Product Reviews

Product Review: A Bigger Cloud with SMEStorage

SMEStorage provides a convenient, common place for users to park cloud data stored with multiple vendors.

Everything seems to be headed to the cloud. For e-mail, calendar, social applications and, most recently, storage, the cloud is quickly becoming the go-to landing spot for computing for businesses and consumers alike.

Of course, the list of storage providers in the cloud is much like the listings for pizza in the Yellow Pages; every time you look, there are more of them. But this review isn't really about cloud storage vendors. It's about a choice between the vendors and a common application -- one service to store all. The service is SMEStorage. The idea is cloud aggregation, allowing users to simply choose where to park their data among the services they have signed up for.

A quick example: Since I purchased my Apple iPad last fall, I've been using Dropbox quite a lot because it allows me to easily view and sometimes edit (depending on the file type) files on the iPad as well as on my Mac and Windows computers.

I also have a Microsoft Live account, which comes with several services, such as SkyDrive and Hotmail and the Web versions of Office 2010 applications. The big differentiator here is that SkyDrive from Microsoft allows 25GB of storage for free. Dropbox only provides 2GB free, without referrals that would earn me more space. While I can pay for more space on Dropbox, what I'm looking for is a way to take advantage of the more generous capacity that SkyDrive offers across more devices.

SMEStorage was highly listed in the research I've been doing as of late (read: Googling for SkyDrive on iPad).

What Does SMEStorage do?
The service aggregates multiple clouds, in this case Dropbox and SkyDrive, for use across many devices with a single interface. This way, users can manage their online storage space from a single pane of glass on all their devices.

It works much like the Dropbox application, except you can store files across different services. The number of services you can combine depends on the level of the plan you have with SMEStorage.

Plans and Cost
There are two free plans with the service that allow you to combine storage from two of the providers that the service works with, or from one public cloud provider and 2GB of space on the Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service (S3). When I signed up, I chose the two public cloud options because I already have accounts at Dropbox and SkyDrive.

The plans include:

  • Personal Lifetime Cloud $39.99
  • Personal Lifetime Cloud (Business Use) $59.99
  • Lifetime Organization Cloud, 3 users, $108
  • Lifetime Organization Cloud, 5 users, $180
  • Lifetime Organization Cloud, 10 users, $360
  • Organization Cloud, 3 users, $9/month
  • Organization Cloud, 5 users, $15/month
  • Organization Cloud, 10 users, $30/month In addition to the service plans, there are applications for different platforms as well, including:
  • Windows Cloud Tools, $29.99
  • Mac Cloud Tools, $29.99
  • Linux Cloud Tools, Free
  • BlackBerry Application, $3.99
  • iOS Application, $4.99
  • Android Application, $3.99
  • Nokia N8, $5.99

These paid plans include the Windows, Mac and Linux clients with the service. Mobile applications are for sale in their respective app stores at the listed price.

User Experience
I purchased the application for the iPad for the review. I'll likely upgrade my account in the near future solely based on the additional features that are available. The SMEStorage service works best as a gateway for those users who have some files stored in multiple cloud-based (or organization-based) services. Because you can integrate with corporate FTP or WebDAV servers and SharePoint 2010 -- in addition to other public-facing cloud services -- this could be an ideal solution for organizations with employees who are on the road a lot or individual users who wish to consolidate their access to the files that they have scattered among multiple services.

Among the more interesting features SMEStorage offers for personal accounts:

  • The ability to search across cloud accounts. From the SMEStorage application, you can search for a document across all linked accounts.
  • You can invite colleagues or friends to share files as members of a collaboration group; permissions can be assigned to the group for access to specified files.
  • You can add multiple instances of the same cloud storage service (for paid plans only). For example, if I had two passport accounts with SkyDrive space, I could use them both with my SMEStorage account. That's 50GB of cloud storage for a one-time fee -- not a bad way to go if you need that much disk space.

Business accounts have these features:

  • Open file server, a feature designed to act as (or even replace) a traditional file server. Your "file server" is comprised of the cloud accounts you have linked to your SME account. The accounts can be changed as needed, as well, so you can avoid being stuck with a specific set of providers.
  • Collaboration via e-mail, fax, RSS, Twitter and other media. This can help end the need for files attached to e-mail.
  • Workflow rules can be used to notify users of activity on the cloud(s).
  • Organization folders are folder sets for common data that all users across an organization can see and access, like HR documents or other common items.
  • SMSDirect is a push-style notification system.
  • Backup. One cloud provider can be nominated as the primary provider and the SME service then configured to use a different provider for backup, which is handled within the service itself once configured. In addition, contacts and e-mail messages can be backed up to SMEStorage to prevent a user from losing contacts for other applications. The e-mail-backup portion of the service integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.
  • Fax integration via Interfax enables users to fax documents directly from the cloud.
  • Administration. Business accounts can add multiple users. One of the users for an account will be the administrator for the account, allowed to add and remove cloud providers for which the business has accounts. Administrators can also add users, manage file events, handle security, distribute notifications of events to users and process other administrative tasks.

Is the Service Secure?
Because each cloud provider requires an account and the SMEStorage service requires authentication, the service seems fairly secure. In addition, security can be managed for organizational accounts to provide extra precautions. With personal-level accounts, files can be assigned individual passwords for an extra level of protection.

With all online services that store and manage your data, you should take extra precautions when considering what data to put in the cloud. Encrypting the file before storing it and adding additional passwords are things to consider. With organization-based accounts, there are extra options available for information security.

The Final Word
If your organization is looking to integrate cloud-based storage into an existing solution while keeping access straightforward for your end users, SMEStorage might be just the gateway you're looking for. At the same time, if you're an individual user looking to consolidate all of the online storage accounts you've accumulated, this service is perfect for just such a concept.

I did, however, find the multiple models of pricing and inclusions a bit confusing. The best way I found to deal with this was to choose the plan that fit my needs and then worry about the apps that are available, as most of the desktop applications are included with a plan. Once the number of users gets higher than 10 for organizational plans, the cost of the applications comes into play.

Perhaps a move to simplify things would be to sell the cloud gateway service and provide desktop apps free of charge. If no plan is purchased, the free app would still work, but at the limitations of what is available with free accounts.

For a good number of individual users, the only cost will be putting the app on a mobile or desktop platform, which is quite reasonable given the number of free cloud providers the service uses. This could make it quite the solution for contract employees or others who need an offsite place to park some documents, especially at a reasonable cost. If the cost of the clients is still questionable, the service has a Web uploader that you can use free of charge with your account.

REDMOND RATING
Installation: 20%
9.0
Features: 20%
8.5
Ease of Use: 20%
7.5
Administration: 20%
9.0
Documentation: 20%
6.5
Overall Rating:
8.1

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

Hopefully the cloud will become better understood and consistently defined as we grow to depend on it more and more. And hopefully applications like SMEStorage will be around to make that transition and service selection easier on all of us.

SMEStorage

SMEstorage.com
Pricing starts at $39.99 for personal account
$59.99 for business account
+44 800 689 9094



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