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Many of us use multiple computers, and keeping them all synchronized with the same data can be a terrible chore.

Not only can you find yourself with an out of date copy of something, but incorrectly synching data might result in more recent data being over-written by older data.

Fortunately, there's an excellent solution now available.

 
 
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SugarSynch Software Review Part 1

An introduction to synchronization software and to Sugar Synch
 

Automatically update your other computer(s) as you make changes on any one of them with the Sugar Synch software.

This works so well it is almost like magic.

Part 1 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

 

 

 

If there's an Achilles' Heel to most of our computer systems, it is not having adequate backup - we don't back up everything we should, and we don't do it regularly enough, and mostly, we don't even safely store the backup data away from the computer itself.

And if there's a continual hassle and frustration that increasing numbers of us face, it is when we are using several different computers and trying to keep the same data up to date on all of them.

SugarSynch is a low cost and very simple way of doing both these things.  Best of all, it is automatic, so there's nothing for you to do or to forget.

What Sugar Synch Does

Sugar Synch runs in the background as an 'always on' application on your computer or computers.  It is 'unobtrusive' which means it seldom interferes with your normal working - you don't notice its operation in the background.

When you first install it, you tell it which directories you wish it to monitor.  It then proceeds to do two main things (and some less important things too).

Part One - Automatic backing up

 Sugarsynch detects any time a new file appears, disappears, or is modified in any of its monitored directories, and, as soon as a change occurs in the directory, it copies that change to a remote central server location.

If your computer is offline at the time, it remembers the changes and, next time the computer is online, it proceeds to copy the changes through to the central server in the background.

This means that your system is being automatically backed up, all the time, without you having to do anything.  It also means the backed up data is stored securely off-site.  So if you were to have a fire or some other type of disaster, even though you might lose your computer, you wouldn't also lose your backed up data.

Part Two - Synchronizing

This is the really magical 'value add' and logical extension to the backing up concept.

These days, many of us have more than one computer.  We have a computer at work, we have a computer at home, and we might have a laptop computer as well.  Some of us even have additional computers in RVs, boats, second homes, and who knows what else and where else.

If you have Sugarsynch installed on more than one computer, you can instruct it not only to automatically backup your data, but also to synchronize some or all of it, across some or all of your multiple computers.

This also is completely automatic and runs in the background, the same as the backing up.

The computers that are being synchronized don't even need to be switched on at the same time, because all the synchronization is routed through the central server.  Sugar Synch simply monitors both the data on the computer on which it is installed and also the data on the central server, and anytime the data is updated at either location, it then flows the updated data to the other location as soon as it can.

Even More Features

In addition to backing up and synchronizing your data, Sugar Synch offers two other related services.

Part Three - Web access to your data

Sugarsynch creates a secure, password protected, web-interface that you can access from anywhere in the world, through any normal web browser.

You can access the data Sugarsynch stores for you on its central servers through this web interface.  So maybe you're at a friend's house and want to show them some of your holiday photos, or maybe you're at a client's office and wish to look up or present some information.

If you don't have the data and your own computer with you, borrow one of theirs to take the data from your Sugarsynch storage.

This is amazing.  Now you'll never be without all your information, wherever you are in the world, even if you don't have your computer with you.

Part Four - Phone access to your photos and data

If you have a web browser equipped mobile phone, you can obviously access your data through Sugar Synch's web browser interface.

In addition, Sugar Synch offers an extra feature for Blackberries and some other types of phones where it will automatically transfer any stored pictures in your backup/synched data to the phone.  It first downsizes them so as to take very little space on the phone and then sends them to the phone.

This is presumably to make it easy for you to show off pictures to friends and family from your phone, wherever you happen to be at the time.  It is hardly a reason to rush out and buy Sugarsynch, but some people might find it a nice extra feature.

Sugarsynch Free Trial

A friend originally told me about Sugarsynch, and enthusiastically endorsed the product based on his own experiences (thanks, Fred!).  He told me I had to try the product, too, so I went to their website and with some reservations, agreed to their free trial download offer.

A 'free trial' of any software all too often seems to involve giving your credit card and all sorts of other personal data to the company, with the threat of a 'if you don't cancel, we'll then start billing you whether you want us to or not' type of scenario unfolding, and I generally find all the questions asked somewhere between intrusive and offensive.

Not so with Sugarsynch.  The bare minimum of information was requested, and, to my delight, I didn't have to give them my credit card details.  This truly was a free trial, and with no way they could turn around and start charging me at the end of the trial.

Sometimes you just know, from the first contact with a company and their product, that you're going to enjoy the experience, and this was definitely a case where I felt immediately positive, due to their very fair approach to the free trial.  You can take a free trial direct from their website, here.

Using Sugar Synch

Using the software is very simple.  You download a 6.75MB file that installs itself onto your computer(s).

You then work through the directories and sub-directories on your computer, telling Sugar Synch which ones you want to be backed up and/or synchronized with other computers.

You can specify which directories you wish managed by Sugarsynch, but you can't specify which files you want within a directory to be managed.  If you have a directory that has a mix of files you want backed up and files you don't want backed up, you should create a second directory so that one directory can be exclusively of files to be backed up and the other is of files you don't want backed up.

Once you've done that, you're probably unlikely to want or need to do much more, ever.  Just leave Sugarsynch to run in quietly in the background.

Using Sugarsynch when traveling internationally

Corporate users who travel internationally may find Sugar Synch to be particularly useful.  Due to the danger of having laptops seized and impounded/inspected when crossing borders these days, many companies are now not allowing their executives to travel with any company data on their laptops.  Sugarsynch would allow you to simply re-synch up your 'wiped clean' laptop once arriving at your foreign destination, and, of course, when you go to travel home again, it is an easy matter to wipe your disk clean again before traveling and have your synched files waiting for you upon returning back to the office.

A word of warning in such cases - be careful that Sugarsynch doesn't misinterpret your deleting files off your laptop's hard drive as a request to delete the files everywhere!  Instead, you should first stop synching the relevant folders, then delete them, so as not to have Sugarsynch helpfully delete the files everywhere else, too.

But, if you should accidentally tell Sugarsynch to delete a file from everywhere, there's no need to panic.  Sugarsynch keeps its version of a 'recycle bin' and it is very easy to undelete a mistakenly deleted file.

Turning Sugarsynch off when internet constrained

Sometimes you might find yourself stuck somewhere with terribly slow internet.  And sometimes you might find yourself where you're being charged for every MB of data you are sending and receiving on the internet.

In both these cases, it might be a good idea to temporarily turn Sugarsynch off so as to cut down on non-essential network traffic.  This will keep your speed up as much as possible, and your costs down as low as possible.

Sugarsynch automatically loads when you start your computer, so you simply need to close it down again and it won't run until the next time you reboot or restart the computer.

Cross platform compatibility

Which is a fancy way of saying that Sugarsynch works on both Macs and PCs, although note that the Mac version is still in late Beta testing, with some known issues.

Making precious hard disk space go further

Maybe you've got a computer at work with 250GB of hard disk space, a computer at home with 150 GB of hard disk space, and a laptop with only 80GB of hard disk space.

Perhaps your laptop hard drive is already close to full, and while you'd like to keep a complete copy of your work files on the laptop 'just in case ' you need them while traveling, you simply don't have the space to put everything on the laptop.  And, of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, the one file you most need - perhaps when concluding a major presentation on the other side of the world - will be one of the files you didn't copy over to your laptop.

Sugarsynch has an excellent solution for such situations.  You make online backup copies of everything from your main computer, but don't synchronize them to your laptop.  Instead, if you should ever need one of these additional files, you simply download it to the laptop as and when you need it.

I use this feature myself with pictures.  I've an increasing number of gigabytes of pictures, and while I've plenty of space for them on my main computer's hard disk, I don't have space for them on my laptop.  So I back them up up onto the Sugarsynch server, and then, any time I might need a picture on my laptop, I just go to the Sugarsynch server and download it.  This is even easier than it sounds, and very fast.

Can't back up network or removable drive contents

Strangely, Sugarsynch will only work with your local hard drives.  You can't back up or synchronize data on a network drive or on a removable drive (eg a USB thumb drive or a camera memory card).

If you have data on such media that you wish to backup or synchronize, you'd have to first copy it to a directory on your local hard drive and then synchronize it from there.

No version control

When Sugarsynch updates a file with a newer version of itself, it doesn't offer any version control features.  That is, it simply overwrites the older file with the newer one, and doesn't let you keep both the older and the newer version of the file.

Few people seek version control capabilities, so unless you really need this, it is probably not an important omission.  And, for those few people who do wish such a feature, it has been broadly hinted to us that Sugarsynch will start offering a version control feature at some time between now and the end of the year.

NOTE :  Big Problem with Files Destroyed

Read on to the second page of this review for details of how Sugarsync automatically overwrote more recent copies of files with older copies of the same files, causing us to lose data.

Support

A weakness of the product is there are no real-time support options.  If you have a problem, your only choice is to wander around their website in the hope of finding a FAQ type solution, or to send in a formal request for assistance by email and get an email reply back again.

However, one's expectation for 24/7 toll-free support has to be tempered with an acceptance of what we are paying for Sugarsynch.  If you're on a 10GB or 30GB plan, you're paying them $2.50 or $5 a month for their service, and with the cost of live support probably exceeding $2.50 a minute, a single phone call to support could end up consuming your entire year's subscription; a situation that would make it hard for Sugarsynch to be profitable, especially if many of the service/support calls were (as they invariably are) questions to which answers are already available online and in the help files.

A couple of test messages to support were quickly responded to with helpful sensible answers.

One Type of File that Can't be Backed Up or Synched (yet)

The good news is that Sugarsynch will back up and synchronize just about every type of file imaginable, including even digital rights protected music and video files.

But there is one type of file it can't handle (yet), and that is an Outlook PST or OST file.

The reason for this is because most of us have fairly large PST/OST files, and they change all the time.  Every time we read an email, the file changes to update the status of that email, the same if we delete the email or move it to another folder.  Every time we create an email, the file changes with each automatic backup of the email draft, and again when we send it.  Every time email comes in from the internet, the file again changes.

In my case, I check for email every 7 minutes, so at an absolute bare minimum, my PST file changes ten times every hour.  And my PST file is 1.5GB in size.  Few of us have the data bandwidth to be able to upload 15GB of data every hour (in addition to all our other internet usage requirements) - that would require about 37 Mbit/sec of uploading bandwidth just for the PST file alone.  A T1 line offers 1.54 Mbit/sec of bandwidth - you'd need 25 T1 lines, all working at maximum capacity, just to handle this alone!

Sugar Synch's developers advise they are working on a solution to this limitation, which has been one of the most sought after enhancements to date.  This will probably involve some type of 'intelligence' on your machine that will detect which parts of your PST file have changed and only send the changed information to and fro - this would make bandwidth requirements very much more practical, but apparently will require some clever programming to implement.

Part 1 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 19 Dec 2013

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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