Soonr Doubles Up: 2 for 1 Online Backup & Collaboration

Monday Apr 11th 2011 by Gerry Blackwell
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This cloud-computing service offers small businesses a mix of collaboration, data backup and file synchronization features. Is it the right mix for your business?

Working at Home

For small businesses with employees in different locations who need to work together on projects, Soonr, a pioneer in the now-crowded cloud computing storage-backup-file-synchronization market, may be the just-right small business software solution.

Soonr recently upgraded its service, which the company says is already used by 40,000 companies worldwide (it launched in 2005), adding attractive team collaboration features that competitors such as Mozy and SugarSync don’t offer yet.

Soonr does more or less what the other services do. Like Mozy, it automatically backs up designated files and folders on a computer (or computers) to Soonr’s online data center, and does it constantly in the background so you don’t have to remember to run backups.

It also encrypts files -- both while in transmission and while on the company’s servers -- to keep them secure.

Like SugarSync and DropBox, Soonr will also synchronize files on multiple devices, including mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads and Android phones so that the same set of files is available on all. (The company claims the sync feature works on 800 different devices.)

Soonr dashboard; cloud computing, collaboration and online storage
Soonr's dashboard shows team status, backups, syncs, projects and the most recent file changes.
(Click for larger image)
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Project Collaboration in the Cloud

Soonr recently enhanced its small business collaboration features. It added the capability to organize files by project and, within projects, you can organize by folder. You can also give designated team members permission to access and edit files for a particular project -- or folder within a project.

DropBox lets you do some of this, but it’s not as easy to manage. Soonr's dashboard, an excellent graphical summary screen, shows the status of team members, backups, synchronizations and projects (including the most recent file changes by team members).

The question is, how much are these additional collaborative software features worth to you, and how appropriate is it for your business to combine them with a backup and file synch solution?

Soonr does not offer as much or as sophisticated collaboration and project management functionality as purpose-built tools such as Onehub or Huddle and, according to our analysis, it’s not the best value in terms of online storage, either.

Soonr Account Options

Like other online backup and file sync services, Soonr offers a free-trial account that lets you set up as many as five projects and work on them with two team members --  the original subscriber, plus one other. You get the same 2GB of online storage that most free services offer.

Soonr Premium, at $7.95 a month (with the first month free) gives you one additional team member, unlimited projects and 10GB of online storage. It also adds file versioning. The service automatically saves multiple versions of the same file, which lets you go back to an earlier version should the need arise.

Soonr Pro ($19.95 a month, with the first month free) gives you five team members (the subscriber plus four others), unlimited projects, file versioning and 40GB of online storage. It also adds custom branding. You can have your company name and logo placed on the account pages in place of the Soonr logo.

Online Storage Pricing

The cost of online storage with Soonr Premium works out to $0.80 per gigabyte per month and with Soonr Pro, it’s $0.50. This is fairly high compared to other services.

The cost per gigabyte per month for paid subscriptions with DropBox is only $0.20. With SugarSync, it ranges from $0.10 to $0.17. With MozyHome, more a pure backup service without Soonr’s file sync, sharing or project management features, it ranges from $0.08 to $0.12.

It is possible to add more users and storage with Soonr, but storage costs remain at about $0.50 per gigabyte per month even for larger volumes.

Using Soonr: Positive But Not Perfect

Our experience with Soonr was generally, but not 100 percent, positive. We started by signing up for the free-trial account. The sign-up procedure is quick and easy, similar to registering for any online service. You enter name, company name, email address and a password.

Soonr automatically sends a registration email with your username, generated from the information you input earlier, and a link to a page where you can log in. New subscribers and team members then have to download client software for their device or devices. We installed Soonr on a laptop PC and an iPad.

Soonr collaboration features; cloud computing, collaboration and online storage
You can find the Soonr iPad app in the iTunes Store. Soonr supports Android mobile devices, too.
(Click for larger image)
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On the laptop, the software can run in memory, managing automatic backup and synchronization of files in the background. It appears as an icon in the Windows System Tray. Right-clicking the icon and selecting Desktop Agent launches the dashboard, which also gives access to some configuration settings.

The desktop agent does not give access to all of Soonr’s features, though. You still need to log in at the company’s website to perform some tasks and to see some options – to add a new team member, for example. We had to download and install a Java update for this to work with the Google Chrome browser, but it took no more than a minute.

Brief Service Outage

We did have trouble connecting to the service at one point during our testing. According to an error message in the browser, Soonr was down for maintenance. This was at about 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, an odd time to be doing regularly scheduled maintenance.

Service wasn’t down for long, however -- probably less than ten minutes -- and this may well have been an isolated incident. Still, it raises reliability and availability questions that small businesses should ask about any online service they’re considering.

Soonr claims it offers more assurances in this regard than most providers. Founder and CEO Martin Frid-Nielsen noted that Soonr has  “geo-redundancy,” which means it stores data at more than one location. If one of the company’s data centers goes down, your data would still be available at another.

Also, because Soonr offers white-label services through telephone companies and other large corporations, its security and reliability have been subjected to more scrutiny than many of its competitors, he said.

Automatic Data Backup

With the exception of the one short-term connectivity problem, the software worked well. It’s intuitive enough that it’s easy to learn and use, and the feature set is impressive for such a relatively inexpensive and multifaceted product.

The data backup function allows automatic backup of open files, such as Outlook database files. This is an important feature that not all cloud-based storage providers offer. Without it, subscribers would have to shut down some applications before the service could back up their files, which means inevitably those files would not always be backed up.

The software also lets you specify -- fairly precisely -- which files to back up. You can select folders and types of files within folders (music, documents, financial, etc.). You can also exclude files by entering part of a filename with a wild card to indicate the range or types of files to be excluded (e.g. memo* or *.pdf).

Soonr iPad app; cloud computing, collaboration and online storage
You can find the Soonr iPad app in the iTunes Store. Soonr supports Android mobile devices, too.
(Click for larger image)
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The Soonr iPad Experience

On the iPad, Soonr looks a lot like other iPad apps, with a touchscreen menu bar across the bottom, a file display panel on the left and a workspace on the right. Missing, however, is the graphical dashboard, which is unfortunate.

Frid-Nielsen said the company was aiming for a simplified display on the iPad, and he pointed out that most of the information from the dashboard is available on the iPad on Favorites and Recent screens.

The synchronization process worked perfectly, with the projects and backup folders created on the PC also appearing on the iPad. The iPad app converts documents, such as Word and Excel files, on the fly to a format compatible with the iPad, and this can cause a brief delay the first time you view a file.

Soonr can also convert media files on the fly. If you try to access a .WMA Windows video file in a project folder, for example, Soonr will convert it on the fly to Apple’s QuickTime format so it can be viewed on the iPad.

Cloud-Based Project Management

The project functionality is basic but useful. Administrators can specify which team members have access to project documents and what kind of access (full, read only, reshare -- i.e. to non-team members).  

Team members with appropriate permissions can add folders and upload files; copy files from another project; access and modify files and post them back to the shared project folders, and post comments at a project bulletin board. The dashboard keeps track of changes to files and activity on the project.

It’s also possible to publish a direct Web link to a project page where guest users with read-only permissions can go to view project files.

The company will be adding more collaboration functionality in the iPad application and on other mobile platforms, including tools for editing documents right on the tablet, Frid-Nielsen said.

Bottom Line

Soonr provides better collaboration functionality than SugarSync and Mozy, and if you don’t need a lot of online storage capacity, but do appreciate the security of end-to-end encryption and redundant data centers, this may be the right solution for your small business.

On the other hand, if you really don’t need the collaboration features, there are other services, such as Mozy, SugarSync and DropBox, that offer a better deal on online storage.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte

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