The cloud is a wonderful place. It gives users on the ground access to their data as long as they have access to the Internet (and who doesn’t these days?). It allows users to purchase or carry devices with smaller internal storage, without having to worry if they have enough room to keep the next few episodes of Modern Family. The cloud is a great place to keep stuff, and just makes everything simpler.
Here are a few cloud storage options available to those who want to make the jump to the big hard drive in the sky.
This service is synonymous with cloud storage. In all likelihood, if you are reading this article in this magazine, you have a Dropbox account. It’s simple, versatile and scalable. Most users will find the initial 2GB free sufficient, if all they are looking for is a place to dump photos for archiving, share folders and other basic uses. If you need a little more space, you can get quite a bit through referrals, using key features and signing into Drop box on participating phones. Actually, if you have a Drop box account, it would be a great idea to do all of those things anyway, since it’s all free. Who doesn’t want free storage space? One of the great things about Dropbox is the availability of apps across multiple platforms. If you run many devices and want a seamless way to keep files accessible to each and every one of them, just download the app on each of your gadgets and let it do its thing. Really important files can be kept locally and online, and if something gets deleted, you can always recover them, as long as they haven’t expired yet. Of particular use to mobile users is the Camera Upload feature in the mobile app. This not only frees up precious storage space on the device, but serves as a great way to back up photos in the event of device loss or borkage. This particular feature saved many of my valuable memories when I lost my phone just a few months ago.
Not quite as popular as the previous entry, Box is another personal favorite. Signing up gives you 5GB of storage free, though if you were one of the lucky ones who got to jump on the promo a few months back, you may have up to 50GB. (If you have an account but haven’t checked in a while, give it a look. You might have snagged the free space!). Box also comes with a handy syncing desktop and mobile app, just like Drop box. While it isn’t as slick, it’s just as powerful, allowing for shared folders, emailing links and purchasing additional storage. While I mostly use Dropbox for work files since everyone has it at the office, I use box for sharing personal files with my home computer and personal friends. I have more, and larger files for personal use, so the amount of Box space I have managed to gather through the years proves much more useful, and doesn’t eat up my work cloud space.
Google has, of course, an entry in the Cloudspace. Drive, apart from offering local syncing and online as well as app access, integrated their cloud storage solution with other Google services such as Google Docs. This ensures that Google Docs Documents are always handy, as long as you enable sync to your home and office devices. Being the kind that switches between machines a lot, I find myself using Google Docs more and more, and its just so handy always having the files accessible online and offline without having to do any intermediary steps. It’s not as straightforward as the first two apps, but still works very well. Google also offers the Cloud for your music files via Google Music, if your main goal is to have and stream music online. It’s like having your own personal Pandora, though the initial upload might take you a few hours, days or months, depending on the size of your music connection.
Microsoft has its own solution to the cloud conundrum. SkyDrive is an integrated way to access cloud storage on your PC, and works seamlessly as soon as you sign in with your Windows Live I D. The app gives you an instant 7GB (and 25 GB if you’ve been a SkyDrive user for a while). You can sign in, access the storage and upload/download to your heart’s content. It also features integration into Windows Phone devices, and allows you to run backups that are a combination of Dropbox and Google Drive on your device. It is all seamless, happens behind the scenes and needs no real special attention. This is a great solution if you run Windows devices, or you just want another cloud backup location. It doesn’t have an app for other OSs, so it’s a little short, if that what you are looking for, but a painless 7GB for signing up is no punishment at all.
Regardless of the cloud solution you are looking at, it’s a good idea to keep in mind a few things. If it’s sensitive information, it’s best to keep it to yourself. While these facilities are secure, hacking can and does happen. You could do something as simple as forget to log out of the web interface, lose your phone, or divulge your password, and the result could be a potentially embarrassing, possibly dangerous leak of information. If you’re uncomfortable not having the data in your own hands, best keep it somewhere you can keep absolute tabs on it.
If the files are important enough that you will likely require constant access to them, the cloud is a great place to store said data, but don’t rely on it solely. The cloud is a vault if you have no access to the Internet, and if you suddenly need to print out your cloud-stored dissertation, praying for a faster internet connection as the deadline ticks ever closer not be a position in which you want to find yourself.
You should always have backups. Cloud access could disappear, the service could die or a bug might somehow wipe out your online data. While many services allow a time machine style restore, that does have an expiry date (though eternal restores are sometimes available). Redundancy is good. Redundancy is good. Keep things online, but keep them somewhere handy, too.
First published in Gadgets Magazine, June 2013
Words by Ren Alcantara | Illustration by JP Pining