We’ve been experimenting with cloud computing options in the Philippines. There are so many low cost cloud storage options available — but how well do they work in the Philippine context of very slow, high latency internet connections and restrictive “fair use” caps? Google Drive problems.
We’re big fans of Google and have been very happily using Google Docs for years. We never had a problem with them. So, we were excited when Google Drive became available a few months ago, overexcited it seems. What Google Drive added was a Drive folder on the desktop. Anything dropped into the Drive folder is automatically synched with your remote “in the cloud” Google Drive folder.
Over the years we had gradually became addicted to the ever-improving Google applications for our word processing and spreadsheet needs. They were free, fast reliable and automatically stored online. Basically we stopped using conventional applications on our computer hard disks. With the advent of Google Drive we could see the prospect of really having almost all (except Quicken, Photoshop and a few others) our applications and data online. This would mean that we could do our work from any computer (Windows or Mac or tablet or phone) and have all our data everywhere. If computer hardware failed. it did not matter. Everything had been created online or dropped into our Google Drive folder and safely stored on Google’s vast servers. Based on our excellent experiences with Google Docs were started transferring files from our computer hard drives to Google Drive. Soon we thought, all our stuff would be stored online and almost all our applications would be online. But, there were problems.
Philippines internet users have some of the slowest connections in the world. In addition to slow connections, many Philippine internet users are subject to “fair use” caps. Our Globe Telecom WiMax service limits us to about 25 gigabytes of data transfer per month or less than one gigabyte per day. We have over 20 gigabytes of photos on our hard drive. Transferring this (and thousands of other files) to cloud storage is a bit of a logistical nightmare. One has try to carefully calculate each days internet usage to take maximum advantage of the allowed uploads under the cap but without exceeding the cap and being punished with a severe, long term “throttling” of ones connection speed.
We were making good progress moving our files to Google Drive when disaster struck. I received repeated error messages, the last saying that I had to sign out from Drive. I did so and learned that, while all of my data was safely still on the both the Google Drive servers and in the desktop Drive folder, that the synchronization was broken and could not be re-established. I would have to create a new Drive folder and essentially start over. Many days and gigabytes of data transfers were wiped out with a single click.
Checking with the Google Drive forum http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!categories/drive/report-a-problem I found that I was not alone in my problems with Google Drive. I decided to look at other cloud storage options. Posters to the Google Drive forum suggested that other cloud storage providers, particularly SugarSynch (https://www.sugarsync.com/) and industry leader Dropbox (http://dropbox.com) could handle such synchronization errors without having to reload data. I concluded that Google Drive was still to much of a “beta” product to trust, at least for now. I just did not want to resync all my data to Google Drive and face the possibility of more problems.
This episode raised the question as to whether real cloud computing in the Philippines is realistic given the slowness and unreliability of connections. Perhaps backing up files to the cloud makes sense, but storing the files one actually uses is another matter.
I really hated to give up online applications so I decided to give Microsoft’s SkyDrive a try. Microsoft really does not want to be left behind in cloud computing and so is offering seven gigabytes storage for free and very attractive prices for additional cloud storage. Unlike Dropbox or SugarSync, Microsoft does offer cloud applications, its free suite of Office Web Apps. I understand that users of Word, Excel and PowerPoint will appreciate that Office Web Apps are very compatible with the standard versions of these products. However they do not compare with speed and versatility of the Google applications. Microsoft has applications, conventional and online, that it wants to sell you (and they don’t let you forget it!) so there is not much incentive for them to make their free apps too attractive. Here’s the thing. Microsoft gives you crippled free web applications so that you’ll get so frustrated maybe you’ll buy Office 365. Google gives you decent web application because they want you to use Google for everything so that you’ll be exposed to more Google advertising.
SkyDrive itself seems more solid than Google Drive. I have uploaded several gigabytes of data to SkyDrive so far with no problems. If there is a problem with a particular file, SkyDrive will give you a link to the file and suggest ways of fixing the problem. We’ll update this post as our experiences with cloud computing in the Philippines continue.
I have one suggestion for Google application users. You have a choice of saving your documents in generic Microsoft/Adobe compatible file formats such as .doc and .xls and .pdf. I made the mistake of saving documents in Google’s own document formats such as .gdoc. Using Google formatted documents becomes a big problem unless you are using Google Drive and Google applications. If I click a .gdoc application on SkyDrive or on my desktop, it will not open. If I had saved my files in standard formats such as .doc I would be able to easily open them in a variety of applications as well in the Office Web Apps.