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Joshua Colp

#VoIP enthusiast, #FibreOP evangelist, #Fintech newbie, #VideoStreaming experimenter

Private Cloud Sync Software

I’ve been gradually bumping up my use of encryption and removing my dependence on public cloud services over the past few months. I use an encrypted VPN to my home when I’m out and about, I host my own mail and have it strongly prefer encryption, and I use browser extensions to make sure that encryption is used as often as it can. I try to make sure that my data is on my terms and under my control as much as I can. One area that I’ve recently been focusing on is cloud syncing services.

As I am primarily a Windows user I’ve been using Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly known as SkyDrive). It integrates with Windows, gives me plenty of storage, and synchronizes fine. The con of this is… Microsoft has a copy of my data and according to the terms can even examine it if they want, or remove content they find questionable. This doesn’t sit well with me. To that end I’ve been trying out and evaluating different software that provides a private cloud sync experience.

Now… one of the cons of private cloud syncing is that at least two systems must be on in order to synchronize between them and if you have additional systems then one of the original synchronized ones must be on… and so on. A way to overcome this is to have a system that is always on and available which keeps a copy of your data. This plays the part of the traditional public cloud sync server but you maintain control of your data. I’ve focused on options which do not require this server aspect.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any space limits above. This is on purpose. Since this is all private the space is actually limited by how much you have on your devices, not by how much you are willing to pay.

BitTorrent Sync

Link: License: Proprietary Cost: Free Platform Availability: Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, Android, iOS, Windows Phone

BitTorrent Sync is from the same people who brought us BitTorrent in the first place. Syncing is accomplished by adding existing folders and either generating a new key or specifying a key already generated. Systems that use the same key discover eachother and use BitTorrent to synchronize. This means that the systems will communicate directly if possible and fall back to a relay if needed. All traffic is encrypted. You can also generate keys for folders which are read-only or expire after 24 hours, allowing you to share your folders with others.

In practice I found BitTorrent Sync does exactly what it is designed to do … in most environments. If you are using public hotspots you may find that the BitTorrent traffic is blocked and your syncing may not occur. By logging onto my VPN I was able to sync once again to machines at home but not everyone can do that.

Another area where BitTorrent Sync needs improvement is versioning. A “SyncArchive” folder fills this role in a bruteforce manner by keeping the last revision of files when a sync occurs and they are changed.

Updated April 4th, 2014: Removed section about not be able to disable notifications in BitTorrent Sync. This option can be found in Preferences as “Show notifications”

Overall BitTorrent Sync works well but still needs to be polished in the features area.


Link: License: Proprietary Cost: Free (Up to a limit) Platform Availability: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS (Paying customers only)

AeroFS is a very polished commercial product which is available for free for small teams. It requires registration (which gives them some of your information) but simplifies things over BitTorrent Sync’s long keys. This also gives you more fine grained control since each user is individually identified.

Unlike BitTorrent Sync you don’t sync already existing folders. You have a single AeroFS folder where stuff is placed which gets synchronized. You can also share this with other parties if you wish. Synchronization uses a proprietary method from AeroFS but it remains encrypted and can go directly between systems when possible. In practice I found that AeroFS worked behind hotspots but in some environments it favored going through a relay instead of directly.

AeroFS does support file revisions so you can get a past revision of your files from a simple interface or restore deleted files.

I like AeroFS and it works fine but the requirement of giving up some of my personal information did not make me happy.

Other Options

Some other options exist which are do not have direct traffic exchange, are not as polished, or are server based. A few of them are: Seafile, ownCloud, pyDio, and Sparkle Share.

So… What do I use?

Right now I’m using BitTorrent Sync. I didn’t have to give up any of my personal information and while I occasionally have problems at hotspots I have a VPN which fixes the problem. It is also able to go directly between devices more than AeroFS which ends up being faster.

It does exactly what I need and want.