after your request, then to be decrypted on your PC, accessing your files with Syncplicity couldn’t be any simpler.  Install the client on any PC and auto-download entire directories, or just browse the online version, check file revision history and pick what you’d like to download manually.

Syncplicity offers both file and folder-level sharing: from your PC, right-click on any file to get a shareable link, which will allow anyone you email it to download the file from their website.  Or share entire folders to any email address, and the receiving party can either browse the folder’s online version, or, if they have the Syncplicity client installed, you both will have identical copies on your computers.  You can further specify view-only or edit access – the latter takes us into collaboration-land: updates made by any sharing party will be synchronized back to all other computers.  Be aware though that each party will still work on individual copies prior to save/sync, so with long multiple edits it’s quite possible to end up with several versions of the same document, due to Syncplicity’s conflict resolution.

This is why I believe real-time online collaboration is superior: there’s only one master copy, and no confusion between revisions.  This is what Google Docs and Zoho offer, and – surprise, surprise! – Syncplicity won’t let you down here, either.
They have created the best seamless offline/online integration I’ve seen with Google Docs: at the initial run your designated PC folder (e.g. My Documents) will get uploaded to your Google Docs account, and Google docs will be placed in a subdirectory on your computer.  From this point on you can edit these documents using Google, Word, Excel ..etc – your offline and online versions will be kept in sync.  This is pretty good, but not perfect: since Google docs only support a subset of the Word functions, after an online edit Syncplicity keeps two (and potentially more) versions of the same file – one with the latest changes, the other with a full set of Word functions “lost” in the conversion to Google.

Syncplicity’s most recently added online partners are:

  • Zoho – Right-click for the  ‘Edit in Zoho’ option.  Saving updates the document both on your computer, Syncplicity, but NOT on Zoho and Zoho (fixed, that was fast)
  • ScribdiPaper view of your files on the desktop.
  • Picnik – Right-click to choose “Edit in Picnik” for all your photos.

The Zoho integration presents a funny situation: you can now use Zoho Writer to save a file to your Google Docs space (Zoho>Desktop>Syncplicity>Google).  Not sure how practical this is, but I like the irony of a third party creating Zoho>Google integrationsmile_tongue.  On a more serious note, what I really would like to see is full Syncplicity<>Zoho integration, like it works with Google today (and since Zoho supports more Word functions, the conversion should be less lossy).  And while on the wish-list, how about sync-ing to Flickr?

Is it for you?
First of all, pricing: Free for two computers and 2G space, $9.99/month or $99 annually for any number of computers and 40G of storage.  You can sign up here to get 1G more, i.e. 3G of free storage, or 45G on paid accounts (using ZOLIBLOG as invitation code also works).  The price-tag is clearly heftier than, say Mozy, or free Foldershare, but there’s a lot more functionality you get – and oh, boy, when did become so expensive?

The one potential downside is the fact that Syncplicity is a pre-funding startup. Will they survive?  This market has seen casualties (Docsyncer, Omnidrive?), successful exits (Mozy, Foldershare), and stable, ongoing services.  The answer is: who knows?   The Founders are ex-Microsofties, they’ve put an amazing service together in a very short time, so I’d put my chips on them, but in business there are no guarantees.

A better question to ask what you’re real risk is.  If online backup is critically important to you, and are already paying for a service like Mozy, I wouldn’t abandon it yet (Mozy is now owned by EMC, not going anywhere).  If you’re mostly just syncing currently, or don’t have a solid backup solution for now, there’s not much to lose. Even if Syncplicity were to disappear, your files will be replicated in several places, you don’t lose access.

In fact, by signing up, you help Syncplicity show traction, which is critical in the funding process, so you can help solidify their position.  Happy Sync-ing!smile_regular

Update (7/17): In the meantime Microsoft’s Windows Live Mesh opened to the public, combining synhcronization and backup – also competing with their own Foldershare.  Now a word on what will happen to Foldershare, but I guess the writing is on the wall.  That said, I Live Mesh just failed for me the second time, so I can’t really recommend it.

Another service, Dropbox is getting hyped a lot nowadays, largely to a smart theme of giving out limited numbers of invitations.  Apparently artificially created shortage is good marketing, bloggers LOVE being able to give away 10 or so invites…   Dropbox has one advantage over Syncplicity: it’s multi-platform, including Apple’s OS X and Linux, whereas Syncplicity is Windows only for now.  But that’s where it ends: it has less features (forget Web Apps integration), and has what I consider a huge flaw:  you have to drop your files into a dedicated folder to be synchronized.   That may be reasonable if you want to collaborate on a limited set of files, but it simply does not resolve the “access to all myy data anywhere, anytime” problem.  It’s certainly a show-stopper for me.

So if you’re waiting for a Dropbox invitation, you might as well try Syncplicity – you’ll love it.  And if you sign up here, you get 1G more, i.e. 3G of free storage instead of the standard 2G.

Update #2:  Congratulations to the Syncplicity team on their funding.


The Dawn of SaaS-on-SaaS – Even While Amazon S3 is Down.

TechMeme is great in threading together relevant posts, but is largely based (so I think…) on direct linking, so of course it could not auto-detect the ironic relationship between:

Phil quotes Greg Olsen, CTO of Coghead, a web-based development platform which moved its servers to the Amazon infrastructure recently:

“As ironic as it may be, we continue to see software applications deployed as a service but which fail to use any service-based infrastructure themselves”

“The move to SaaS applications built on SaaS is a much more profound shift than the move from on-premise applications to SaaS applications …”

“Ironically, some of the first victims of this new economy may be some pioneers of the software-as-a-service movement. Today, many established SaaS application providers are applying much more of their precious focus and capital to infrastructure issues than newer competitors that are aggressively utilizing service-based infrastructure … the build-it-all-ourselves SaaS application vendor … will ultimately end up as [an] anachronism.”

Today’s Amazon outage appears to rebuff Phil and Greg’s point. Reality check: this is the first time Amazon S3 went down, and it’s already back up. had its fair share of outages, so did other SaaS providers, and so did just about any in-house systems companies run their own installed software on. I’m a big believer in focus, specialization and I trust the few mega-cloud companies that will emerge can maintain a more robust infrastructure than we could all do individually. (So yes, if it’s not obvious, I do buy into Nick Carr’s Big Switch concept.)

Another approach is to look at where value can be added: the consensus view from a quick Enterprise Irregulars chat is that infrastructure will be commoditized faster (or it already is) than software, where there is a lot more room for innovation by new and – thanks to outsourced infrastructure – smaller players.

And if acronyms were not ugly enough already, here’s to entering the age of SaaS-on-SaaS. smile_shades

Update: What better confirmation of my point than today’s rumors about EMC hosting  SAP’s system  – I assume it’s Business ByDesign, the new On-Demand offering for the SMB market. (Side-note: I’ll be traveling and be time and Internet-challenged for the next three weeks, but SAP’s BDD is one of the subjects I will come back, as it seems to be largely misunderstood. Oh, and I just love the fact how Mozy, my favorite online backup service is often referred to in the EMC story).


Related posts (on the Amazon outage): Rough Type,, LinkFog, Data Center Knowledge, Web Worker Daily, TechCrunch, Moonwatcher, Project Failures, SmoothSpan Blog, Enterprise Anti-Matter.


Windows "Live" (Now Dead) Foldershare Has an Architectural Weakness

Foldershare is a handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – most of the time, when it works.  Of course sometimes it goes down, defying it’s new Windows Live moniker. smile_embaressed

Unlike the previous, week-long outage, this one was just a few hours, but even now as it recovers, users can’t log in:

Outages are inevitable, but the repeated incidents made me realize that Foldershare has a design glitch: it’s dependence on logging in to a web server for no good reason.

  • Yes, I understand setup, customization is all through the Web.
  • However, once set up, the need to change configuration is rare, the whole idea in Foldershare is that it just runs in the background with the users barely noticing it even exists.  It does NOT sync / upload actual data to the Web server, all synchronization is strictly P2P.  In fact one of the setup options is to define whether you allow remote P2P sync to occur through the Net, or strictly on your LAN, behind the firewall.

Why on earth my Foldershare clients on 3 computers have to sign in to the Web to be able to carry out behind-the-firewall synchronization is beyond me.  Could the not cache the latest config locally, and use it whenever log-in fails?

Of course I have previously speculated that Microsoft should tie Foldershare and Skydrive, offering both PC sync and Web backup, in which case logging in becomes a reasonable requirement.  But even then, local sync should be available as a fall-back option for outages.

Update (2/13):  A day later Foldershare clients still can’t log in.  Perhaps it’s time to change “the next couple of hours” to “the next couple of days“. smile_angry


Are Your Holiday Photos Safe?

The Holidays are typically the time for taking lots of family photos, so let me take this chance and remind you to keep your photos safe. For many of my readers safe increasingly means online, using photo storage/sharing services like Flickr, Zooomr, Smugmug, Picasa, and a zillion others.

Despite being a recognized cloud-computing fan, I am still keeping my photos locally though – and that requires a good back-up plan. ProtectMyPhotos has probably been the best photo backup & sync service – until now. Too bad it did not make it as a business: its closing doors on December 31st. That means you have 2 days to save your data locally and find an alternative.

My choice: simplification. I’ve already been using Mozy, a powerful yet non-intrusive online backup service for all non-photo data, so instead of looking for a photo-specific replacement, I’ve just reconfigured Mozy to include my photo directories in it’s backup routine. I lose some of the extra goodies ProtectMyPhotos offered, but at least got rid of some redundancy on my PC. Mozy has been reliably backing up my files for over a year now. The best part of it is that I don’t even notice it’s running. And now the shameless plug: if you’d like to give Mozy a try, use this registration link, we’ll both get an extra 250MB space. smile_wink


Trusting Foldershare – Almost

FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – reports TechCrunch. As a Foldershare user I’ve also received the urgent email warning:

From 12/3/07 to 12/6/07, some files may have been accidentally moved from their original folders into the FolderShare Trash folder. The bug that caused this problem has been fixed.
The only files affected are ones with names containing certain characters, such as accents, trademark signs, etc. For example, “España.jpg.”

I happen to have an accent in my family name (which I dropped since I moved to the US – simplicity!), so Foldershare nuked quite a few important documents. Thankfully, the email came in time to recover all from the trash folder.

This is not the first time “accidents” happened, only the first time it was on such a mass scale Microsoft had to acknowledge it. (Foldershare was originally developed by startup Byte Taxi, which got acquired and the product is now part of Microsoft’s Live Services).

Previously I used Foldershare to duplicate all my data on a new laptop – since I had already used it to synchronize two other machines, I already had the libraries defined, just had to add the new computer. A random check at the end of the process uncovered 165 (!) p2p files (placeholders) with the actual content missing. Nothing in Foldershare warned me about these, and there was no way to force the placeholders to download the actual content. Foldershare Support was clueless, and to day I still wonder if I hit some unpublished limit with the massive amount of data I wanted to copy all at once (not the typical use case for Foldershare).

Not on the above scale, but similar glitches still occur, where a file is not synchronized, a .p2p file is created instead: I have learned there is no way to fix those, just delete the .p2p, rename the original file to something else on the source machine, and the new file will likely be synchronized.

Another annoying bug is when for some reason a file is locked on the destination computer and Foldershare chokes. It does not allow to skip the “offending” file, the only choices are retry (won’t work), or shut Foldershare down – that’s just plain stupid.thumbs_down

Despite all the above, I’ve become very dependent on Foldershare: it’s a fundamental piece of my infrastructure. I let it synchronize the two laptops and a desktop, then I use the desktop as the “master” which will back up data online to Mozy. Mozy is a life-saver, and has improved a lot since I first covered it. Of course the third part of my strategy is the increasing portion of content that does not even exist on my local disks: documents created by Zoho Writer or Sheet, safely in the cloud.

All in all, this system works, but Foldershare is a step shy from being a “set-once-forget-it-even-exists” stage, which is what these infrastructure services should aim to deliver.


Windows “Live” Foldershare Dead For a Week

Foldershare is a very handy tool that keeps several PC’s in sync – when it does.

Although the actual synchronization process is P2P, in fact in a local network your data typically stays behind the firewall throughout the entire process, Foldershare needs to log in to their servers to read your configuration data. And that’s where the process often dies. So far it hasn’t bothered me though, sometimes Foldershare could not log in, but I could safely rely on it getting through in a few hours and catching up with synchronization.

Now it’s been dead for days, which is really bad, as it has become a key part of my infrastructure: I sync three computers using Foldershare, and run Mozy to create online backups on one. With these types of services it’s all about trust: you don’t actively use them, check them daily, you just trust that they are there, doing their job in the background. When they don’t you’re in trouble, since you don’t know what fell out of sync. There goes the trust, quickly.

Foldershare was acquired two years ago by Microsoft, and it’s now branded as part of the “Live” services. A brand that turns into pure irony when it comes to a dead service. smile_sad

Update: there’s now an announcement on the FolderShare site. Thanks, Chris, for the pointer.

newsNovember 12, 2007

Windows Live FolderShare experienced a few technical difficulties over the weekend. The service is functioning normally now but it may take a while for all clients to reconnect. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.

Update (11/16): The above announcement turned out to be optimistic – that much is obvious just reading the comments below. As of today, FolderShare is completely down, with this status message:

Nov 16, 3:00PM PST
Windows Live FolderShare is being taken offline for maintenance.
The service will be resumed in the next 48 hours.
Thank you for your patience.
FolderShare Team.

I keep my fingers crossed.. and if it really works in 48 hours – well than it only took Microsoft a week to fix a so-called “Live” service. smile_angry

Update (12/11): FolderShare AutoDeletes Files. Whoops – on TechCrunch