Blog Post

Getting Started With SugarSync

Last week I detailed my foray into the world of cloud backup and syncing to multiple devices. The gist was that Dropbox didn’t work quite the way I wanted, and a number of you smart folks suggested I look at SugarSync. Always one to take you up on good advice, Friday afternoon I signed up for SugarSync and got started using its cloud service. It’s worth sharing how easy it was to get going with SugarSync, and to pass on some observations about the process.

I first looked into SugarSync years ago, and while it looked pretty good I never got around to seriously use the service. It just didn’t click at the time. A quick look around last week showed it has grown up nicely, and has a lot of features for someone like me who uses multiple computers/ gadgets.

I use my MacBook (s aapl) as my desktop system, and as such it has all of my documents, music and the like. The Documents folder on the MacBook is 25 GB currently, and the Music folder is 19 GB. Based on that volume, I signed up for a 60 GB account on SugarSync for $9.99 per month. There is an annual option for $99.99 to save some bucks, but I went monthly until I am sure it fits my needs.

Once I signed up I installed the SugarSync File Manager application on the MacBook. The service allows full web access through any web browser, but the convenience of a dedicated app is also a good thing. The next thing on the agenda was selecting the folders on the MacBook I wanted to sync with the SugarSync cloud. I selected all of my personal folders, Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos, and SugarSync started uploading them right away.

This initial sync is the important one, as SugarSync has to get all of the host files to the cloud. Once the files are all there, then any computer can be set to sync with the cloud, giving full access to the information from the other computer. This initial sync takes days if there are a lot of files. SugarSync estimates 2 – 3 GB per day, which is awfully slow on a fast connection. I started my 40 GB upload on Friday afternoon, and almost three days later it is still in progress. I estimate another day, two maximum, and it will finally be finished. Bear this in mind when you get started with a service like this.

If you don’t want to let this massive upload tap your network too hard, you can throttle it back in the preferences. I decided to let it have the maximum allowed to get this process over as quickly as possible. It does hit the network pretty hard.

After the first day I decided that enough of my files had been uploaded to the cloud, so I set up SugarSync on the Microsoft Windows PC (s msft) where I wanted access to my files. I installed the Windows version of the File Manager, which looks much like the Mac version. Setting up the folders to sync with the cloud, and thus the MacBook, couldn’t have been easier. SugarSync is smart enough to know that the My Documents folder on the Windows PC corresponds to the Documents folder on the Mac, so it presented a graphical confirmation that these two folders would be kept in sync. The same was done for the other folders on the MacBook, so I was all set.

Since SugarSync was downloading the files from the cloud to the Windows PC, this was at a higher speed than the upload from the Mac; my ISP provides faster downloads than uploads. After just a day the Windows side of things was all caught up to the queued Mac uploads so now as soon as a file completes uploading to the cloud, it will download to the Windows PC.

One caveat I should pass on, and it affects this initial sync runtime, is to think about the programs you run on the host (initial) computer to sync with SugarSync. I run virtual machines on the MacBook through Parallels, and this creates some huge hidden files in the Documents folder tree on the MacBook. These files queue up to be copied just like any other, even though in this case I can never use them anywhere else. Once the initial sync starts, there is no easy way to tell it to not copy these files. They are not user accessible normally, and they are not accessible through SugarSync’s File Manager either.

There are about 10 GB of these files, so it will take quite a while for them to get uploaded to the cloud, and then downloaded to the Windows PC. If I had known about these hidden files, I would have done something to prevent this from happening in SugarSync.

Once the initial sync completes, SugarSync will keep these two computers (in this example) in sync in the background. Any file changes, additions or deletions on either of these systems will be immediately reflected in the cloud, and thus on the other system. It’s a beautiful system, as it turns your stuff into one big cloud storage. The files are locally stored, but with the advantage of being backed up in the cloud.

One thought to consider, given this huge initial sync, is how it might impact your ISP. In my simple two system example, the 40 GB of files are uploaded to the cloud, and downloaded to the other PC. That is a total of 80 GB of data transmission in just a few days, far more than normal. If your ISP keeps an eye out for that, especially if you pay on a tiered scheme, than this will trip flags for sure. I certainly wouldn’t want to take either of these computers out to work using my 3G connection while this initial sync is in progress, as the syncing would be eating up my monthly data cap quickly. Normal daily syncing will be no problem, as it will only be moving single files.

The cool thing about SugarSync is there are versions of it available for most smartphones. I haven’t done this yet as my initial sync is not finished and I don’t want to rock the boat, but I will install the iPhone version for sure. It will be cool to have access to my entire document library on the phone.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Who Owns Your Data in the Cloud?

23 Responses to “Getting Started With SugarSync”

  1. Good review – there are a few recent changes though:

    You get 5GB of space with the FREE version, but now there is no restriction to the number of computers you can sync/backup (from 2).
    It gives you the ability to upload and sync any folder on your computer.
    It is the only service that offers such a broad device and OS support with apps for iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and WinMo.
    On the Free version the upload/download is faster than when reviewed :)

    Also if you use the below referral code you get 500MB extra on top of the Free 5GB or 10GB extra on any of the paid-for services!

    Hope it helps someone.

  2. I’ve been using SugarSync (30Gb paid sub) for the past year and I’ve decided not to resub. Well, actually, they decided to automatically renew my subscription without my approval or even sending notification or receipt of invoice but that is another story…

    Suffice it to say that the service is lacking in several critical areas, most notably speed, reliability, and customer service.

    James, don’t get too excited about the iPhone app because it’s practically unusable, particularly for viewing photos.

    For example, to view your pictures you first need to run the app (which merely opens Safari and a “mobile” version of the Sugarsync website), login, choose a photo gallery, and then you are presented with a list of photos by filename…yup, by filename as there are no thumbnails! Now to actually “view” a photo you have to tap it first and then guess what? It merely opens up another Safari window and shows the ONE picture. There is no way to view a slideshow or simply navigate photos with Previous and Next buttons.

    I’m going back to Dropbox and also plan to look into Live Sync.

  3. I like the fact that there are several competitors and variations on this service. At the moment I use Dropbox as a “virtual sneakernet.” I’m considering for multi-system cloud backup; I like the way they operate, including their stance on security and customer privacy.

  4. WARNING DO NOT USE SUGARSYNC! SUGARSYNC lost all of my data and could not retrieve it from their own server. This company is a joke, they held my company hostage for 2 weeks trying to find my files that Sugarsync some how deleted from my desktop! Their horribly inept techs could not figure out where my data went so they just decided not to call me back. I finally got in touch with Debbie, Sr. Director, SugarSync Customer Care and she tried to make me feel stupid and that the whole thing was my fault. Sugarsync does not care about small businesses and their customer service is horrible.

  5. Yes SugarSync has many more features, but these are not well executed as another reader points out. You can leave files in place, sync or not sync amongst your devices, but the execution fails. I used it for 2-3 years, with a 250GB account but dropped it for DropBox. I have slimmed down the amount of files that I put on the cloud to save money and sync time. The rest on my WHS, which is an awesome device and a must have for anyone with more than one computer. I also liked Zumo Drive, but with Dropbox for now.

  6. My cloud sync/storage strategy consists of using a Pogoplug at home (where all of my pictures, music, documents and movies replicated to daily). I also keep a few folders full of stuff in sync between my desktop, laptop, eee pc with Windows Live Mesh. I like Mesh because it can bypass the cloud and just keep two computers in sync. I do write some important data to S3 via Jungle Disk as well, but I am doing this less recently.

  7. Clement

    I tried the free version of both SugarSync and Dropbox and Dropbox is MUCH faster.

    Also you might want to check where your files are kept in the Cloud and how secure they are. Cannot tell where the files are stored from the SugerSync website and who hold the encryption key. On the other hand Dropbox uses the Amazon service and the files are encrypted with your password so no one else can get access to it (without knowing your password of course). The using of a service from a known brand plus the clear indication on how the files are kept encrypted makes me much more comfortable with Dropbox.

    Am ready to vote with my wallet on Dropbox once I need more space…

  8. I’m also going to check this out so see if its any good. One snag so far is i cannot see any files online where as with drop box they are instantly available any idea what this magic briefcase all about??

  9. What I love about sugarsync is the no-messing around, it-just-works, don’t-mess-my-filesystem approach it takes. Also it works on every device I have, without wires. I only use it to back up documents, no photos or videos and use the free account (which I’ve bumped up to 4GB through referrals). So far I have only used about 300MB of it.

    So now every time I make a change on a doc, it’s synced everywhere else I go, without hassle. If I need a file somewhere other than one of my devices, I can still go to the web and retrieve it.

    My only caveat is that it’s too expensive to do the full blown backup on it… I’ve heard crashplan is better for that anyways.

  10. Scoopster

    James — Wondering if you considered an option I’ve been looking at recently – carbonite. They’ll backup your files unlimited for $54.95/year. It seems to be more of backup than a sync or sharing application, but unlimited backup for $54 a year seems unbeatable!?

    Anyone out there used Carbonite?

  11. You know James that WHS can do most of what these cloud services offer, including streaming, syncing and iPhone support. SugarSync’s price for the 250GB plan is $250 for one year. The cheapest WHS box from HP is priced at $250 and starts with 640GB of storage, with a ton of useful utilities thrown in and the ability to expand that storage with cheap external USB drives.

    I would not pay $250/year when the same bucks gets me a solution that can run for 4 or more years. True, WHS does require you to keep your box powered on and have a fast home connection, but I do that anyway, and when I know I’m not using it I can power it down.

    Even at $99/year, after 3 years you’ve spent as much as you would on a WHS investment. Rather than pay for a 4th year, I can turn that $99 into more storage for an existing WHS box, or if I don’t need extra storage, SAVE that money!

    Cloud services are not useless, don’t get me wrong. When you’re looking at less than $10 bucks a month, they can make sense for many folks.

    The flipside though is that even for small storage needs, you’ve got SD cards and USB thumbdrives for cheap. But use the service for a few years and you’ve spent as much as you would on a WHS box. For the long term, cloud services do not seem economical to me.

      • Yes, that’s true – what you really end up paying is somebody else for their time and to maintain the service. You can do that or save bucks with a WHS and do it yourself. I’m happy running my own gear, and when syncing at home I don’t hog my internet connection. Having options is always good. :)

  12. Martijn

    Am I the onl one who’s ‘still’ using Live Mesh. I wonder when they ever update it with any of the cool features its competitors offer.

  13. I used SugarSync sometime ago, but I’m out in the wilds and my internet connection isn’t so great so the initial upload/download was off putting. I used Microsoft SyncToy over my home network to sync my data between my desktop and TabletPC which reduced some of the load at setup. Once this was done and everything was backed up I was good to go and everything including, documents, music, photos and favourites were in sync. However, due to my internet situation ive resorted to local backups to an external drive which also worked out cheaper in the long run.

  14. I am saddled with a BlackBerry, so I like that SugarSync works well with it. What works for me in terms of cloud storage is having a redundant backup. I use Dropbox to store all of my important files. Then, I configure Sugarsync to back up the My Dropbox folder. That way, everything is doubly backed up and available on the BlackBerry.

    • Dropbox required me to move all of my document tree into the Dropbox folder. I had to either change my default document tree or have two copies of everything locally. SugarSync allows any folder tree to sync with any other folder tree. No changing to adapt to the service required.

      Otherwise the two services are very similar.

      • Ah. I see what you mean. I got around this by moving the dropbox folder in My documents and then dragging all my folders and files into the dropbox folder and deleting the folders outside of dropbox so when I to to my documents I see a dropbox folder. when I go into that I see all my folders and files. Works very well. I pointed iPhoto to that photo library and pointed 1Password there are well. Only 1 copy of everything on the laptop. Sounds like Sugarsynch lets you do the same thing just a little differently and is a good solution too.