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Network storage and file sharing

July 24, 2006

FolderShare is one of many services offering Internet based file sharing and synchronization

MIT‘s Technology Review has an interesting article on Internet storage services entitled “The Internet is Your Next Hard Drive“. The article espouses the notion that, among other things, networked file sharing will improve in lock-step with bandwidth increases to the point that we may not have a hard drive in our computer at all, instead using a network repository for file I/O.

I wonder if the author ever heard about the Fallacies of Distributed Computing? Fallacy numero uno renounces the incorrect belief that “The network is reliable”. This fallacy has a way of rearing its ugly head as soon as you start having computers with no local disk drive. Never mind “Latency is zero” and the other distributed computing false gods on the list. No local hard drive over the open Internet is bad engineering for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, some of the networked storage services mentioned in the article are great options for certain users needing more storage than they can afford to buy and maintain themselves or distributed file sharing for geographically dispersed groups.

For rentable storage on a large scale, I’m intrigued by things I’ve been reading recently about Amazon S3. Basically, S3 lets you use Amazon’s big ole bit bucket for your own applications. They maintain the storage, you go forth and harness massive data using their REST or SOAP interfaces. All apparently for low rates compared to DIY. As Tim O’Reilly notes, these Internet scale services are changing the very definition of what is, and isn’t, part of The Platform.

On a much smaller scale, network file sharing services can be a boon to distributed workgroups. Example: I’ve recently started using FolderShare for remote work. It’s a bit awkward to set up, but once it’s configured it operates automatically. FolderShare replicates files in a user specified directory to other properly invited and authenticated users’ systems. This happens “invisibly”, in the background, providing the illusion that everyone with access to your network shared folder (hence the name, hah hah) is using the same hard drive on their own machine, or at least their LAN.

Security is an obvious concern anytime your key bits are flying through the ether. FolderShare seems to be doing the right things to address it. First, FolderShare is a peer-to-peer system, so (hopefully) your bits only live on the systems of the people you trust and invite into your group. Second, all comms are authenticated and encrypted using AES over SSL in an attempt to secure the pipe. Seems well thought out and executed.

FolderShare is very handy for small workgroups that need to share files over the Internet. Heck, you can even use it to share files between your own systems (work desktop, a laptop, and a home PC, for instance). As much as I hate to admit it, it quickly becomes a necessity. See, I can say something nice about Microsoft after all. Well, at least about something MS acquired. :-)

Is Internet storage in your present or future? Talk amongst yourselves.

[Tip of the hat to GigaOm, O’Reilly Radar, and digg]

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2 Comments
  1. I’m a fanatic about backups as I’ve written on my blog. Remote backups are one of range of backup techniques I use, but I do this to my own server where I’m in control and can have everything encrypted. My experience with the online backup services is that they’ve been quite slow, and you always wonder how long they’ll be around.

    Another great backup method is to use a USB Hard Drive and TrueCrypt. I’ve written about this on my blog at: http://blog.surfulater.com/2005/06/09/securing-information/

  2. Nice article.

    If you like Amazon S3 and Folder Share, you should check out BTSharp (http://btsharp.com). It’s a .NET BitTorrent implementation that developers can use to build things like Folder Share with a lot less code. It aims to beat Amazon S3 on price, while remaining as reliable.

    Cheers,

    David.

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