Friday, December 24, 2010

Storage without the GitHub price

So, I'm looking at GitHub and thinking, "It's a great service, but what are the other options?" Their micro plans are a very good value at $84 (USD) to $264 per year, but I just purchased a 1 terabyte LaCie NAS for about $150, and I'm already paying about $60 per month for broadband access to my (home) office. Would self-hosting my own space make sense?

The main disadvantage of using an office-based solution, in two words, is "lightning strikes". Most office equipment is exposed to higher risks of electrical surges or direct strikes, especially when it is located in a residential building. Forget about what uninterruptible power supply companies and line filter vendors will tell you -- if lightning strikes any utility connected to your home, chances are good that their equipment will be the first, but not the last, to be taken out. Lightning can travel miles through air, so a 1/4 inch spark gap isn't going to be much protection.

And computer years are logarithmic, especially the consumer-grade stuff most of us use at home offices. A lot of equipment is just going to fail after a couple of years. At three years, odds are much better for failure. At five years, even if it is still running your equipment will appear to have been purchased eons ago and you'll wish it would fail. I don't look at my LaCie NAS so much as an investment, as a necessary expense for the sake of quickly restoring my MacBook Pro. It just does not pay back to deploy mission critical services on an ad-hoc platform.

Especially if it is your mission, you'll put in way too much time to fix and maintain the platform. It is certainly fun to hack devices to get, eg, git running on a NAS device, but unless you are using that knowledge to build a salable infrastructure as a paid service, it makes no sense at all to pursue. It isn't your core competency and you don't gain competitive advantage by doing things in a technically curious but otherwise inferior way.

Finally, vendors make it hard all the way around to deploy your own micro services. Broadband providers are well known for limiting what you can do with their bandwidth. LaCie blocked a Webdav based hack to enable ssh access (and hence a GIT install), because it was also an obvious back-door security hole.

So a home-brew solution is really kind of stupid on its face. The one valid reason for doing it at all, is if your technical curiosity leads to a genuinely better way of managing your data. I can see a massively distributed peer-to-peer rsync like service being a way for micro businesses to avoid dependence on large data centers. Again, as a curiosity, perhaps, but that is a far cry from a sensible operational strategy.

Interestingly, though, LaCie offers an alternative in the form of Wuala (pronounced like the French word "viola"), a service offering encrypted file storage space. Wuala is very much like DropBox, and reportedly has faster throughput. One other attractive feature is that you can trade excess storage capacity on your LaCie NAS for space for cloud space... in effect by allowing a section of your NAS to be part of the cloud itself. Not sure I want to trade my bandwidth as well, nor risk getting on the radar of the broadband provider.
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