Goodbye Dropbox, Hello BitTorrent Sync
Just last week, all of us here at Rocket Lift HQ started using BitTorrent Sync to replace our Dropbox subscription. If you aren’t familiar, BitTorrent Sync is software that allows us to share files among all our computers so that the most current version of a file is available to everyone whenever they need it. No email attachments, no thumb drives, no messenger pigeons. And this is really important to us because, as a 100% distributed company where “Rocket Lift HQ” is any place with internet access, we don’t have a hard-wired network to store files on at a big fancy office building.
“To err is human. To really screw things up, you need a computer.”
Now that we have had computers around long enough to have something like computer folklore, this is probably among the most repeated maxims. Eventually all grandparents will have always had computers, and they’ll be telling all their grandkids about how they used to walk 10 miles in the snow just to drop off a thumb drive full of TPS reports to the Assistant Regional Manager. Uphill both ways, of course.
So here’s the thing — when I set up BitTorrent Sync on my computer, I screwed it up. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that I got through the first steps, but because I misunderstood one critical thing about how the software works, I broke the sync and caused some files to become inaccessible to my co-workers. I re-read the instructions a few times, but it really took a video chat session with my (very smart) co-workers to help me fix it.
High drama for a Wednesday
The thing about grandpa’s advice is that it’s usually a little bit more dramatic than necessary. When grandpa says he “walked uphill both ways in the snow,” this is what I’m talking about. He does it because its a lot more fun, but also because it helps make his point. So, just like Grandpa, I made this all bit more dramatic than it really was. I’m happy to say that my breaking of the company’s file sharing system wasn’t permanent. We got our system fixed in less than half an hour, and that is actually the very reason that we made the switch to BitTorrent Sync in the first place.
We try to do everything we can to be responsible stewards of all our clients data. To that end, we have been looking for a way to end our dependency on Dropbox for a few reasons:
- Dropbox is very convenient, but if something goes wrong with Dropbox’s centralized servers, then we lose access to the canonical copy of our files, and everyone’s local copies risk entering a split-brain state.
- We can’t access our files on Dropbox when we’re offline.
- Dropbox’s has access to our files, and can (and does) open them.
- Dropbox doesn’t have as much flexibility for each individual to organize the data in his or her own way; you’re stuck
Once you stop breaking it, BitTorrent Sync works well
Let it be known that I am a Typical Computer User. I didn’t care much about the internet issues that my fellow Rocketeers talk about — security, privacy, peer-to-peer, open source, net neutrality and so forth. I had no idea what this stuff meant before I started working here, but now that I do, I’m proud to say that we’re taking steps to direct our use of the potential of the internet in a really positive direction. Even though it has been a very steep learning curve for me personally, I’m happy to report that our clients’ data is far more secure than it would have been before, and we have a much more robust and flexible data sharing system.
This post isn’t a shining endorsement of BitTorrent Sync. The software has been difficult to learn, especially for the members of our staff who aren’t as technically adept as the others. (Ahem.) Also, BitTorrent Sync’s software is not open source or open protocol, and it does not have a key revocation mechanism. These are all things that make this good software into great software, or at least that’s what the Computer People here tell me. For now, we’ll stick with BitTorrent Sync even as we continue looking for better solutions.