Synchronizing software with ViceVersa

Keeping computers and disk drives synchronized is useful as part of a thorough business continuity strategy. The free SyncToy software has problems, as described in the previous column.

ViceVersa PRO v2.5 from TGRMN Software is a paid synchronization product that goes far beyond SyncToy. I tested the product for three weeks using its free trial (good for 30 days) and was so pleased with it that I bought a license. The license covers installation on three separate computers for the same user.

ViceVersa Synchronization Pairs. ViceVersa, like SyncToy, allows the user to define synchronization pairs – folders defined as sources and targets. 

One of the useful differences between SyncToy and ViceVersa is that the latter allows edits on any aspect of a synchronization pair. It is not necessary to delete and recreate a synchronization pair simply to reflect, say, a change in drive letter. If the original sequence of drive letters for removable disks on encrypted partitions becomes disrupted (for example, by inserting a new device before the older ones have received their usual file letters), one does not have to use disk management to reassign letters – or in some cases, to reboot the system – to continue with synchronization.

Wildcard inclusion and exclusion strings can define subsets of files within the source folders that should be synchronized; these individual definitions are called Profile Settings and can be saved with unique names for recall and reuse.ViceVersa Profiles . One of the most useful aspects of ViceVersa is its range of options for synchronization. The details are fully explained in the Help facility; the following is a summary of the options:

• Synchronization (Bidirectional): duplicate all changes in source and target so that every operation on either side of the pair is duplicated on the other (e.g., new files and folders, updated files, deleted files)

• Backup (Mirror Source to Target): target becomes identical to the source using copies of new and updated files and folders

• Replication

• Augment: new files on source are added to target

• Refresh: updated files on source are copied to target

• Update: new and updated files on source copied to target

• Consolidation: like synchronization except that no deletions are involved – for example, if a file was deleted from the source but still present on the target, it would be copied back to the source.

Another sophisticated feature is the Tracking Database, which is required for synchronization. The Tracking Database allows identification of pairs of files in which both the source version and the target version have changed from a previous state; during synchronization, such pairs are identified as potentially requiring manual reconciliation. For example, if an address book has been changed on both the source and the target since the last synchronization, it would be appropriate to identify which changes should be merged into the file (e.g., new entries).

The option Use Volume Shadow Copy Service to copy open files solves a problem that afflicts SyncToy: it cannot copy open files. In contrast, ViceVersa handles open files (e.g., Outlook .pst files) flawlessly. This feature means, for example, that if one forgets to close an e-mail client before synchronizing files, even the open e-mail database will be copied to the target.

I carried out some simple comparisons between SyncToy and ViceVersa using a couple of different options to explore possible differences in coverage and performance. These tests are not statistically valid trials, since there are only a few samples involved; they should be viewed as exploratory data. Perhaps the staffers at TGRMN will be interested in extending the tests to provide a more thorough exploration of performance characteristics of their product with different types of files.

Speed and effectiveness comparisons.

The successful transfer of files seems comparable across the two products, as does the speed of synchronization of the two products varied considerably; however, the largest transfer (Program Files) did show a much faster transfer rate in ViceVersa than in SyncToy: 4.5MBps for ViceVersa and 1.5MBps for SyncToy. The increase in speed meant that ViceVersa completed the synchronization in about one third the time that SyncToy took. Faster synchronization is particularly useful for large data transfers and for operations carried out while the user waits. However, once a source and a target are synchronized, it's unlikely for ordinary users that huge data volumes will have to be carried over from source to target.

ViceVersa has a companion product, VVEngine which provides a wide range of options for running synchronizations without human intervention. For example, a schedule can ensure frequent synchronizations such as once an hour – or every few minutes, for that matter. Such synchronizations provide whatever the user defines as real time backups, much as a RAID 1 (mirrored) array creates a duplicate (mirror) disk that is up to date at the level of seconds or even fractions of a second (depending on input/output load). Users must understand, however, that the purpose of such rapid-fire backups is to ensure quick recovery, not longer-term protection against data deletion or corruption.

ViceVersa goes beyond SyncToy in providing archival protection. SyncToy does allow one to use the Windows Recycle Bin to store files deleted during synchronization, but ViceVersa goes beyond that by offering archive options to save copies of deleted and changed files – including time-stamps added to file names.

On the whole, I’m delighted with ViceVersa and VVEngine and am already using them every day.

Good job, guys!

[Disclaimer: I have no financial involvement whatsoever in TGRMN Software: I just buy and use their products.]

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