(Written on my snappy new Windows 7 RC installation. Operating systems are so much faster before they get those pesky applications installed.)
I’ve been gradually transitioning all my file storage and backup to online services, aka “The Cloud”. I’m nearly done and thought I’d share what I’ve done in hopes of getting even better ideas or helping someone else out.
My main working computer is a laptop. I have a small server here but it’s only used for testing. I have a few folders in “My Documents” where I store the bulk of my non-development files. These include ClearData (work), SQLTeam, Personal, Presentations and PASS. All these files are now stored on Live Mesh and synchronized down to my laptop. Each of these is a separate folder in Mesh. When I’m working on the laptop locally I would never know these files are stored on Mesh. A little helper utility runs in the background and moves changes back and forth. I can also log into the Mesh web site and access the files from there. It’s nice to know anytime I give a presentation that a copy of the presentation is available online if I need it. I can also access my files using an iPhone or Windows Mobile device via their mobile web site.
Mesh has a 5GB limit right now and is still in beta. I’ve been using it for a few months and haven’t had any problems. I’m assuming at some point they’ll start charging for it and I’d be happy to pay. The downside of Mesh is that you can’t control when it syncs. Earlier versions had this feature but it got removed at some point. It doesn’t always sync immediately after changes but it usually happens pretty quickly. That’s been my only real complaint so far.
Another benefit of Mesh is that I can share access to folders. For example, my business partner and I can share the ClearData folder. Any changes either one of us makes are copied over the to other’s computer. That’s a handy way to share financials, contracts or whatever else we’re working on.
I also use Mesh to synchronize the files behind Windows Live Writer and Microsoft OneNote. This was as simple as right-clicking on the directory where these applications store their files and choosing “Add folder to Live Mesh”. On new installations I just sync these directories down prior to using the application the first time. You can find more detailed instructions for OneNote and Live Writer if you like. I’m in the process of buying a NetBook and possibly a desktop and this will allow me to use these two applications seamlessly on any machine. It also makes me productive on a new operating system install that much quicker. I’d like a way to synchronize OneNote data down to my iPhone but I haven’t found a way to do that yet. (And no, I don’t want to use EverNote.)
Windows Home Server
I backup my laptop to a Windows Home Server every night. I bought one of the HP MediaSmart servers when they first came out. I’ve been using it for over a year now and it works well. I’m finally getting ready to add another drive which looks like it will be a painless process. Backup and restore are dead simple. One benefit is that I kept access to older builds of my laptop as old backups. When I rebuild my laptop I rename it and then keep one backup of the previous build. WHS sees it as a separate computer so I can always go recover files from it if I need to. If I desperately needed that laptop back I could buy another laptop drive and restore the image onto it. I’m still looking for an easy way to convert a WHS backup into a virtual machine. You can restore the backup into the VM but it won’t boot until you do some repair work.
All my pictures, music, videos and older files are stored directly on the MediaSmart. I was very nervous having those in a single location. You can attach an external drive to a Windows Home Server and back it up but I wanted something automatic. I’ve started using JungleDisk for WHS to backup my files to Amazon’s S3. They are running a special on upload pricing through June. I copied up roughly 45GB of pictures, music and other “stuff” in April and got charged $3.96. It looks like they’ll charge me about $7 per month to store it each month. JungleDisk runs inside WHS and copies up changes every night on a schedule I configure.
I’m just started experimenting with the “Offline Files” feature of Windows to work with files store on my WHS. This may give me similar functionality to Mesh.
I use an Exchange server mailbox from AppRiver for email . They’ve been good but not spectacular. They charge $13 a month for an unlimited size mailbox. Beware their $50 per month minimum though. I think you can find individual mailboxes for comparable prices. Using Exchange and its synchronization features allow me to access my mail on multiple PC’s, the web and my iPhone including my contacts and my calendar. I think I could probably do the same thing with Google at this point but I’ve already got this working the way I like.
All my critical development projects are stored in a hosted Subversion repository run by BeanStalk. They have a free plan but we use the $15/month Personal plan. This gives you up to ten repositories, 3GB of storage and five users. Their plans scale up beyond what I’d ever use. They were able to import our existing repository so we didn’t lose any change history. Having a hosted Subversion allows my business partner and I do work jointly on projects. CodePlex now supports TortoiseSVN (my subversion client of choice) so this allows me to use a single source code control system for all the work I do.
I have roughly 1GB of various development projects that aren’t in Subversion right now. These are proof of concepts or little things I’ve worked on that never see the light of day. I think these will get moved to Mesh or WHS pretty soon. Right now they are just on my laptop and backed up to WHS.
I’m still working on a way to synchronize bookmarks. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few other holes where I’d like to synchronize the configuration for an application. For example, it annoys me to no end that I have to manually recreate my five extra mail accounts in Outlook and that I have to manually copy over my signatures when I rebuild my laptop.
Overall, I think this scenario gives me a safe, flexible environment. If my laptop and WHS were to disappear I could pull everything back down from Amazon and Mesh. If “The Cloud” were to disappear I have everything locally. I can run my standard productivity applications on any of my computers and they’re synchronized automatically.
What have you done that might work better than what I’ve got? What suggestions do you have to improve this?