Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Contemplating Pogoplug as alternative to Bitcasa

Pogoplug may be a possible alternative to Bitcasa when considering unlimited storage of your personal digital files. Pogoplug currently offers unlimited storage for $4.95/mo or $49.95/yr. Pogoplug can run exclusively on your desktop with cloud backups, or you can purchase one of their Pogoplug devices, which allow you to connect external drives via USB port for local storage and sharing of personal files.

Compare this with Bitcasa, to which I currently subscribe. Bitcasa launched into Beta with the promise of unlimited backup for only $10/mo or $100/yr. This was a very exciting prospect at the time, given the alternatives. Late in 2013, after some user statistics, they figured out that they should limit the unlimited and added tiers to the service. They were respectful enough to existing subscribers to grandfather in old pricing.

On the surface, Bitcasa's honoring their old plan is great for me; I like the old pricing. However, they rescinded Linux support for the unlimited plan under the old pricing. If I want a Linux client, I would need to convert to a special case subscription where they charge the old price, but limit storage to 5 TB. This is still generous given that my current storage is barely over 100GB. I am nowhere near 5 TB; however, I don't want to cap myself. So, my Linux computer is out of luck when it comes to an unlimited network drive. Shucks.

Just a quick distinction between these types of services and other services such as Crashplan, which offers unlimited file backup. Bitcasa and Pogoplug are both backup and file sync services. This means that they immediately update any files that change. Furthermore, Bitcasa and Pogoplug are meant to make files available on multiple devices, emphasizing cloud storage and access, whereas backup services are meant to simply ensure the safety of your files in case the worst happens. They do not concern themselves with sharing and collaboration.

Evaluating Pogoplug as an alternative to Bitcasa

Going on price, Pogoplug wins out, even with Bitcasa's old pricing. Pogoplug offers unlimited backup and storage for half the price. But, they also do not have a Linux client. Their backup software is only for Windows and Mac. Pogoplug does also offer clients for iPhone, Android, and iPad. No clear advantage for mobile.

One benefit of Pogoplug where it clearly stands out is the option for local storage via one of their network devices. To accomplish the same thing with Bitcasa, you would need to have a dedicated Windows/Mac machine with a shared folder that is synced to the Bitcasa cloud. Local storage is definitely a plus for Pogoplug.

So, what else matters beyond price and network storage? There is sharing. Both services allow you to share a folder or individual file with others via a private link to your content. In my personal experience, this is not something you use every day unless you have some sort of business need.

Security as the Sole Differentiator

The one difference that comes to mind in terms of security of your files is that Bitcasa offers client side encryption. This means that your files are encrypted on your end before they are stored on Bitcasa files. This means that they have no idea what files you have; and should they develop a curiosity, could not snoop. This was a key selling point when Bitcasa launched. There is one vulnerability which involves the snooper already having a copy of your file to compare with yours. Any difference in the files would render the vulnerability rather useless. And, if they already have a copy of your file for comparison, what's the point?

The best details I can find regarding encryption on Pogoplug is that your files are encrypted during transport, via SSL, between your computer and their servers, which are actually Amazon servers. I've seen it suggested that you can encrypt your files locally prior to storage, which means that on the server side, your files are not encrypted; they rely on standard user authentication to restrict file access.

The key difference is that if you hack into Bitcasa servers, you would find encrypted files. If you hack into Pogoplug's storage, you'd have immediately readable files. Assuming anybody had the ability to hack either service, Bitcasa offers that little extra bit of security via client side encryption. However, it is more likely that you would download malware to your PC and leave the front door wide open to either service. In other words, you, the user, are more likely to be the origin of a security breach than the two service providers.

So, which will I use?

I very much like the price of Pogoplug. Bitcasa's backpedaling on their initial pricing annoys me. I like Bitcasa's added encryption, which would at least deflect secret warrants to access my files. As an side, if I'm going to be required to give access to my files, I'd rather know about it than have it done without my knowledge. In terms of local storage, I've been down that road. Unless, I have a NAS with RAID, I would be hard pressed to trust local backups; or at least I would not be lulled into a false sense of security against loss. That sort of defeats the purpose.

Ultimately, I'm going to stay with Bitcasa for two reasons. The encryption is one reason. Both services are very similar. Other than the encryption, there is hardly any differentiation. The other reason is I don't want to bother with migrating files.

For the average user, I think I could recommend Pogoplug. The subscription price for Pogoplug is a great value, there is no denying. Family photos and videos aren't really that sensitive as to require extra security. If, on the other hand, you have nudie photos and videos; you might sleep a little easier with Bitcasa's encryption, though as mentioned previously, you might be the cause of the leak rather than the provider.

So, as a moonlighting computer tech, I would first recommend Pogoplug. If my client requires a little more security, then I would recommend Bitcasa. For commercial use, I would take a different tack and use something dedicated like Crashplan with both local and cloud backups. But, that's a subject for another blog post.

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