AeroFS Gives Dropbox a Run for Its Money

Talk is cheap. So is storage. But what isn’t cheap is cloud storage, when you need a lot of it – or at least it wasn’t cheap before AeroFS.

Before I get too far into this, I guess I should admit that AeroFS isn’t technically cloud storage – it’s really a syncing solution, similar to Microsoft’s defunct Live Sync/Live Mesh. And while this might not be the best option for everyone, for me it’s been nearly ideal.

I Don’t Need Cloud Storage

I might not have my own dedicated enterprise-class cloud server, but I have enough devices to ensure at least some geographical separation. If my house burned to the ground, or was flooded, or was wiped out by a tornado, I’ve got a desktop 60 miles away that should be safe. I’ve been doing a lot of writing on Google Drive recently, so I’m covered on the school lecture notes front. All things considered, I really don’t need much cloud storage. What I need is the ability to have all my files available on all my machines, so that if for some reason one goes up in smoke, I can pick another one up and be ready to go without waiting for “the cloud” to slowly load my digital life back up.

With that in mind, I began looking for something to fill the hole that Microsoft Live Mesh’s demise had left in my heart. And if it could be Linux compatible, that would be awesome. I discovered initial reports about AeroFS at some point last year (it’s been so long I can’t remember), and I was immediately excited – here was something cross-platform that duplicated Live Mesh’s functionality with none of the Microsoft-associated baggage.

Unlimited, Effortless Syncing (Mostly)

AeroFS logoThe way AeroFS operates is this: You put your files in your AeroFS folder (much like you put your Dropbox files in your Dropbox folder), then AeroFS syncs the files to your other devices (provided they’re turned on and connected to the Internet). AeroFS is okay with only two devices, but where it really shines is when you have three or more – especially if one is an always-on desktop with lots of storage and bandwidth.

My setup is this: I have AeroFS on my ThinkPad (my workhorse), my home server (an old Gateway E4000 with a RAID1 set), my remote Minecraft server (an HP Compaq DC5100 at my girlfriend’s parents’ house – her little brother is pretty much the server admin!), my system-on-a-stick (a 32 GB SanDisk Cruzer Glide running Xubuntu 13.04), and I have a shared folder with my girlfriend’s two ThinkPads.

My home server (a.k.a. Kirby) is my AeroFS team server, which means that, among lots of other cool things, it can store and serve entire AeroFS folders for up to three people for free (or for up to 50 people for $10 per member per month). My AeroFS team server is set to use compression to conserve disk space and stores both Malinda’s and my AeroFS folders. Let’s say I want to transfer a modified 500 MB Raspbian image to Malinda – along with 2 GB of pictures. I put the files I want to sync in our shared folder in my AeroFS folder, and AeroFS starts to sync them with whatever devices are online at the time.

My devices on the LAN will obviously sync faster than my remote devices (or Malinda’s ThinkPads, if she’s not there with me), so before long, I have multiple computers that can send her the files. This won’t make any speed difference, but it does spread the computing load out a bit and increases redundancy. If she’s offline at the time, the files will also most likely hit my DC5100 (a.k.a. Atlas), which would actually give the transfers a speed boost, since her connection is about as fast as my home connection and her parents’ connection combined.

When she does come online, the files will sync to her ThinkPad T43 as fast as possible or, if she has set a speed limit in the AeroFS client on her ThinkPad, as fast as the speed limit allows. If she turns on her ThinkPad X41T after her T43 has synced a few of the files, those files will transfer from the T43 to the X41T via LAN.

It’s all very Dropbox-like, but with no storage limits and direct or relayed, encrypted transfers between devices rather than to and/or from cloud servers.

The Catch

AeroFS isn’t available for PowerPC Macs, 32-bit Intel Macs, or versions of OS X earlier than 10.6 Snow Leopard. While that may be a deal breaker for some, I was more disappointed to find that it hadn’t been ported to ARM yet – Malinda’s Raspberry Pi with USB hard drive would have made a great secondary team server.

AeroFS might not be for everyone, but for those with a lot of files to sync it is very, very convenient. It keeps my important files safe from accidents, and it helps me share files that would overfill my Dropbox in no time.

It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s fast – why not give it a try?

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