March 24, 2014 11:13 am
Updated: March 24, 2014 12:46 pm

Cloud-y with a chance of storage

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the Apple 4S with cloud technology in this 2011 photo.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Wikipedia defines Cloud storage as:

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An Internet hosting service specifically designed to host user files. It allows users to upload files that could then be accessed over the internet from a different computer, tabletsmart phone or other networked device, by the same user or possibly by other users, after a password or other authentication is provided.

What does this mean to to you? If you have a smart phone or a tablet, chances are you are already using a form of cloud storage as a backup for some of your files. Apple users have iCloud that allows you save and re-install settings, documents, photos from your iPhone. Google offers a similar backup service for Android mobile users. Simple enough.

There are, however, a multitude of services out there that will allow you to securely store and share your files, and access then from any computer, phone or tablet you choose. This is where is gets cool. Your devices then become irrelevant. If you lose your phone, or your computer spontaneously combusts, you may be down but you’re not out. All of your stuff is safe, accessible and transferrable.

Before I get into a comparison of a few of the better known cloud storage offerings, we should run through a few of the reasons (besides the examples above) that Cloud is a great option.

Cost – Backing up your data usually involves buying an external hard drive, configuring a backup schedule and hoping the drive does not fail. The price of external units has dropped considerably in recent years, but the cost of your time, and the limited transferability of the files need to be factored in.

Security – Saving personal information in the cloud is generally more secure than storing it locally. When using cloud storage services, data is protected during transport, ensuring no unauthorized users can access the files. In addition, the best method of secure storage and backup is always to keep the file in a different location that the originals. If there is a disaster of some sort, having your backup physically sitting beside your computer, may not turn out to have been the best idea.

Automation – Cloud storage services generally involve putting a folder on your device that becomes your one stop storage shop. With local storage there is always the risk that it doesn’t get done or that you are on the move and your backup drive has not travelled with you. Cloud storage services make the process of backing up easy to accomplish through automation. Anything in your folder is automatically, and invisibly backed up and quickly available on all your other devices.

Flexibility –Regardless of what you use as your device of choice, or how many different ones you use, Cloud storage offers you the flexibility to access your data from whatever computer/tablet/phone you choose. All you need is an internet connection.

Sharing – Email is a easy method to share documents, but there are limits on files sizes that you can send, and if edits are being made to documents, there is the issue of having multiple versions circulating around that you need to track and control. Cloud storage offers the ability to share access whatever files you choose, so they stay where they are and (regardless of size) can be accessed by anyone you choose and (more importantly) that access can also be cut off whenever you wish.

So, now that I have you sold, lets look a what some of your options are:

Service            Storage         Max file size      Devices
Box                      10GB                    250MB               All
iCloud                  5GB                      1GB                    Apple/Windows
Dropbox              2GB                      300MB               All
Onedrive             7GB                      2GB                    All
Google Drive      15GB                     No Limit*           All

*depending on file format
(Note: There are many options to pay a subscription fee to increase your storage limit, but for this article I have just included the free [basic] options.)

Without going into ALL the tedious details, I will just talk about what makes them different and perhaps help you decide what would work best for you, or if using multiple services (I use all of them) is a better option.

Box and Dropbox are multi-platform services that have no really strong ties to Apple, Google or Windows accounts. These tend to be used more by businesses and companies as they are more agnostic than the others. Solid options for storage only.

iCloud is built into all Apple mobile devices and is a easy way to keep your files and settings synced between your devices. Basically a no brainer. Go to Settings on your device and just turn it on. The only drawback is that there is not support for other devices, although Windows based computers can download an iCloud client to access your files.
When using a computer, iCloud also provides you with online versions of Apple’s Office-like applications (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) for creating and editing your documents.

Google Drive is an interesting option as it is linked to your Google (Gmail) account and shares your quota across, email, documents, photos and video which can all be accessed via one interface in your browser. Google also give you the option of converting your documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint files into “Google format” which do not count against your quota, and can be created and edited online using Google (Office) Apps. Basically, unlimited storage, if you move to their ecosystem. For power users of Excel and Powerpoint, this may not be the best option as you can expect to have some loss in functionality moving from Microsoft to Google file types.

OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) is Microsoft’s offering for Cloud storage, and integrates the best into the Microsoft Office Suite of programs, and is required if you wish to use programs such as OneNote on your mobile device. A nice bonus of OneDrive is that Word, Excel and Powerpoint files can be created, stored and edited with the online version of Office that is built into OneDrive. With a OneDrive account, you do not need Office installed on your computer, as long as you can get online. This even applies if you are using and Apple computer.

In the end, there are no bad options, and as I mentioned there are many more services available than just the few I have discussed. The big decision is whether or not to go to the Cloud at all, but once all the benefits are looked at, it is a pretty easy decision to make.

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