Monthly Archives: September 2013

Online storage solutions for start-ups (& why dropbox or box aren’t the only players on the market worth considering)

Recently I had been tasked to find an alternative to our company network drive that was running out of storage (don’t ask, this was before my time Smile). Initially I thought of Box and Dropbox of course, as everyone knows about them, they are solid, have mobile clients and present most bells & whistles you would want. However, in my case I didn’t think this would suit the need of the business very well for a one main reason: The documents still physically stay on your machine, meaning your disk space continues to fill-up instead of “moving” it to the cloud (personally, my disk starts to fill up quickly). For this reason, I started my search and was really surprised to find out it was pretty hard to find anything that perfectly suited my needs.

What I wanted

In my case, the perfect solution would include the following:

  • Backup of files on all our computers
    • Partly common disk that everyone could access
    • Enable for private folders that are also backed-up
  • Enough storage to not have to think about it
  • Opt-in to sync instead of opt-out (in essence, unless you decide to sync a folder, it is only in the cloud) – saving space on disk
  • Share files easily with third-parties
  • Manage all users from a single interface (not have to create separate accounts for each user, without a management console)

Initially, I thought this would be a pretty straight-forward set of requirements, but for some reason the “Opt-in to sync instead of opt-out“ was really hard to come by.

What I found

After quite a bit of searching, I ended up at RackSpace, whose costomer support directed me to JungleDisk (a subsidiary) and LiveDrive.

RackSpace & JungleDisk (www.jungledisk.com)

JungleDisk has two editions: WorkGroup or Server. The workgroup edition allows you to share your files, sync and back them up for teams between 2 and 100. It sells itself as “Shared Online Drive”. The server edition allows for secure, robust automatic backups, specifically designed for servers. It was clear that I was looking for option number 1.

After a bit more research on the workgroup edition, I found it managed to fulfil all of my requirements so I decided to give it a go.

Credit card details for trial

This is where everything went wrong and I hope someone will read this one day: credit card requirements for a FREE trial don’t make it a FREE trial and put people off… I went through the first screen asking my details and was all ready to try out the solution before I got to screen number 2 asking for my credit card details: FAIL. I turned around and never looked back, going with a competitor instead. That’s how much it annoys me…

LiveDrive (www.livedrive.com) — UPDATE: DO NOT TRY (End of article for details)

LiveDrive promised to be part of what I was looking for : Cloud storage as a shared network drive. Although because that was my main concern, I opted to give them a try and after reading some more and fiddling around a bit, I found out they do much more than a cloud network drive. They also include backups, sync, file sharing and all the other features you have come to expect from Box.com or Dropbox.com. The reviews were mixed, going from 5 to 1 star, but my personal tests were very favourable. On top of that, their pricing is a lot lower than their competitors and they provide a whole range of features that are “nice to have”, which come with it for no extra charge.

Conclusion

I’ll be trying out LiveDrive for a little while longer, but am pretty confident of it’s feature proposition. The only thing to find out now is just how reliable it will be and if it’s good enough to rely on for the entire business. Please let me know if anyone has tried other services that suit these needs and if you liked them / disliked them !

UPDATE: LiveDrive has proven amazingly unstable, to the point it has CRASHED MY PC multiple times over a couple of days… I guess I’m still on the lookout for a good solution!

Trello (& Agile) review

At my current company, I inherited the use of « Trello » (www.trello.com). Initially I wasn’t too psyched with it, probably due to my own habits and the fact this meant changing, but I have grown really fond of it!

Trello is an online task management tool that “gets back to the basics”. In essence, it somewhat replicates the good-old whiteboard with post-its, but makes it digital, multi-user, cross-platform, mobile & simply amazing Smile. It consists of a very simple column system, with each column containing several tickets. Each ticket can contain text, images, due dates, labels, etc. and be assigned to users. You can create as many columns as you want, suiting different needs. This creates for a very flexible workflow that can be tailored within minutes to do what you want it to do.

Agile use case

In our case, we started out a bit messy, simply keeping a backlog of tickets in “To Do”, moving to “Doing” when worked on, “Done” when finished and “Deployed” when deployed (duh… Smile). However, switching over to a scrum-like model is as simple as adding a column “Current Sprint” and applying the needed logic of daily scrums, grooming, etc.

Conclusion

All-in-all I am really pleased with Trello and will definitely be using it for the foreseeable future. As flexible as it is, it seems to enable me to cater specific boards to specific scenarios of project management. I Would recommend everyone who’s looking for an effective project management suite to give it a go and let me know how it went !

Heroku, AWS and SSL

I haven’t posted on my blog for a while, but as always after a period of holidays, you have good intentions and posting on this blog is one of mine, so I thought I’d start today and make it more regular.

Over the past couple of months I have been using Heroku for a couple of websites with both PHP & Python / Django. It’s been a very good experience, although there are some real hiccups and I thought I’d put some of them up here for whoever might be interested in using it:

download

Pros

In terms of simplicity, I don’t think you could make it any simpler: you push from git to Heroku and the rest is automatic. For quick iterations and continuous deployment this is pretty much the dream, and it’s all done for you.

On top of this first step being very easy and automated, there are a bunch of modules that you can add to it through a simple click. This makes for very fast integrations of mail servers, logging, etc. that would take you a lot longer to set-up otherwise.

Other than making it easier to set-up, I think the biggest point for Heroku is that it enables you to focus on the application you present to your users.

Cons

It’s expensive. Heroku uses AWS and adds a bunch of automated stuff on top. As AWS is not the most inexpensive cloud provider, you can imagine Heroku can become costly pretty quickly.

Also, SSL is badly integrated. You can only use a single certificate, which means you generally have to buy a wildcard and that becomes expensive. It is an even bigger problem if you host multiple domains on the same heroku instance: it is impossible to use an SSL certificate on heroku in this case.

A last, but very important point is that you lose control over your infrastructure. You are reliant not only on Heroku, but also AWS (as Heroku uses AWS). Over the past 3 months, we have had several hours of downtime and another 12h+ where the Heroku API was inaccessible (effectively cutting access to deploy anything). This is of course to be expected, as no service can be perfect, but something to take into account when you make the choice to move to Heroku.

Conclusion

As of today, I am still undecided. We will continue using it for a bit and try to find possible fail-safes that would enable us to fall back on other services if we need to. As we are still a start-up, iterating fast is more important than scaling costs, but that is only the case until the costs become too high to bear.