A fairly new entrant to the cloud storage market, Bitcasa faces stiff competition from the incumbent vendors, most notably Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s, now renamed, OneDrive service. Similarities abound, but differences when it comes to both implementation and use help differentiate the Bitcasa offering and could, just possibly, help it win a share of this already very crowded market.

As Much Space As You Need

Sign up for a free Bitcasa account and you get 5GB of storage on servers hosted in the cloud to do with as you will. Typically that means storing documents, photos, videos and other files where they can be accessed from any device with Internet access.

Measured simply in terms of capacity that 5GB compares to just 2GB with a free Dropbox account, although this can be increased by referring other users. OneDrive, on the other hand gives you 7GB and users of the free Google Drive service get even more – 15GB. However, It doesn’t stop there.

As with Dropbox, for example, free Bitcasa storage can be bumped up (to 20GB altogether) by recommending others. Alternatively you can get more by upgrading to a paid-for account with an impressive 1TB available for just £7/month (ex. VAT) if you opt for a Premium account and 5TB with the Pro account costing £35/month (ex VAT).

There’s also an Infinite account offering “unlimited” space for £69/month, with a lot more capacity to be had for your money across the whole Bitcasa portfolio compared to paid-for accounts from the other vendors.

Your Personal Client

Access to your storage can be obtained through either a browser or by installing a custom Bitcasa client with implementations for Windows 8, 7, Vista and 32-bit XP systems plus Apple Mac and Linux computers. Mobile clients for Android, iOS and Windows 8 are also available along with a plug-in for use with Google Chrome to download from the Web direct to Bitcasa cloud storage.

When launched there were no limits on how many devices and clients could connect to a Bitcasa account. However, that has since been changed with just three devices now allowed to connect to free accounts and five for paying customers, whereas the competition tend not to apply any device limits.

Similarly, the desktop Bitcasa Infinite Drive client differs quite markedly when compared to those from other vendors in that it doesn’t attempt to synhronise files in the cloud with locally held copies to allow for offline working. Instead, it merely connects users to their online files through a simple mapped drive, just as with a local USB disk, network storage appliance or file server.

The benefit of this approach is that there’s no overhead in terms of local storage – you simply use the cloud as a big external disk. The downside is loss of access to your files when offline, although there are a couple of ways around this by either marking files as favourites or mirroring.

Favourites are then synced locally whereas with mirroring the contents of whole folders can be continuously backed up to the Bitcasa cloud, enabling you to work offline and have any changes synced automatically when you reconnect. A bit like the syncing with Dropbox and others, except that it’s one way.

Encryption, Encryption, Encryption & More

Everything you upload to Bitcasa is encrypted using SSL, just as with Dropbox and other cloud storage services with 256-bit AES encryption also employed to protect stored files. In addition, Bitcasa stresses its use of client-side encryption (only available if using a Bitcasa client) to insure that data is scrambled before being uploaded to the cloud.

Added to which it highlights the fact that it encrypts individual data blocks rather than whole files to insure privacy even in the event of the encryption key being hacked. Two-factor user authentication is also set to be added later this year.

Behind the scenes another difference is the use of convergent encryption technology, a further benefit of which is de-duplication. If you choose to upload a file already held on Bitcasa servers, it doesn’t make yet another copy but merely sets a pointer to the original. Added to which it’s possible to roll-back to earlier versions of files held in the cloud with 30-day histories maintained for free accounts or 180 days if you pay for the service.

Whether this makes Bitcasa faster or more secure than rivals is open to debate, plus it’s worth noting that it is possible to add extra encryption tools to protect files before they are copied to other services with plug-ins to encrypt files on Google Drive also available.

Other benefits include the ability to share files with others by sending out a link, but that’s fairly standard with this type of product and doesn’t allow users to work collaboratively as with Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

Simple, Private, Secure

We put Bitcasa through its paces on both Windows and a couple of mobiles, finding it easy to setup and use and, once configured, not that different compared to other cloud-based storage services. Not having to reserve local disk capacity for syncing files is a plus, but offset by the lack of offline working unless you use mirroring to automatically backup files to the cloud.

On the plus side you get a lot of capacity for your money with the paid-for accounts. It just remains to be seen whether that’s enough to lure customers away from the market leaders in this sector.

A built-in API is available to encourage the development of third party add-ons, but there are few takes so far. Plus, it’s worth noting that the current release is very much geared up to consumers, although it can be adapted to work for small businesses and a more specific business implementation with, as yet, unannounced collaborative features, is on its way.