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My 2c on Amazon

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Hide the family jewels

As an early adopter I have enjoyed digital cameras at home for over 12 years now. This translates into about 20Gb of JPEGs on my home partition which I absolutely do not want to loose. I had the painful experience of getting burglarized a few years back and was lucky enough to recover my computers from the police station a couple of days later. The hardware itself has no importance to me but the pictures are of course priceless. This calls for a drastic solution: backup, backup, and remote backup. First two steps are easy: multiply the copies of your pictures using rsync on various hard drives around the house and you are covered against single hard drive failure. Make sure you take the habit of sync’ing them all every time you get a new bunch of pics and you are set. Now what are the solutions for remote backups?

Store it at work

The obvious solution is to encrypt a disk and leave it somewhere in my office, but that has obvious drawbacks. First is that I have to think about bringing the disk home every time I add more data. I tried it for a while and could never think about updating the drive. Second point is that there are lots of people going through my office every day. Even if I trust my colleagues, it is always tempting to borrow a USB hard drive you have seen sitting around the office for ages. The contents are of course encrypted, which makes the drive appear as unformatted to the untrained eye.

I do not want to lock stuff in drawers. Last time I did, I lost the keys and had to destroy a drawer to get to my stuff. Kinda cryptography in the real world, except brute force actually works.

Network storage

Network storage solutions are a dime a dozen and literally exploding these days. I tried a lot of them and came to the conclusion that Dropbox is by far the best in terms of usability and functionalities. It is the only solution I tried that has clients for Windows, Mac and Linux and that can dig through the firewall and http proxy at work without me configuring anything. It also has an iPhone app to review your files on the go and this is absolutely gorgeous. I can finally have the illusion of having the same disk at home on all machines, at work, and in my pocket.

I will probably become a paid subscriber at some point. The remaining detail I have to fix is to figure out how to upload 20 gigs of data to their servers with my puny 100kB/s home DSL connection. Dropbox also does not offer encryption, I have to figure out a way to encrypt everything on the fly but still make contents accessible for easy retrieval like an index or equivalent.

Amazon S3

Another shot at network storage solutions brought me to Amazon S3. This service offered by Amazon is mostly aimed at developers who want to host large amounts of data like a database backend for a dynamic web site. It is a bit rough around the edges. Lots of people have tried disguising the whole thing as a network disk without much success. Reviewing existing Python APIs and fuse-based stuff did not reveal anything revolutionary or stable. Anyway, I felt I just had to try it out.

My tests consisted in creating a dedicated directory (a bucket in Amazon terms) and upload 100 Mb of data to see how easy it would be. I want both to be able to sync my picture directories and encrypt all contents on the way up without having to recode too much stuff. I ended up with a little bit of Python glu around rsync and gpg that was not too satisfactory. It worked for basic tests but I would not have relied on my own code for production :-)

Amazon S3 is not a free service, but it isn’t expensive either. Doing my whole test set ended up with a bill for less than 2 euros. Fair. But this is where it hurts: Amazon billed me in US dollars and that triggers international charges on my credit card that are far above these 2 euros. In the end I might make my bank richer and will not bring anything to Amazon.

Pained by what I had discovered on my bank monthly slip, I decided to close the lid on the S3 experience and deleted all data from the bucket I created. Next month I was charged $0.02 for this operation, which turned into an absolutely ridiculous amount in euros with a fair charge attached from the credit card because they did not appreciate my micro-payment.

This is probably the last time I ever use S3. I really do not understand why Amazon can bill me in euros for books (even when I buy in the UK) and not for services. Another good idea could be for them to cumulate bills until they reach a reasonable sum like 10 or 15 euros. It would not change much to their cash flow and would really avoid un-necessary bank feeding.

My 2c on Amazon S3 have cost me more than my phone bill this month.

Written by nicolas314

Thursday 10 December 2009 at 11:09 pm