Cloud storage services are nothing new to the world of technology anymore, and every other day, we see a new entrant in this rather populated market. With so much on offer, it becomes hard to decide which of the many offerings is something new, and not just a replica of something already popular (they’re more than a lot out there). With that in mind, we found Symform to be something different from the lot – not just in what if offers, but also by how it works. Symform is a cloud-based data backup and storage solution that offers up to 200GB of free space for all your precious data, complete with a Windows client that is essential to use the service effectively. Read past the break to find out more.
Before we begin, please be advised that Symform will give you 10GB of free cloud space upon initial setup. Their claim of up to 200GB for free can be made true by a) inviting your friends to use the service, and b) sharing storage space from your own hard disk, which contributes to the Symform cloud for storing other users’ data. This shared hard disk space is the main differentiating factor of the service, as on one hand, you’re giving up your personal storage space, but on the other hand, you’re gaining cloud storage, making your data more secure and accessible remotely.
To get started, you need to download the Windows client from the Symform website (link at the end of the post). There is no web signup, and once you’ve downloaded the client and launched it, the first screen will prompt you to register with the service using your email address. An activation code will be sent to the specified ID, which will be required to proceed with the rest of the setup.
Notice that on the configuration panel, you have a series of tabs on the left side, most of which will be greyed out at this stage. As you proceed with your device’s configuration, these settings will start becoming available, and will let you manage aspects such as device type, local folders to be synced, environment, bandwidth allocation, summary etc.
Once you’ve entered the required info, click Next to proceed. The next two screens will merely show you information about your device rather than asking for any inputs, so move forth to Sync Local Folders to decide which directories from your machine will be backed up to the cloud. By default, your Documents folder will be there, but you may edit it or add new ones as per your leisure. Needless to say, hit Next when done.
The next stop is Symform’s environment configuration, which include specifying the upload and download bandwidth usage, as well as the business hours. As the service is targeted more towards businesses rather than personal users, you can limit the bandwidth consumption during work hours to minimize the impact on routine workflow, while it will automatically increase once the workday has finished. Working days during the week can also be specified in the same screen.
The next setting you’ll need to tweak with is Bandwidth Allowed, which will govern the exact bandwidth usage during and after work hours for both downstream and upstream data. It is also in this panel that you’ll specify how much storage you want to contribute to Symform’s cloud from your own hard drive. The ratio this works on is that, you’ll need to share 1.5 of what you want to get, so, for gaining 100 GB of extra cloud storage, you need to share 150 GB from your hard disk (which, incidentally, is also the maximum that you can share). A slider is available to control shared capacity, changing which will be verified against available space on your machine just below the slider itself. Tooltips are available next to almost all settings, and can come in handy if you cannot figure out what each setting does.
Finally, you get to pick the Contribution Folder, where Symform will store the cloud data (in encrypted form, mind you). Other than the contribution, you’ll specify the open port for Symfrom to utilize. In my experience, this was frankly impossible, as the port I used was open for sure, but for some reason, the application kept rejecting it. Nevertheless, this issue did not affect the transfer speed too much to cause a nuisance.
The second last panel. Summary, will give you a complete overview of all the settings that you’ve done, just before they’re applied.
Notice that the Next button here is replaced by Apply, hitting which will take you to the Progress tab. Hit Finish, and that’s about it – or maybe not…
Right after getting done with all these configurations I got my first annoyance with Symform. The service runs in the background, it hogs your bandwidth, but there is no system tray indicator that can be used to monitor progress or pause the service for a while. At best, you can only guess that Symform might be working, which is a huge letdown in my opinion. Logging into the web interface gives a better idea, but that’s a workaround rather than a feature.
Speaking of web interface, there’s nothing fancy on offer. The default is the Synchronization Activity tab, where you get to see all the devices connected with your account and their current status, synced folders, history of previous devices, along with a few other account settings. You can also view the contribution activity (which will most likely be empty at the beginning, reason later) and device summary for all your linked machines.
If you click a folder, you can browse its contents as well, but there’s no viewer, and data cannot be downloaded, in general. Folders within folders can be explored, but you cannot download items to your local machine from the web interface. Data sharing is achieved by linking two or more computers with the same Symform account, and allowing folder sharing between them. The sharing controls are extensive, and you can even set up one specific directories to share with specific devices only, all according to your own wishes.
All in all, Symform is a pretty solid contender in the quite-saturated cloud storage solutions market. The service offers something unique in terms of free storage space, their paid plans are rather cheap and flat rate, and the data is secured using Resilient Storage Architecture (RSA). However, the requirement of sharing space from your local machine is, at best, questionable. Minus a few annoyances, Symform is one cloud service that holds great promise, and we may see it evolve into something much bigger and better over the years. I would also like to clarify that this article does not cover every aspect of the service (as it was simply not possible to do so), so head on to the official website, explore, and decide for yourself if it’s worth your time (and space, and perhaps, money as well) or not.