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Sugarsynch is an ingenious way of backing up and sharing your data between multiple computers.

And even if you only have one computer, its 'access your data from anywhere' feature can be invaluable.

 
 
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SugarSynch Software Review Part 2

Other considerations, pricing, and competitors
 

You can have Sugar Synch managing the data synchronization on many different computers simultaneously, plus on cell phones such as the iPhone too.

Part 2 of a two part series on Sugar Synch and other types of backup and synchronization software - please also visit

1.  An introduction to synchronization software and to Sugar Synch
2.  Other considerations, pricing, and competitors

 

 

 

Sugarsynch is marvelously easy to use, and most of the time works in the background, requiring little thought or input from you.  But understanding some of the issues below will help you to best use the program and to choose the pricing option best suited for you.

We also look at some present and possible future competitors to Sugar Synch.  Currently, SS seems to be the best product on the market.

Bandwidth Requirements

When you first start using Sugarsynch, you'll end up specifying many gigabytes of data to be backed up and/or synchronized.  It will take Sugarsynch some time to move all that data to its central servers - it seems that Sugarsynch limits the bandwidth available to each customer to about 1Mb/sec for uploading data to their servers, and 2Mb/sec for downloading data from their servers.

Although I experimented with large file transfers at various hours of the day and night, I could never get much more bandwidth than that, and sometimes got quite a lot less.

Fortunately, once you've got the first major load of file transferring completed - and it might take several days to do this - you'll find your ongoing data synchronizing happens automatically and invisibly.

Most of the time when we're saving files, we're saving a file of no more than one or two MB in size.  A 2 MB file can be transferred (at 1 Mbit/sec) to Sugarsynch in perhaps 20 seconds, and can then be forwarded on to other computers for synchronizing in perhaps another 10 seconds.  In other words, 20 seconds after you've saved the file, it has been transferred to Sugarsynch's servers, and in another 10 or so seconds, the change has already rippled through to your other computers (assuming they are on line at the time).

Synching Online and Offline

This is a great feature.  There are other programs out there that also claim to offer automatic synchronization, but they work in a 'peer to peer' type environment, whereas Sugarsynch operates in a central server environment.

What does this mean?  It means that with Sugarsynch, the other computers you are synching your data with do not need to be online at the same time.  Data synchronization is a two step procedure - the first step is the changed file flows from your current computer to the Sugarsynch dataserver, and then the second step, which can occur at any future time, is that the changed file is then sent from the central dataserver out to your other computer(s).

So there's no need to coordinate things and have all your computers switched on and connected to the internet simultaneously.  Imagine what a hassle that would be - you'd have to leave your home computer on while at the office, and your office computer on while at home, and if either computer was accidentally switched off, your synching stops.  The peer to peer model works well to synchronize computers all on the same LAN, eg, for workgroup collaboration, but it doesn't work so well in this type of environment.

Instead, turn your computers on and off as it suits you.  When you turn a computer on, it immediately checks with Sugarsynch to see if there are any changed files it needs to download, and quietly goes about downloading them if needed.

For this reason, when you first turn on a computer that you haven't used for a few days, you might want to pause, or check the Sugarsynch manager program to see how many files need to be updated from the central server, and be careful not to start using those files until the latest version of them has been copied over.

The flipside of this coin is when you're finishing work on a computer and about to turn it off, it is a good idea to first save all your work, then wait long enough for Sugarsynch to go update its central server copies before turning the computer off.

If you turn the computer off in the middle of having a file synchronized, it will redo the synchronization next time the computer is online again, but until that time, it doesn't have the most uptodate version of the file on the central server or on your other computers.

Truly, Sugarsynch is so clever that you'll run the risk of forgetting you have it.  It simply does what is needed, as best it can, without bothering you or interfering with the rest of your work.

Data Safety and Security

Any time you're allowing your data out of your exclusive control, there are potential risks about other people accessing it.  Sugar Synch have recognized and responded well to this issue.

All data that is transferred between your computer and the Sugarsynch servers, and all data stored at their data sites, is encrypted with high quality AES standard 128 bit encryption (approved by the NSA for US Government data encryption up to 'Secret' category).

This means that the neighborhood kid next door is unlikely to be able to crack your data flows, but a foreign government with sufficient interest and tenacity probably could.  For those of us not fearing foreign government intrusion, the 128 bit AES standard encryption is probably more than good enough.

One thing you should do, though, is be sure to choose a very secure password.  If you don't already use it, Roboform is a highly recommended password management program, reviewed here.

A Different Type of Data Danger

We ended up losing data because of Sugarsync, but not due to any problem with its remote servers.  Instead, somehow, with occasional changes to computers in our network, something ended up being misconfigured and older versions of files overwrote newer versions of the same files.

Other files ended up with a confusing mess of multiple different versions, and we were not able to conveniently tell which were the real up to date versions and which were not.

To be fair, probably these problems were caused by our own ineptitude.  But the lack of phone support meant we were largely on our own when it came to understanding and configuring the software, and even if it were our own fault, surely any half-way decent software should have sufficient built in protection so as to make it hard for users to inadvertently destroy their own data.

So if you think you are no more competent at computers than we are (and with 30 years of familiarity with computers, we had thought ourselves to be way above average at understanding and using them) you should be very careful how you configure and use this software, because it is dangerous and might end up causing you huge problems.

Service Reliability

Sugarsynch advises that they strive to achieve a 'five nines' level of reliability and service up-time - ie, their servers should be up and available for you 99.999% of the time.  In other words, in a typical day, this would allow them no more than 1 second of downtime; in a typical week, this could total no more than 6 seconds, and in a typical month, no more than 3 minutes of outage.

They say that they are generally exceeding 99.99% reliability at present (ie 'four nines') and are keeping close to the five nines goal.

One of the good things about Sugarsynch is that, most of the time, we don't even need a four or five nines uptime factor, because a key part of Sugarsynch's intelligence is the background program monitoring the state of the data on our computer.  Once it detects a change, it simply patiently waits until it can communicate that change with the central server.  If either your computer, or the central server, is offline, it patiently waits until the two are connected again without causing any immediate problems to your use of your computer at present.

If Sugarsynch was being used for workgroup collaboration then a high degree of uptime would be needed, but in its current form, the system is more forgiving.

Workgroup collaboration is a similar concept of file synchronizing, but much more complex and demanding, because instead of just one person working on a document, and by definition, usually only working on the document on one computer at a time; workgroup collaboration might have two or three or more people all working on the same document simultaneously, and saving different sets of changes simultaneously.  Clearly, in such a case, it is essential that all versions of the document be accurate and up to date and that 'simultaneous changes' from multiple users be reconciled correctly.  But when only one person is seeking to simply synchronize their own work on different computers, there is not the same imperative need for absolute uptime.

Pricing Options

Sugarsynch is offered in five different versions, with the only difference being the amount of online storage you can use.

You are not charged per computer that the software is installed on, and can have Sugar Synch running on as many different computers as you wish, at no extra cost.

You can choose from either a monthly or annual billing basis; if you choose the annual basis, you pay (up front of course) for the equivalent of ten monthly payments, representing a two month discount off the monthly rate.

Everyone can start off with a 45 day free trial and 10GB of storage capacity, and you can upgrade from any version to any other version at any time with no cost penalty.

The five versions available are :

Capacity

Monthly Fee

Annual Fee

10GB

$2.49

$24.99

30GB

$4.99

$49.99

60GB

$9.99

$99.99

100GB

$14.99

$149.99

250GB

$24.99

$249.99


The amount of data you need to backup is typically much less than the amount of data you have on your hard drive.  There's little point in backing up all your programs (unless you bought them online and obtained them via download that you can't re-download if needed) and all the Windows system files and 'stuff' are also not appropriate to backup either, because you can't recover your system just by copying all that back to another computer (you need a special disk cloning/imaging program such as Norton Ghost for that).

If you have a complete system crash and lose all your data, you generally need to first reload Windows onto the computer from your original Windows installation disks, then update drivers and Windows as needed, then reinstall your programs from their original installation disks, and only then do you reload the data from your backup.

So when you focus on backing up your personal data files, you might find yourself with a computer that has a 150GB hard drive, and which is half full (ie 75 GB is used in total) but for which you only have 35GB of actual user data that you need to back up.

The easiest way to find out how much you need is to first get the free 10GB trial version.  If you find that 10GB is not enough during the trial, then upgrade to the 30GB version.  If you find that 30GB is still not enough, then you can continue to upgrade to the 60GB or larger version.

Don't be penny wise and pound foolish about your backing up strategy

One comment about choosing which capacity version to get.  Backing up is a bit like buying insurance - it usually makes no sense to buy insurance that only covers you for some risks and losses, and similarly, it makes no sense to only back up some of your data.

If you're not backing up everything, automatically, all the time, then the process is not simple, and you've allowed for Murphy's Law to creep in so that when (and for most of us, it truly is a case of when rather than if) you have a data loss, it will involve the things you weren't automatically backing up, and which, perhaps for this one time only, have suddenly become essential, but lost.

It is best to have a simple back up plan that is easy to understand and follow, even if it means you spill over into a larger sized data plan.  When you eventually need to turn to your backup to recover from a data loss, you'll be pleased you did, and in the meantime, until that event, you have the added convenience of more data online to access from anywhere.

Most people will probably choose a 30GB or 60GB plan.

You can visit their website and choose either a free trial or a paid subscription here.

About Sugarsynch and its Creators

Sugarsynch is the second product released by the privately funded software development company, Sharpcast.  Sharpcast has been in business for about four years and is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA.

Sugarsynch is a relatively new program - it first saw the public light of day in March 2008.  However, it has been greeted with acclaim by reviewers and users alike, and while Sharpcast declined specifics of their sales to date, they did say, with just a hint of smugness, that they were rapidly growing and enjoying a positive market response.

My own experiences would certainly confirm the underlying deserved nature of such success as they may be having.

The safety of your data

A concern has to be what would happen if Sharpcast suddenly went out of business.  Would you suddenly lose all your data?  Or, worse still, might it be sold to anyone else?

The answer to the second question is clearly no, because your data is encrypted and even Sharpcast's own employees can't access your data.

As for the first question, while I got some assurances from senior Sharpcast company officers that they wouldn't just disappear without warning, but rather, in the currently very unlikely seeming event that they might go out of business, they'd give users some advance notice, the good news is that even if Sharpcast did cease operations completely and with no warning, you'd probably be okay.

The reason for not being at risk is because, hopefully, you're only using Sharpcast to backup data that you still keep on your computer(s) too.  So, in such a situation, your computers would still have everything on them they already had on them, you'd just lose your remote backup and synchronization service and need to go looking for a replacement fairly quickly.

My feeling is that we can all confidently use Sharpcast's Sugarsynch with no real risk accordingly (apart from, perhaps, losing the cash value of any unused portion of a year's subscription), and I'm certainly putting my money where my mouth is, and delighting in its wonderful service every day (and am confidently using a one-year subscription plan too).

Sugarsynch Competitors

Online backup only

There are plenty of companies that offer online backup in some form or another, and if all you want is simple online backup, you'll likely find one of these companies offering a lower cost solution.

A couple of warnings, though.  Some companies offer 'unlimited' online backup for a single flat fee.  This is clearly a business model that must break down for the provider at a certain point (because their costs are variable depending on both the amount of storage you use and the amount of data flow to their servers), and we anecdotally understand that while in theory you might be getting unlimited storage, in reality, the bandwidth available for you to transfer an unlimited amount of data reduces down further and further, the more you send, providing a practical if obscure limit.

Also distinguish between companies that simply do scheduled backups and those that do automatic realtime backups, as and when your files change.  The problem with a scheduled backup is that if it is scheduled to run at some type of off-peak non-work hour (eg 3am) then you have up to an entire business day of data unprotected prior to each backup occurring.

Another point of differentiation is between companies that do incremental backups and ones that do full complete backups.  An incremental backup process is much more complicated to understand and recover from than a full backup.

One more thing to be wary of with online backup companies.  It seems that some of them don't store all your data online, available anytime for instant retrieval.  If you have some sort of a problem and need to recover from backup, you might find out, to your chagrin, that your data isn't instantly available, and instead you may need to wait a day or more for it to be brought back up online.

Backblaze is an example of a reasonably fully featured online backup service.

Backup and synchronization

Sugar Synch is in what is still a relatively new area with not a lot of competitors.

One competitor worthy of note is Microsoft.  Microsoft has a new product that is still in a 'tech preview' stage of release - I'm not sure what that mean, but it sounds like something prior to a Beta version.  This is their Live Mesh product, which apparently comes with up to 5GB of free storage.

Not a great deal is yet known about this product, and it will probably work only on Microsoft based hardware.  And, like most Microsoft products, it will probably be very good in time to come, sometime in the future; but very bloated and inefficient, and no good at all until release version 2 or later.

Suggestion - keep an eye on Live Mesh, but don't sign up for it until it is a proven released mature product.

Microsoft also has a second product, Live Foldershare, which seems to offer similar capabilities to Live Mesh, and is in a Beta release format currently.  It seems able to work with Macs as well as PCs.

Which is better, and what are the differences between the two products?  It is hard to tell, and for sure, Microsoft itself treats each product as if it were the only product it has.

The most promising other product may be BeInSync.  This product has been released for longer than Sugarsynch, and has good corporate backing behind it.  But it uses 'peer to peer' type synchronizing, which requires all computers that you want to synch being online at the same time, a requirement which we feel to be clumsy and a disadvantage.

BeInSync also offer free trials, and several different pricing plans.  It is a good solution perhaps for workgroup type synchronizing and for simple online backup, but not so good for a single user wishing to synch computers in different locations (eg home, office, and laptop).

iTwin

iTwin is a new product (we say this in 2011) that provides a different way of more safely sharing files between two computers only.

It doesn't have the cloud based backup capabilities of Sugarsync, but if you primarily want a remote access type product, it might be an excellent alternative.  We review iTwin here.

Summary

Sugarsynch promises to be a new 'killer app' - a must have program - for most of us.  It is something that clearly offers an immediate benefit, and something that is very easy to use.

BUT!  It has a hard to understand interface and poor support, and if you're not careful, it will run amok and destroy data (as it did for us), overwriting newer versions of files with older versions, and creating a confusion of multiple versions of files such as to make it close to impossible to understand which is the most up to date.

If you're technically competent and confident enough not to be worried by these potential pitfalls, then it is a good product.  But we thought we were competent, and we definitely were confident, but we ended up losing data as a result.

So proceed with caution, if at all.

If you can see the benefit of being able to synchronize the data you store on two or more computers, then you should get this program.  If you only have one computer, you still might find value in its automatic backing up and its online access to all your files.

Recommended with reservations.

Part 2 of a two part series on Sugar Synch and other types of backup and synchronization software - please also visit

1.  An introduction to synchronization software and to Sugar Synch
2.  Other considerations, pricing, and competitors

 

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Originally published 25 July 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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