Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Massive Flaw in SugarSync: It is not a backup solution...

I've been a huge fan of SugarSync since I started using it several years ago.  It will automatically backup files on my desktop and synchronize them with my laptop, and vice versa.  It even works with my mobile phone so that I can easily access frequently used files when I'm away from a computer.  It also let's me share files or entire folders with other people.  It's not perfect, but it's been nearly perfect for me.  But today I discovered an interesting flaw.  Admittedly, this is probably a potentially unusual situation, and I'm waiting to hear back from SugarSync Support on whether this is a bug or whether it was a highly unusual fluke, but it definitely got my attention.

So with that out of the way...

My desktop machine has been misbehaving lately, primarily in the form of Blue Screens.  After further digging, it seems that there is some type of issue with one or more hard drives or the motherboard.  To diagnose the issue, I unplugged all drives except the C: drive.  I tried booting with just the C: drive, and although Windows will load and work for a while, I am still getting the blue screens.

Well, a funny thing happened while I was doing those tests.  Well, maybe not so funny.

On my desktop, I have a dedicated C: drive with only Windows and Program files.  I store all of my user data and files on a D: drive.  That way, if I ever need to reinstall Windows, I can just wipe the C: drive and not worry about losing any data.  And naturally, I have SugarSync backup all of my files on the D: drive and synchronize them to my laptop. 

It seems that when I disconnected the D: drive on my desktop, SugarSync decided that I had deleted all of my files.  And I mean ALL OF MY FILES.  Apparently since it could no longer see the D: drive, it sent messages up to the SugarSync servers telling the Mother Ship that ALL OF MY FILES were deleted.

And then what happened?  Well, when I fired up my laptop, SugarSync on my laptop dutifully downloaded all of the synchronization commands to delete ALL OF MY FILES from my laptop.

At the time, I was looking for some files on my laptop and noticed that one directory was missing.  I checked my backups on my local server to confirm the files existed, and by the time I switched back to my laptop directory listing, everything was gone.  Tens of thousands of files and thousands of directories were wiped from my laptop.

I just stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking that Windows Explorer wasn't refreshing or that I was going blind.  But nope, everything had been deleted.  In a panic, it took me about 30 seconds to realize what had happened.

Initially, the first level SugarSync support rep quickly claimed that when SugarSync detects that a drive is missing, it will automatically "disconnect" the synchronized folders, whatever that means.  But clearly that didn't occur in my case, and the SugarSync web site shows all of my files have been deleted.  I am now waiting for them to review my log files and see if they can figure out what happened.  The support rep foolishly closed the chat session with "...please remember that you should not disconnect a drive on which the SugarSync folders are present", which is a preposterous statement, especially since he initially claimed that SugarSync would "disconnect" the backed up folders if a drive was not found.

And thinking about the obvious real world situations, what if you want to backup data on an external USB drive?  Does SugarSync suddenly delete files everywhere when you disconnect that drive?  What if my D: drive had died?  Will my laptop be wiped out when that happens too?  It doesn't make any sense that the files should be deleted when a drive is no longer detected.

Since I rely heavily on SugarSync (or at least I used to before this happened), I apparently need to test all of these scenarios to assess the damage that may occur.

Fortunately, I am only highly annoyed by all of this, primarily because of the time it has wasted and will continue to waste until I get a resolution.  I'm not going insane for a few reasons:

1. It appears that all of my files are still present on the SugarSync servers, but are marked as deleted.  So I'm guessing they should be able to revive them, assuming their second level support is more competent their their first level reps.  I could double click on the deleted files to restore them myself, but I am waiting for them to figure out what happened before I touch anything.

2. My D: drive on my desktop did not die, I just had to unplug it, so my files are still intact on that drive.  But I am now very wary of plugging the drive back in, should SugarSync decide that it needs to wipe that drive as well.

3. I also use Carbonite to backup all of the files handled by SugarSync, plus many, many more, so I have another copy on Carbonite's servers.  Apparently Carbonite does not have the same flaw as SugarSync and does not immediately delete my files when the drive is not connected.  But Carbonite sometimes gets back logged with my photos and other large files I backup, so files that I change regularly may be several days old on the Carbonite server.

4. Every evening a scheduled task runs on my desktop that uses RoboCopy to backup my files from my desktop to my file server.   Unfortunately because of the issues with my desktop, it looks like it has been a few days since that ran successfully.   So I do have another copy of everything, but several files will be a few days old.

So this has been a good lesson about an ironic downside to a seemingly fantastic backup solution.  And it's been a good, albeit unwanted, test of my neurotic multi-layered backup strategy.  It seems to work, but like most things, it isn't perfect.  I now have some clear validation that you can't have too many backups...

UPDATE 1:  I have since had several rounds of discussions with the very mediocre support at SugarSync, and they have essentially confirmed that SugarSync is designed to delete all of your files on all of your synchronized computers if a hard drive is no longer detected or a drive fails.  They have effectively said that SugarSync isn't a backup solution--it's a synchronization solution, and if a non-system drive fails on any of your synchronized computers, then SugarSync is supposed to consider all of the files on that drive deleted, and that all of those files should therefore be deleted on every other computer that is synchronized.  Of course this is preposterous, as I think anyone would agree there is an obvious difference between a hard drive disappearing on a system and a file being deleted.  Heaven forbid if you change the drive letters on a computer--I assume that would cause SugarSync to delete everything as well.

All of the deleted files are technically available to recover via their web site, but you have to recover each sub-directory individually.  There is no way to recover a directory and all of its sub-directories.  For serious users with thousands or even just hundreds of directories, this is a nightmare.

UPDATE 2:  Since I now know that I can't rely on SugarSync to safeguard my data, I now use Acronis TrueImage to make a full image backup of my D: drive, along with the existing full image backup of my C: drive.  Because you can't have too many backups!

UPDATE 3:  A reader, Loren M., saw my post and appears to have experienced the same hassle I did, so it seems that this is not a random issue.  And as he points out, the irony is that a casual / non-critical SugarySync user would probably never experience this issue--only the serious power user with multiple hard drives and multiple synchronized computers would encounter this issue.


It is interesting you would note this.  Unfortunately I can conclusively confirm that SugarSync has not fixed the problem since you reported it, since I fell victim to the same fate with terrifyingly similar results.  I also discovered a few additional tidbits of information… To go through the reason you mentioned point by point and why I think people should still be worried:
1.       First, take no comfort in the idea that SugarSync allows you to recover your deleted items.  I also had thousands of directories and subdirectories on my system.  The initial problem in trying to recover these files is that each and every one of these subdirectories must be recovered individually – there is no way to select one directory and all the subdirectories below it, each subdirectory (and underlying subdirectory) must be opened, and all the files selected, and a restore stared.  This alone may take the better part of one’s life to work through.  However even those willing to suffer through this will be disappointed with the results.  I found major sections of my file structure were no longer recoverable at all – the subdirectories simply did not exist on the SugarSync server. They were just gone.

2.       In my situation, the removed drive was only disconnected for an hour or so.  It automatically remounted itself, by that time it came back online SugarSync had already decided to delete all the synchronized files from my three other computers.  When the offline drive came back, it then “synchronized” with the deleted computers and also deleted everything.  If the reason you or anyone is using SugarSync is to have a “backup” copy, you should stop using SugarSync right now even if you have paid for it.  Once you have SugarSync up and running, it is the opposite of a backup – loss of your document drive on any of your synchronized computers will ensure it will be deleted from each and every computer you are syncing to.  This is the worst possible “fail deadly” configuration imaginable for “backup” system, yet it is exactly how SugarSync operates and this can be proven by repeatable testing.

3.       The only possible way to save yourself from the horrors of SugarSync is to backup all of your data somewhere else.  I happened to be using Crashplan, which is the only way I got my data back.  If anyone out there is using SugarSync – and I can’t stress this enough – a separate backup tool must also be used which does not rely on SugarSync to protect data.   Keep in mind however that if the backup tool is running in the background or on some schedule, there may well come a time when SugarSync has deleted all of the data from the drive being backed up – recovery of deleted files from the backup service is the only possible route at this point, but this too can be problematic since the backup service has no way of discerning what was intentionally deleted vs. what SugarSync deleted when it went crazy. 

4.       In a scenario eerily similar to Steve, I was using Allwaysync to synchronize all my files to my file server.  Unfortunately I had been setup to “synchronize” instead of copy, and since deletions were synchronized this copy was promptly deleted as well.  I have since switched to a “copy” mode, however it is less than ideal, since it means nothing I legitimately delete will ever be deleted from the server, and I’ll have to manage this additional copy manually just to make sure I don’t suffer the “SugarSync Suicide” again.
My takeaway from this whole experience was that SugarSync is not a backup solution – it is a synchronization tool with a nasty penchant for destruction of file systems.  To anyone using SugarSync - you need a separate backup solution (and a very good one) to protect yourself from what SugarSync will eventually do to you if your synchronized drive goes bad.

Another insidious aspect of this problem is that “casual” users of SugarSync or those who are simply using the free few GB as a trial before purchasing more storage are highly unlikely to ever experience a problem.  However paying customers who are more often than not synchronizing entire documents devices (on a separate drive) will almost certainly be hit by this problem at some point, and it will be when they are most vulnerable -- after a drive failure.

Good luck, and let’s hope SugarSync addresses these problems soon!

Steve Endow is a Dynamics GP Certified Trainer and Dynamics GP Certified IT Professional in Los Angeles.  He is also the owner of Precipio Services, which provides Dynamics GP integrations, customizations, and automation solutions.


nic said...

Although this post is from 2011, I want to add that I found out that lots of my files have disappeared from my SugarSync account. They are in my SugarSync deleted files but it would take days/weeks to recover them, since it has to be done one at a time.

Niall Legerton said...

I thought Sugarsync was a safe place to back-up/store files. However, Sugarsync deleted my account because i didnt log in for 3 months. Now I've lost all of my kids baby pictures that I thought I was keeping safe.
Also, Sugarsync effectively blocks customers with deleted accounts from contacting them by simply asking you to "log-in" to contact them. How can I log-in if Sugarsync closed my account. I regret not saving the kids pictures on Dropbox....Sugarsync is a dismal failure!!!

Yin Bin said...

Hello, I have been using SugarSync for about 4 years now. Initially I used it as a backup solution. Over the last 2 years, I began to use it as a syncing device - to synchronize files and folders between my work and home computers. It all seemed fine at the beginning - as it liberated me from the burden of having to carry computers between work and home.

However, recently, I discovered a serious problem with SygarSync. While it works fine most of the time, sometimes it fails to sync properly without any warning, with very grave consequences (inadvertently editing on older versions of the file in the other computer, thus losing work as a result).

Because of this, I am thinking of abandoning SygarSync entirely in search of an alternative for both file backup and file synchronization. I wonder whether you have any suggestions?

I am already also using CrashPlan - I think it is good as a backup solution. However, it does not enable file synchronization across computers.

DropBox works a little like SugarSync as it enables synchronization across computers. However, it requires you to move files and folders into the DropBox drive in your computer, which I really dislike because it forces you to change your file and folder structures.

Any suggestions?

Steve Endow said...

Hi Yin Bin,

I have had a similar issue with SugarSync on my laptop. It stops synchronizing files, and I have old files present on my laptop.

In my case, I found that it is apparently crashing silently on my laptop--no errors or dialogs. I have to hover over the hummingbird icon or the synchronizing icon in my system tray and then the icon will disappear.

I'll then have to restart SugarSync and wait for it to sync.

I have never had it do this on any other machines, so I don't necessarily blame SugarSync--it's probably a typical Windows issue where apps start behaving strangely.

But it is annoying and the end result is that SugarSync is not reliable for me.

I have recently been testing Bit-torrent Sync. The down side is that it is not a backup solution--only a sync solution. If I can figure out a reasonable backup solution (i.e. Box, Google Drive, etc.), I might have a replacement for SugarSync.

But with that said, I find the mobile SugarSync app very convenient. Any replacement would need to work as well on my iPhone.

Yin Bin said...

Thanks for the reply, Steven. I have one Mac and one PC and I don't remember if any one is more likely to have SugarSync problems than the other. But it is annoying as you said, that the end result is lack of reliability.

Cloud-based backup services are supposed to put your mind at ease (worst case scenario: external backup drives and computers are both destroyed in a house fire. That's what prompted me to use SugarSync in the first place). So it's ironic that they actually cause you headaches too.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post. I just experienced a similar heart-stopping loss of hundreds of files when I reconnected an old computer to SugarSync. At first SS failed to copy over the contents of several folders from the new computer. Both computers said everything was synced but the folders on the old computer were present but empty. Then a day later I guess SS looked at the old computer and thought I had deleted the files and then deleted all the missing files on the NEW computer. With a lot of effort and frustration for the reasons others have given here, I found most of them in SS's deleted files but not all. If I had not had a recent physical backup I would have had suffered a MAJOR financial loss. Now I can't risk using SS anymore.

Rembrandt said...

I had something similar happen to on Google Drive 2 years ago, which is why I abandoned that platform.
A rogue extortionist virus (Cryptolocker) encrypted all my files on the laptop and Google Drive didn't notice it. It uploaded all the infected files and distributed them happily to my other computers in no time at all. The damage was considerable.
It taught me a good lesson about the vulnerability of cloud computing.

I then switched to One Drive and am experiencing other idiotic things. Whenever I change nested subfolders on my laptop, OneDrive gets confused and starts to erase the info in my old folders while building a replacement folder. An incredible waste of time and energy.

I am now trying SugarSync, but am very wary, because of the above comments.

I wish these services would give us the option to declare one computer as the master console to guarantee that only I can actually determine what I want to wipe.

SugarSync, although easy on the eye, really lacks preview capabilities for jpegs.
That makes browsing extremely cumbersome and takes the fun out of it.