It’s hard to keep a good app down

Well, here we are some 7 or so months after we announced that “good things must coming to an end“… and still users are snapping up Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender, thanks! This all helps to keep the lights on. It has been a while between drinks, so I thought I would post on what I’ve been up too. Here’s a run down…

First of all, I have been busy with a new startup, heading the technical team and doing a bunch of web based development… different from my client/server and driver work, but still lots of fun. That said, when I’m not busy with my “day job”, I find some time to tweaking and bug fix both Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender (and answer the inevitable support question that comes my way). The end result is new versions of both apps, Drive Bender v2.5 and Cloud Xtender v2 (yes it is a big jump for Cloud Xtender, but we have a good reason… read on).

So Drive Bender v2.5, this is still in the works as there are a few bits and bobs yet to cover off, but we (aka me) are still working on it. Cloud Xtender, on the other hand, has been through the ringer. In working on a side project (more on this in a later post), I’ve discovered and fixed a bunch of stuff… all of which has taken CX v2 into a different realm, here are some of the highlights.

  • We are now providing app keys for Google, OneDrive, Box and Dropbox. This means that you no longer need to register your own application keys to add a cloud drive, connect Cloud Xtender with your cloud drives with a simple click. FYI – I should note that we received a lot of questions as to why we required users to use their own keys… well it was based on how we thought users would use Cloud Xtender, turns out we missed the mark here, all this did was to make Cloud Xtender far more difficult to use than it needed to be, whoops! So we have sorted that and now it is lickety-split easy to connect to your cloud drive.
  • Improved file encryption. Some users were reporting that encrypted files simply did not sync… a major issue for an app designed to sync files! Many bugs in this area have been fixed, and this problem should now be a thing of the past.
  • Improved access to cloud services via updates API’s, this results in improved syncing and overall performance.
  • A bunch of client fixes and improvements.

Bottom line, the biggest update to thus far for Cloud Xtender… you can get all the latest changes here.

Finally, we are planning to up the price on both Cloud Xtender and Drive Bender. That said if you are testing either product and missed the current low price (it will be updated very soon), send us a DM via Twitter (@_divisionm_) and we’ll send you a discounted link.

 

A (Happy) New Year with Cloud Xtender

Well first of all, a Happy New Year to everyone, 2015 was certainly exciting on a number of levels! Now we are in 2016, and there are a few updates in the pipeline.

The first of which has just been released, Cloud Xtender v1.7. This has a number of bug fixes and performance improvements, most notable is how background scanning is performed, and the load this can (or could) place on the host. We had a number of users reporting excessive CPU usage, which would cause system performance to suffer. You can download this update from http://www.division-m.com/downloads

Next is the pending Drive Bender update, most of which is contained in the patch available on the forum (http://community.division-m.com/index.php?/topic/5670-duplication-bug-patch/)… this fixes a small number of issues with duplication including a bug that was caused by the summer/winter time zone change that occurred in some regions. There are a number of additional changes and updates, including a new driver… all of which will be detailed in the change log. I’m hoping to have this out in the week of the 18th.

Finally we have had some unfortunate abuse of the new Cloud Xtender licensing model, with the discovery that a very small number of users have been redistributing licenses. As a result of this, we are changing the license from a freeware model to donation-ware model similar to Drive Bender… with the price to be $5 USD for a single machine license, or $10 USD for a 3 machine license. This ensures users are vetted by PayPal before licenses are sent, and will help us cover the cost of managing these licenses.

Anyways I’m looking forward to new challenges in 2016… stay tuned!

Drive Bender, Cloud Xtender and PoolHD… live on!

Well it has been a crazy two weeks since my last post, it seems I under estimated the community response, it’s just amazing… thanks everyone! As I mentioned in my original post, my hope was that all the products would continue on in some form or another. However there were a number of obstacles that needed to be sorted before I could happily allow them to go on.

So what was the end result? Given the level of user support, it seems I had no other choice other than allowing Drive Bender, PoolHD and Cloud Xtender to live on! As for my involvement, I’ve decided to remain involved as a hobbyist… that is I will remain active on the forum and play with the code when possible.

Now this leads us to how this is going to work. While I’m not comfortable selling a product that does not have dedicated support or development, we still need to generate some cash to keep the lights on. My original idea was to make all products freeware… however this does not help with the “cash” portion of my last statement. So I’m going with a super low $5 USD on Drive Bender (I’m actually calling this a donation), and freeware on Cloud Xtender. As for PoolHD, this will now use the Drive Bender license so users can use whatever platform they choose (if you are an existing PoolHD user, simply email support and you’ll get a Drive Bender license, this will be compatible with the next PoolHD update). When is this going to happen, well by the time you read this it should be all sorted.

Once again I would like to thank everyone for their kind words… it’s very much appreciated. See ya on the forums!

All good things must come to an end!

Well this is a personally sad post for me. I have made the difficult decision to move away from my fulltime position here at Division-M. Unfortunately slowing Drive Bender sales and sluggish Cloud Xtender numbers have meant that ongoing development at the current pace is just not financially possible. The slowing Drive Bender sales were anticipated, as Windows Storage Space’s had a big impact on this market, not to mention the cloud is also seeing users move from large local storage to much cheaper cloud solutions. Our strategy was to have Cloud Xtender pick up the slack, however this has not happened. While the initial Cloud Xtender numbers looked good, these have not been sustained.

So what happens next? Well for the most part, not too much… Belinda, our main support person will be staying on and servicing support requests as she has always done. Although I’m no longer working fulltime here, I will be helping with the more technical queries either via support or the forum. As for the future of Drive Bender, PoolHD and Cloud Xtender… at this point in time there has been no long term decisions made, but I’m confident that they will continue on, we just need to work out the details. Having said that, there are a couple of important points I would like to stress to existing users.
1) All valid licenses will continue to work now, and into the future. There are no plans to scrap the products.
2) As it stands we have pending updates for all products. There are a number of bug fixes with Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender, and a Windows 10 compatible version of PoolHD. These will be released over the coming weeks.

Finally I just want to say that this decision has not been an easy one, personally I have invested a huge amount of time and money into building this business, and developing its products… and for the most part, it has been very successful. However, as with any business it must be able to generate a sustainable revenue. I would like to say that from the get go, Drive Bender in particular has had a loyal following, and has chalked up 10’s of thousands of sales… and I thank everyone for their kind words and feedback over the years.

Ahh well, that’s about all I have for the moment. It has been a fun ride, but all good things must come to an end… now where did I put my CV?

It’s a dogs life!

There is an old saying that is often used by companies to describe using their own products… that is “Eat your own dog food!”. I’m sure it’s hardly surprising to learn that we use our own products, however it is often tricky to actively use all the features, or utilize the products in all the different ways users do. For example, Drive Bender is used on a number of servers in our office mainly for file and machine backups. Personally I also used it on a WHS 2011 machine at home for movies, music and home backups. Over the years this has proved to be an excellent way to tune real world performance, and discover potential new features. However when it comes to Cloud Xtender, this is more difficult. In the past we have used a third party cloud backup service (CrashPlan as a matter of fact), but during the development of Cloud Xtender, we switched to it for our off site backups. Files are sync’d to a server running a Cloud Xtender drive, and these are then pushed to the cloud. This all works a treat, however used in this manner we really don’t interact with the Cloud Xtender drive as such, so things like real world performance are harder to gauge. So the challenge here is to use Cloud Xtender in a more extreme manner… so a couple of months ago I decided to go all out and install it on my primary development machine. It replaced my “files” drive which contains all work related documents, source code and a bunch or personal files… in all there are over 550,000 files! In addition, this drive is also used to build software against (including Cloud Xtender itself), which has allowed me to asses it’s real world performance, while also providing real time cloud backup. As you could imagine, performance is everything… for example when compiling there are over 12K files system requests a second, quite the load for a virtual drive. I would like to say it was all was peachy from the get go, but using it under these conditions did expose a number of performance issues and bugs. On the plus side however, it has allowed me to tweak the performance and iron out these bugs… all of which is the basis of the current v1.6 release. It’s is hard to imagine a more extreme environment, although I’m sure there is😉

It’s been a long time since i rock n rolled!

Well rock and rolled may not be 100% accurate, but you get the idea… “it’s been a long time since I posted on the blog” just doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Anyway we have been busy with software releases and updates (and I did sneak off to France for a month). Here is where we are at.

First up, our initial Cloud Xtender release had some strange quirks with some users reporting files not syncing or not syncing reliably. We did release a number of updates to address these issues, however we were never able to replicate them, which made fixing them difficult at best. So after the v1.4.7.0 release, we decided to go back and develop a new version of the sync engine (code name “Transporter”). The “Transporter” engine improves, syncing, streaming and caching for remote files, and syncing for mirrored files, and was released in the v1.5 update. We highly recommend all users update to this version as it also contains a number of important bug fixes.

So what’s next for Cloud Xtender? In the very next release we are adding the ability to add cloud folders to an existing Windows drive (aka drive C). Currently you connect to cloud services by adding a “cloud drive” to your system, that is a new drive letter that shows the contents of your cloud services. With this new update, you can add a folder instead of the drive letter, and this folder can be mapped anywhere on your existing Windows drive (you can switch between either). Another new feature is an updated interface and a “getting started wizard”. In short this will allow new users to get up and going with a single cloud service in seconds, with minimal understanding… well that’s the theory anyway. We are expecting this version, flagged as v1.6, to be released later this month (FYI – we will be posting a minor update, v1.5.2.0 prior to this, it has some caching performance tweaks). Following on from that release, we are also working on an update which addresses the outstanding OneDrive performance issue… stay tuned!

Now on to Drive Bender news. We just released v2.3.9.0 which has many tweaks including a number of Windows 10 specific fixes. Following on from this we are working on another minor update that addresses a handful of smaller problems that have been reported by users, we expect this release to be out later in the month. Interestingly we have an increasing number of users using Drive Bender with SnapRAID, we are looking at adding a “SnapRAID mode” which would make using Drive Bender with SnapRAID a snap! (see what I did there!)… this may or may not make it into the next update, it really depends on how far we take such a feature. It would be great to hear from users to get their feedback, lets us know via support.

After this we will be moving forward with the rest of the outstanding v2 features (better late than never hey), first out of the gate will be cloud duplication. And to answer a commonly asked question, no you will not need a Cloud Xtender license to duplicate to the cloud… although you will need an internet connection😉

Finally on to PoolHD… and yes, there is a Windows 10 compatible version coming. I know this is taking some time, and we’re super sorry, but we are getting there. In fact it is being working at this very moment (well not entirely true, I’m writing this at this very moment, anyway). All going well, the plan is to have a beta this month. This will be a short beta cycle as most of the underlying code is based on Drive Bender, so we know it will be rock solid! Will there be any new features? Well the short answer is… ahhhh, no. We want PoolHD to be a no fuss pooling solution, If uses want more bells and whistles, they really need to look at it’s big brother, Drive Bender.

Anyway, there is someone standing next to me implying that writing a blog post is not really work… I beg to differ, this and after work beers at the pub are all nose to the grind stone activities😉

Cloud Xtender walk through… getting started!

Ok, so now you have downloaded and installed the Cloud Xtender beta, now what? Well first you need to set-up your cloud accounts, the methods of doing this vary from one provider to another (if you run into issues, post of the community forum). So once you have a cloud storage account sorted, and you have app access to that account, you need to set up Cloud Xtender… let get started!

The first thing you are going to want to do is create a cloud drive. A cloud drive is simply a drive that will appear on your machine that will allow access to the cloud files. To do this, use the “Create a new cloud drive” option.

cloud_xtender_create_drive1

Here you simple need to select the drive letter you would like the new drive to have, and give the drive a name (this will be reflected in Windows Explorer). Once you have created the drive, it will appear on you machine just like any other drive on your system.

The next step is to connect this new drive to a cloud service, this involves setting up a “cloud connection”. Setting up a cloud connection involves specifying the required credentials.

cloud_xtender_add_cloud_connection1

Now before finishing with the cloud connection options, lets detour slightly and explain a little more about how Cloud Xtender connects and deals with local and cloud files. As previously explained, there are cloud connections, but there are also “File placement rules”. These rules determine how Cloud Xtender distributes files to more that one cloud service, and how the files are sync’d between your local machine and the cloud services (for more info on the different sync mode, check out my previous blog – https://blog.division-m.com/2014/11/19/cloud-xtender-some-detailed-info/)

So continuing on with the walk through, lets look at the rest of the cloud connection options. The final option here is the “Default sync mode”. As mentioned, cloud connections also need a file placement rule. When you add the first cloud connection, Cloud Xtender will create a default rule that applies to the entire cloud drive (you can later modify this, or add other rules). This final option allows you to pick the sync mode you would like for the default rule, in this case either Mirror (files exist on the local drive and cloud storage), or Remote (files exist on the cloud storage only, an ghost image is maintained locally).

cloud_xtender_default_rule1

Ok at this point you have a working Cloud Xtender solution… what next. Well that depends on what you want from Cloud Xtender, some users will simply have a single cloud connection, others will want to have many cloud connections, and rules to suit. (Tip – After you have created the first cloud connection, head to the File placement rule’s tab and check out the default rule that was automatically created). So lets check out the file placement rules in more detail. There are 3 key elements, 1) What cloud connections are to be used, 2) How the files are sync’d between the local drive and cloud storage provider(s) and 3) If you wish to monitor changes made to files on the cloud storage provider(s). Again more detailed info on these sections can be read on my previous blog – https://blog.division-m.com/2014/11/19/cloud-xtender-some-detailed-info/, I recommend you check it out.

With file placement rules, you can really dive in and chose where files go… at the moment you can have a rule covers the entire drive, or a specific folder (rules are cascading). To define a folder specific rule, you first create a rule, then under the File/Folder Management tab, you apply that rule to one or more folders (with the Windows Explorer plugin, you can do this directly from Windows Explorer).

file_folder_management1

There are no limits to the number of rules, or number of folders a specific rule can be assigned to.

Before I go, one question we have had often during the beta program is “what happens if I set up a number of cloud connections, and create a bunch of rules to suit, I don’t want to lose all that work if my machine dies“. Well we are working on a feature called “One touch config”… this will allow a user to save their entire Cloud Xtender configuration to the cloud, allowing them to config a new Cloud Xtender client, including the files and folders, in an instance.

Finally, the release date? Well there is still a bit of work to do, but we are confident that we can get it out mid April. So the big day is set for the 17th of April… stay tuned!

Cloud Xtender – some detailed info!

Ok, since releasing our last blog post, we have had a flood of emails regarding some of the features seen in the demo video. So I though I would take everyone through some of the screens seen in the demo, and detail what each feature does. I should also note that this post was written a while ago, and I’ve only just got around to publishing it… so some info may be a little out dated.

First we have the connection tab, this basically allows you to connect to a specific cloud service.

provider_screen

For the most part, the options here are provider specific, except :-

1) Cloud connection: This is the connection (or provider) that will be used for this connection.

2) Connection name: Simply a name you give this specific connection instance.

The next tab is the placement rule tab. This is where you can define how Cloud Xtender places files on the cloud services you have added.

rules_screen

The key options are :-

1)  Placement rule name: Simply a name you give this specific rule.

2) Placement selection: This determines how Cloud Xtender distributes files between the different connections. There are currently 4 options :-

  • Single connection: This simply writes all files to the specified provider (or when * is specified, the first provider)
  • Multiple connections, cascade (default mode): This writes to the first connection in the list (if * is specified in the list, then the order is based on when the connections were added). Once that connection’s usage reaches a pre-set level, the next connection is written too… and so on. It should be noted that some cloud services do not have a fixed storage size (aka Amazon S3 etc), in these cases Cloud Xtender allow you to set an arbitrary fixed size.
  • Multiple connections, free space: This writes to the connection with the most free space.
  • Multiple connections, percentage of free space: This writes to the connection with the highest percentage of free space.

3) Cloud connection: Here you can add/remove connections that are to be used by the placement selection (previous option). You can specific individual connections, and the order, or you can use a wildcard that will use all existing, and any new connections added in the future.

4) Connection sync method: This allow you to define how files are sync’d against the connection(s). The options are :-

  • Mirror: In this mode, Cloud Xtender monitors the local file and syncs any changes to the cloud connection. In the mode there is a local and remote file maintained, although any changes made against the remote files will not be detected.
  • Remote: In this mode, Cloud Xtender maintains a ghost image of the remote file, so there is no local file (Cloud Xtender caches some portion of the file for a period). If this file needs to be modified, then you can request this file to be pulled down (see the Mirror -> Remote mode) via File/Folder management. Simply find the file, right click and select “Cache locally for a limited time”
  • Bidirectional: In this mode, Cloud Xtender monitors the local file and remote files, and syncs between the local machine and the cloud connection. In the mode Cloud Xtender needs to monitor the cloud connect, and as such this mode can impose a network load (the frequency of the checking is determined by the next option).
  • Mirror -> Remote: In this mode, a files starts out in Mirror mode, then after a period, it is changed to Remote mode.

The final tab is the files/folder management tab. From here you are able to assign specific folders to specific placement rules, query a files to check it’s sync status, resync the file (in either direction) and you can even request a file to be cached locally for a period (for files sync’d using the backup mode). I should note that all this functionality is also available directly from Windows Explorer.

file_folder_mgr

Finally… we are close to the beta release. Our intended date slipped (surprise surprise) because of a number of bugs in one of the providers, however we have now got on top of these and are close to a beta release.

Oh… and we have unified our Twitter accounts, to get the latest news on Cloud Xtender, PoolHD or Drive Bender, follow us at @_divisionm_

Are we there yet?

We have been receiving heaps of mail regarding the Cloud Xtender beta release date, the continuation of Drive Bender v2 development and PoolHD v2. So I thought it best to touch base and give everyone the run down.

Cloud Xtender
The Cloud Xtender beta has been our core focus over the past few months, the interest in this product has been overwhelming… so we have been hammering away in an effort to get it out the door. We have a working version running in-house, and are now just fine tuning how Cloud Xtender interacts with different cloud providers. At this stage we are looking at mid November as the first beta release… and providing there are no show stoppers, the final release will happen shortly thereafter. Although we have cloud storage providers for AWS (Amazon) S3, Azure, DropBox, Google Drive and OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) we are planning on having only AWS S3 and Google Drive in the first beta. Reason being is that we really want to get the first beta out the door… as it stands we are well behind our initial release schedule (hmm who would have thought!), so in an effort to get the first beta out, we have decided to exclude the other providers for the first beta. To give taste of what is to come, I have posted a demo video of an earlier build, this shows the interface, and how we create and add cloud drives etc. You can check it out here.

Drive Bender v2
This leads me into Drive Bender v2’s cloud duplication support. We are planning to continue with the v2 development when Cloud Xtender is sorted, mainly because the cloud duplication feature uses much of the Cloud Xtender code. I will also mention VSS, we are getting a small number of users asking what happened to this feature in v2. As a refresher, here’s what I wrote about this in a blog post last year…

VSS Support
I thought I would touch on this much requested feature first up. For those not familiar with VSS (aka shadow coping), let me point you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_Copy. With v2 we have implemented VSS support and have this under internal testing. We are able to snapshot a pool, and access these individual snapshots independent of the pool itself. This all works great, however one of the key requirements is external application support for doing this, known as requestor support (the requestor is the calling application such as Windows Backup). Again we have this working, however during testing we have run up against a number of issues. The most notable is reliability, for some reason the VSS requestor (i.e. Windows Backup), cannot always successfully snapshot the pool, and the entire backup fails with an error. Also the success of this seems to be very machine dependent, and we have no idea why… unfortunately good technical documentation on VSS very limited to non-existent. I should also mention that the internet is filled with stories of VSS failures… this is one finicky beast!

So what does this mean for VSS support? Well our original timeline had full VSS support in beta 1, and this was meant to be available mid August, however given the issues we have faced, this has not happened (obviously). At this stage we have decided to move on with the other stages of the v2 development and beta releases, while we continue to work on these VSS issues in the background. At the very least v2 will support pool snapshots, snapshot mounting and snapshot management. If requestor support continues to allude us, then we have a plan B (I will post on plan B when we come to a final decision).

We have revisited VSS a number of times since, only to run into the same lack of reliability… however we have not given up, and will keep plugging away when time permits.

PoolHD v2
Version 2 of PoolHD is also set to be released very soon. PoolHD v2, is based heavily on the Drive Bender v2 code (as v1 was), which is why we have been delaying… we had been chasing some odd permission issues in Drive Bender versions prior to v2.1.9.0, so we didn’t want to move forward with PoolHD v2 until these were sorted. Stay tuned!

Cloud Xtender, what, when, where and why?

Well, we are getting close to our first Cloud Xtender beta release. We have had a lot of interest in Cloud Xtender, and have received many questions about the product features and when it will be released. So I thought I would throw up a quick post to answer some of these questions. First up the features… well, while I do not want to give to much away, what I will do is lay out some of the prominent features and give a basic overview of how Cloud Xtender works.

Cloud Xtender allows a users to create a local drive on their machine that points to one or more cloud drives. The number and type of cloud providers is not limited, and you specify rules that determine file placement. For example, a user could create a drive that points to 10 different free Google drives accounts, giving a total of 150 GB of free cloud space (of course you can add more accounts later). The user then specifies a rule that define where files are stored, which might be either an “even” rule (cloud drives are filled evenly), or “cascading” rule (cloud drives are filled one after the other). Now let’s say the same user want to store a photo on an Amazon S3 Glacier drive, he then creates folder in his Cloud Xtender drive, then creates a rule for that folder that points directly to the S3 drive!

One of the most commonly asked questions about this is “Are the files stored locally and sync’d to the cloud, or are they just in the cloud”. Well the short answer is, you can have either. Files can be a) stored in the cloud only (no local copy), b) stored locally and sync’d bidirectionally. One of the key issues with cloud only storage is performance, parsing the cloud every time you browse the file system is a performance killer, we have solved this with some very clever caching technology. Browsing a Cloud Xtender file system is as fast as browsing your other local drives.

And finally, the question that is most often asked, when is this going to be ready? Well soon is the plan… we have most of the technology in place now, as a lot of the Cloud Xtender code is shared with Drive Bender’s new cloud duplication technology. From here we will be releasing a beta, taking feedback and suggestions, then moving pretty quickly on to a release.

Finally I just want to mention the Drive Bender v2 release… so far, so good. We have had some excellent feedback (everyone seems to love the new UI), and we must have done something right because sales are the best they have been this year! There are a couple of minor issues we are sorting, and plan to post an update in the next day or so.