Open Thoughts

Wuala, social online storage

Posted by Cheng Soon Ong on August 15, 2008

There was a small party on last night to celebrate the beta launch of Wuala, the latest in a long line of online storage services. The idea of online storage is compelling: no need to synchronise all your different computers, somebody else takes care of you backup, easy to share data with others. However, the reality of the situation is that there is no free lunch, and for most people, the cost of online storage is prohibitive. There are several free services (for example the list here), but in general, you cannot just upload everything to the cloud and throw away your hard drive.

Wuala lets you store anything -- photos, videos, your latest paper -- for free, with no bandwidth or file size limits. What's the catch? You have to contribute storage, megabyte for megabyte, to the service. You get 1GB free to start with, but any extra space that you need, you have to plug in your own hard drive and offer it for them to add to the cloud. So, basically you convert your hard drive from a private one person device to a shared device with bits of data from everyone. Like GFS, it creates redundant copies of data and distributes them on commodity hardware, and in the case of Wuala, the commodity hardware is your hard drive and the data bus is the internet. When a user transfers data to and from Wuala, they push and pull P2P style from all the different hard drives of their members.

There are two ways to access Wuala, via a web browser and via an application that runs on your computer. The linux version of the application effectively needs the user to have root access to his box, since it calls for an fstab entry. So, for those linux users in academic environments who have centralized admins, this makes life difficult for you. The web browser interface uses java. Their website was a bit slow this morning when I tried it, so be patient with them.

Personally, for storage and backup, I think there are better ways to do it (e.g. buying an external hard drive, cloning my current laptop drive and leaving the external disk with a good friend that I meet regularly). However, if you are sharing data among collaborators, this seems like a wonderful thing to have. Each member of the team contributes some amount of disk space and bandwidth, and Voilà!


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