Product Strato Hidrive
Specifications Any operating system or device supporting SMB/CIFS,WebDAV, FTP, SFTP, FTPS, or rsync network protocols
Price £19 per month, £9 for first six months
AN ONLINE STORAGE SERVICE that offers 500GB capacity for storing and sharing files is what Strato's Hidrive is all about. It is available for just £9 for the first six months, rising to a monthly subscription fee of £19 after that.
Hidrive, which Strato released in early December 2010, targets professional users. It supports encrypted data communications and also provides an automatic backup of each customer account, allowing users to retrieve deleted files.
Although it is aimed at professionals, the service is pretty straightforward to use for anyone who has had even the most basic experience with Windows networks, and it can be configured so that the Hidrive looks like just another logical drive connected to a user's computer. The service is thus well suited for sharing files between the members of a workgroup, or making such files securely available for access outside an organisation's firewall.
Hidrive can also be used as an off-site repository for backups, as Strato itself backs up each customer account within its European datacentres, providing an extra layer of protection against losing vital data.
We tested Hidrive using our office computer running Windows XP, and were surprised to find that we could connect up to it as if it were a shared folder on the local area network (LAN), using Microsoft's server message block (SMB) protocol.
However, this is not recommended, for several reasons. SMB is not secure, and so should not be operated over the open internet; and the protocol is also 'chatty', which is not a great problem on a LAN, but the longer time taken for command and response exchanges between a PC and a remote server could severely affect performance.
Fortunately, Hidrive supports a number of protocols, including WebDAV, FTP, SFTP, and rsync, which also means that other platforms such as Macs, Linux PCs and even mobile devices can access a Hidrive account.
We found it just as easy to set up our Hidrive account using WebDAV over HTTPS, which under Windows will even remember your login credentials so you do not have to key them in every time you need to access the HiDrive.
In this configuration, we were able to write files direct from Microsoft Word to the HiDrive, for example, as well as copy and move files around just like you can between a PC and a fileserver.
To get started with Hidrive, customers first log in to a web-based console that manages their account settings.
From here, you can add users, if you are sharing the 500GB Hidrive among several users, for example. Each user gets their own private folder, plus a shared public folder to exchange files.
The web console includes a file manager, which lets you upload or download files using the browser itself. There is also a backup configuration tab, and help with setting up Hidrive access.
Strato is to be commended for this latter feature, which gives you step by step instructions on how to connect the Hidrive to your system for various scenarios. You select your operating system, such as Windows XP, and the protocol you want to use, both from drop-down lists.
For some protocols, such as SMB, users can specify whether they want a secure connection. In the case of SMB, this involves installing and configuring a virtual private network (VPN) to create a secure link direct from your computer to HiDrive.
Strato even includes a link to OpenVPN, a free-to-download open-source VPN, along with a configuration file that supplies all the necessary settings.
Installing this creates a new Network Connection, and we found this worked just fine, but that it often timed out and closed the connection after a short period of inactivity.
This in turn causes Windows to deliver a pop-up message warning that "a network cable is unplugged", and this may alarm users who are not expecting it. Overall, we would recommend using WebDAV with HTTPS for security, which seems to work just as well and does not require a VPN.
One final point that potential customers should bear in mind is that performance of their Hidrive will depend on the speed of their Internet connection, which is unlikely to be anything approaching the data transfer speed of the computer's own hard disk or a shared folder on the local network.
Most Internet connections also have asymmetric bandwidth, with greater capacity for downloads rather then uploads, and this means that writing files will always be slower than downloading or opening them.
We measured the performance of Hidrive from our offices using a sample 75MB fileset, and found that write performance was equivalent to about 0.73MB/s, while reading the same files back was equivalent to 1.38MB/s.
For comparison, we downloaded the same files from a network share on the LAN, which produced a read speed of over 2MB/s. In other words, there was not a huge difference in performance between Hidrive and a local shared folder in our tests, but this could be due to the speed of our corporate Internet connection, and other users may have a different experience.
In terms of value for money, potential customers may be tempted to compare Hidrive with the cost of physical hard drives, which now offer capacities in excess of 500GB for less than £100. However, a direct comparison is not appropriate here, as Hidrive is offering services on top of just storage, such as the ability to share files and access them from virtually anywhere, and also provides customers with the peace of mind that their files are being automatically backed up.
Strato's Hidrive scores highly on convenience for those seeking a way to share a large volume of files with colleagues, or those needing an off-site repository for files and backups, for example. We liked the way you can use it as if it were just another drive attached to your computer - albeit a slow one - and the service is simple to use, with easy to follow instructions available via the web console. µ
Can be accessed like a logical drive, easy to configure and use, data backed up automatically by Strato.
Performance will depend on network connection, requires a VPN to secure some network protocols.