The beauty of odrive

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Some of you by now would have multiple free cloud storage accounts spread across the net. From Dropbox, to Box, to Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive and many more. Some of you may even have a paid cloud storage subscription for increased storage capabilities. You might have encountered some slight annoyances in logging into individual accounts just to access your files, and some of the services may or may not provide native sync support to sync all your files between your computer, and the cloud. Each cloud storage options may even offer different services and capabilities. In short, each has its own strength and weaknesses in accessing, updating, uploading, and syncing files.

For my situation, I have 2 free dropbox accounts, totalling around 12gb of storage space, a free Box account that gives me 50gb, One Drive, 30gb, Google Drive, 15gb, and Amazon Cloud Drive, unlimited storage space. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could consolidate all your cloud storage into one main folder? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could combine all these cloud storage space into one big one?

Introducing odrive. I encountered odrive while tinkering with Amazon Cloud Drive. Since it doesn’t have native sync support, and the upload application Amazon provided for PCs and Macs, only provides simple uploading services without all the bells and whistle, odrive is a wonderful software that allows you to have sync ability between Amazon Cloud Drive and your computer. It goes one step further; allowing you to link most other cloud storage services out there under one main odrive folder. Within this folder you will then see individual folders being made based on the accounts you link. So it does not interfere with the file structure that you have created for the other cloud storage services you have. This feature is a big plus as it now allows you to access odrive once, and all your cloud storage services are under one roof. No more logging in to individual accounts, no more using separate shared folders provided by each cloud storage services, and no more using separate uploading apps to upload your files to all the different accounts.

The second big plus, and this is the major selling in my opinion, is their progressive sync capability. Progressive sync allows you to control which files and folders you wish to sync. When you initially set up odrive, you can see all the file you have in the cloud regardless of which account is linked. But the files are not immediately synced to your computer. You get to set which files or folders you deem important to you and you simply sync them. For example, if you have a folder with all your important documents that you work on it on your computer everyday, simply sync that folder to your computer and any changes you made to your document will automatically be updated and synced to the cloud. This way, less frequently used or accessed files in the cloud can remain in the cloud untouched. This is important as it frees up precious storage space in your computer. There is no need to sync every file you have on the cloud to your computer, if only a handful of them are needed and updated frequently. You can sync and unsync anytime you want and once it is unsync, the actual files will be removed from your computer, but not the files in your cloud.

This feature has huge implications in the way files are uploaded to and from my computer and the Amazon Cloud Drive using odrive. I am using Amazon Cloud Drive to upload and store all my photos I have taken with my DSLR. There are more than 60 000 of them. These images are not frequently accessed, now that I have edited them using Lightroom and showcased the very best. I would very much like the keep the original. I have uploaded all my files after days of non-stop uploading. Now, I got the chance to try how fast it would be to download my entire database, should I need to rebuilt my hard drive, after a catastrophic failure. So I tried downloading a single folder containing a couple hundred photos through the web browser. Once you click on ‘download folder’, what Amazon Cloud Drive does is that it will download a zipped version of the file. I discovered that the download speed wasn’t so great despite having a fiber broadband connection. And downloading a single, huge zipped file is not practical. What if I got disconnected from the internet, or my computer crashed in the middle of downloading? That could mean that I would have to start downloading those photos from the very beginning, wasting time and effort. Not good.

This is where the beauty of odrive comes in. You can sync the folder or folders containing your previous photos and odrive will immediately download them to your computer. And the download speeds are way much better. Why is that? odrive downloads the actual individual files, rather than allowing Amazon zipping the files for you and downloading those files as a single large file. odrive downloads several files simultaneously, downloading through multiple download streams. It essentially maximises your download connection speed, increasing the overall download efficiency. And because it is essentially syncing the files to your computer, you can pause them and continue another day. So while downloading 500gb of files back to your computer may take some time, at least you can download (or sync) in batches, telling you the percentage in which the files has downloaded, the files left to sync and even tells you which files are done syncing that you can access immediately. This is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Now some of you might be wondering; if I have a laptop, or a computer with an SSD, syncing that many files would overwhelm my computer storage space. Yes it will. So in order to prevent that, you can simply offload the syncing process to a external portable or desktop hard drive to provide ample space for syncing. Simply tell the odrive to move the main odrive file to another drive and you can then begin syncing files without eating up your precious storage space in your computer. Essentially, you are not locked out in selecting where to sync the files to. So let’s say, you suffered a major hard drive failure and you forgot to backup your files to another drive before it fails completely. However you have your files backed up in Dropbox, or Box or like me, Amazon Cloud Drive. And you decide to get a multi bay NAS with multiple hard drives plugged in for Raid 0 or Raid 1 setting or a bigger external drive to hold your data. Simply move the odrive to either of those two. Now you have a lot of storage space. Once that is done, simply choose the files and folder you wish to sync, and voila, the files will start to download.

In summary, odrive is a wonderful app that helps you not only in consolidating all your separate cloud storage services, but also adds a unified set of functions and capabilities and integrates it elegantly to all the cloud storage services. I highly recommend giving it a try.

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Backup Conundrum

I have been reading a lot about NAS, DAS, cloud backup, cloud storage, RAID options and many many more. But still, I have yet to come up with the most cost effective solution and efficient solution to back up and archive my photos. First, there is always the traditional route of backing up my photos from an external hard drive and making periodic transfer every now and then. I am using a 2.5 inch portable hard drive as my main photo depository. Eventually that hard drive is going to be full and I would need a more future proof solution. The closest option based on my needs would be to invest in a NAS. But NAS requires an ethernet connection to the router that would then allow NAS access to a home network. I have tried the transfer speeds of files from the NAS to the network and onto my computer, and I am not liking the transfer speeds. I need something faster. Then there is DAS, or Direct Attached Storage, like the Drobo, WD My Book Duo, or Thunderbolt Duo. But those things costs a bomb! I don’t really want to invest so much money upfront just to backup my photos and eventually have a future proof solution to my storage needs. It’s just too expensive for my taste.

Recently, I have begun experimenting with cloud storage and backup solution. I tried crash plan and initially I liked it. It’s those set-it-once-forget-about-it kind of system. Unlimited storage space, (for a fee of course) but it allows you to periodically make backups to the cloud. While it may seem the most cost effective solution, backing up hundreds of gigabytes of data is going to take a tremendous amount of time! By my reckoning, based on the Crashplan’s estimates, it would take me more than 20 days of non-stop uploads to fully back up my entire photos collection. While it is cheap, its not efficient. Amazon Cloud Drive seems to upload photos slightly faster than Crashplan, but still doesn’t solve the slow transfer speeds. So what now? Do I really have to invest in a NAS or DAS?

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Toying with Direct Attached Storage

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For the past week, I have been trying to educate myself to the world of NAS, or Network Attached Storage. I was reading articles on the web, watching Youtube tutorials, unboxing, reviews, you name it just to get up to speed to what NAS is all about. It took me a while to grasp the concept of NAS, as the choices, features and functions are bountiful. And I only realized recently, that my WD My Cloud, somehow resembles a NAS, in a very rudimentary way. And after reading more about it, the WD My Cloud, actually functions just like a NAS, but a very stripped down version, useful for someone who is not as technically inclined in delving further into the world of NAS. It is a simple plug and play device and contains a single 4TB hard drive, where you simply dump all your media files for all in the household to share.

The reason why I started looking up at NAS, was because I was trying to find a practical solution in not only storing my previous photos taken during my numerous photography sessions, but also solutions to provide adequate backup should some hardware fail unexpectedly in a distant future. Those photos that I have are very precious to me, and while I have a Smugmug account that allows you to upload unlimited number of photos, I did not subscribe to their more, premium option of uploading RAW files as well. So while I can upload all my JPEGs to Smugmug with an incredible amount of organizational latitude, I am still limited by the fact that RAW is off limits when it comes to cloud backup (Smugmug functions somewhat this way, with an added bonus of giving you the tools to created compelling websites to showcase your best photography works, all under a single subscription model.) And so, I started toying with the idea of doing a simple backup or redundancy at a local level, like setting up a Raid 1 storage for example.

Photography as a hobby, takes up a lot of digital space, and so it became natural that NAS was under my radar. However, the more I understood what NAS is all about, the more I feel that it is an unnecessary step and possibly an ill fitting direction in choosing how to safely store my photos. What I really needed at the end of the day, was not to share my photos of anyone within the NAS network, or access those photos offsite, but rather just to provide a simple storage and redundancy solution to safely protect -at a local level- all my precious photos.

DAS, or less commonly known as Direct Attached Storage, are simple hard drives connected directly to your PC. It may or may not be connected to a bigger part of the network, but it provided the simplest solution based on my needs. Products like WD My Cloud Duo, features 2 hard drives in which you can install and upgrade in the future and provide Raid 1 settings, meaning one of the drive is served as a redundant drive, mirroring the other one. That is what I need, providing redundancy should one fail. Are they other options available? The Drobos 4-Bay USB3.0 or Drobos 5D, 5-Bay with Thunderbolt connection are some other options that I have found online that suit my needs. The Drobos 5D is prohibitively expensive in my opinion, due to its thunderbolt connectivity which gives you blazing fast speeds in reading and writing data to the hard drive. Drobos 4-Bay is the next best fit. But such DAS regardless of brand, do come at a cost, with some significant investments in good, high capacity hard drives, in order to take advantage of the Raid capabilities and provide adequate redundancy to protect my photos.

My next big IT purchase might just be getting a good DAS to store and protect my photos from hardware failure. I may not need it now, since currently I don’t need that much space that 4-bay DAS can offer. I still have ample of space for my photos in my 2.5 inch 2TB portable hard drive. In other words, I still have time to look around and maybe consider DIYing such things, and make it a weekend project to create my own DAS. Who knows, it could be interesting and all I need is a reliable DAS, without the need of fancy branding or extra features that I may ultimately not use.

Worst tech buy ever

I consider myself a tech geek. And by tech geek, I mean carefully choosing the kinds of devices or gadgets that would suit my needs. Choosing a piece of technology, be it smartphones, notebooks, hard drives or even a simple computer mouse must be reasonable priced, reliable, trustworthy and that it suit my needs perfectly. I am not an early adopter, however I will choose to buy the latest gadgets, if I really need it, and I will only buy it after very careful consideration of my needs. I research extensively to see just what kinds of gadget would be suitable for me, maximizing cost to performance or utility.

So having said that, I do make blunders every now and then. Sometimes I would buy a gadget that gave me great disappointment, either by not performing to my expectations or just overestimating its added benefits that it would ultimately provide me. Take the WD MyCloud personal NAS for example. It has 4GB of hard drive space. Wow! It simply connects to your router and any devices connected to the same network would be able to access files store in the NAS. Amazing! It is hassle free, simply plug and play. I don’t think so.

The main gripe about the WD MyCloud is that it can be quite difficult to set up the NAS properly, especially when you need to ensure that all your devices in your home are seamlessly connected to it. They have smartphone apps to download so that you can access the files from WD MyCloud, and they even have softwares to make access to the network storage simple and fuss free. But that is not the case. Time and time again I have encountered difficulties in getting access to the network storage either from my computer or from my smartphone. And because you have to connect the network storage via ethernet connection, your upload and download speeds are very dependent on the wireless network afforded by the router. Sure, you can connect the network storage directly to your pc via ethernet if you need to transfer large files quickly, but this hassle of plugging in and out is just not worth the trouble.

The good thing about the network storage is that my smart tv is able to access the files from within. This means, that I can watch and stream any videos I have uploaded from the network storage and watch from my TV. It’s a great way to watch stuff. But I encounter so many intermittent interruptions while watching my videos for no apparent reason. One moment I was enjoying the video and half-way through, it just gets disconnected. I don’t know if I can blame on the corrupted file while transferring to the network storage, or the connection from my TV And network storage is just so poor that I get streaming interruptions from time to time. And for your information, the WD MyCloud is just beside my TV, connected directly via an Ethernet cable.

The back of the WD MyCloud has a USB port, that allows you to connect any portable drives so that you can transfer any files to and from the network storage quickly. This is a great feature. But again, in several instances, the network storage just refuses to recognize that there is actually a portable drive attached to it, and refuses to communicate with it. It can be very frustrating as I have to resort to transferring files via wifi, which is in orders of magnitude slower than a direct connection.

4GB is huge for a personal user like me, but its buggy software, and unreliable and unstable connection really diminishes its true potential. Even if I want to treat this drive as simply a backup drive to store my digital media, is already a hassle setting it up, much less using it as streaming storage device.

So other words, NAS is just not for me at the moment. I’d rather get either a portable drive or a 3.5 drive that would sit nicely on my desktop for all my storage needs. No need for additional networking hassle.