Guiding Your Way Through The Cloud

So, you want to start moving your life to the “cloud?” Looking for a cheap or even free way to do so? With cloud computing and online storage becoming more and more popular, many companies are starting to put their hands into this highly profitable honey-pot. One thing that you need to keep in mind: You get what you pay for. You are not going to find a free unlimited storage plan online that does not have its limitations. I will be going over several online storage options and list the ups and downs of each. By the time you are done reading, hopefully you will have found an option suitable for you.

What is Cloud Storage?

Before I go into the different options, it is important to understand what cloud storage is. In the past, we have been used to storing all of our music, photo, documents, etc. on our computers HDD, a flash drive, external HDDs, CD/DVDs and even card media (SD/Memory Stick/CompactFlash/etc.). With access to the Internet getting more and more common (with hotspots, cell phones, and expanded broadband coverage), we are relying more on online services. Cloud storage is just that: a huge ass cloud. No, Zeus is not standing up in the heavens with gigantic file cabinets storing away your files. But we have big name companies buying massive amounts of HD space for this very reason. Instead of having to carry around an HDD or a keychain full of flash drives, all you need is a PC and an Internet connection. Plus, cloud storage can be, most of the time, more reliable. I am sure a lot of these online storage providers and not just putting all your info on some cheap HDD without making at least one or more back ups.

Cloud Storage and You

First, you need to lay out what you will need in a cloud storage service. Here are some common options/limitations you need to think about:

  1. Space: This is probably the most important on of all. What’s the point on online storage if you don’t have enough space?
  2. File Size Limitation: Most of the free options of online storage have a file size limitation. Meaning, each file you upload cannot be bigger than XXMB/GB. This is mainly so people do not go get free accounts and use them to host huge files (Movies, ISOs, Games) and suck up bandwidth.
  3. Access Options: To some, this is almost as important as how much space they have. Do you require access to your files on your mobile phone? Do you want to use a desktop client, or a Web-based one? Do you want to be able to give your friends/co-workers access to these files as well?
  4. Price: Free is good, but it is not always the best option. Remember: You get what you pay for. There are several free online storage providers, but you may run into a few issues with them, including file size limitation.
  5. Reliability: Will the company that you are using collapse tomorrow? This is a very important factor. You don’t want to store important files on a storage provider’s server and have them close down tomorrow; you’ll lose access to what you really need.

Your Options

Now we are going to look into your options. The ones I list here are just a few. I am sure there are hundreds of online storage providers out there, and it would be almost impossible to list them all. If you know of one that I did not list, post it in the comments so other readers can try it out!

Dropbox: Dropbox hit the Internet around 2007. This company is one of the most popular online storage options. The cool thing about Dropbox is, if you get a free account, you start out with 2 GB. As you refer people, you get more space. I have not found another provider that does this (free or paid). Here are some specs:

  1. Space: From 2 GB all the way to 100 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: A rare feature for a free plan: If you are using the desktop client, there is no file size limit. If you are using the Web-based uploader, you have a 300 MB limit. It does not matter if you have the 2 GB plan or the 100 GB plan.
  3. Access Options: Dropbox has several access options. Of course you have the Web-based version. It also has apps for: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and more. No matter what OS/device you have, Dropbox has some type of access option for you. The desktop client adds a folder to your OS and it acts just like any other folder on your computer. You can drag and drop, delete, or create like normal. As you modify the files in the folder, your online account is updated in real-time.
  4. Price: 2 GB: Free (This is expandable as you refer more people); 50 GB: $9.99 a month or $99.00 a year; 100 GB: $19.99 a month or $199 for one year.
  5. Reliability: I have been using Dropbox for about a year now and have never had an issue — every company usually has issues (Hell, look at RIM). Dropbox has a very informative yet minimalist status page that gives you the current up/down status of the Dropbox client/Web services.

If you want to give cloud computing a try for the first time, I would HIGHLY recommend Dropbox. With several access options and awesome reliability it would be a good service to test out and see if cloud storage is right for you.

Site: http://dropbox.com

Windows Live SkyDrive: Started by Microsoft (yes, the same people who brought you the awesomeness we call Vista) in 2008, SkyDrive is a good option for users who want to integrate their online storage with cloud computing. One of the unique features of SkyDrive is the ability to edit/create Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote files online without having to install any kind of client. Take a look at the features.

  1. Space: 25 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: There is always a catch, especially when you have 25 GB of free storage. You have a limitation of 50 MB per file. (I don’t think I have any MP3s bigger then 50 MB, but I am not encoding them at the highest bitrate).
  3. Access Options: Currently, there is not an official desktop client for SkyDrive. Any uploading/downloading needs to be done using the Web-based tool. But don’t fret, as there is an alternative. Gladient is a Windows application that you can use to upload/download/alter your SkyDrive on your desktop. Basically, this application will create a virtual HDD that you can access on your computer. Unfortunately, this is only for Windows. Sorry, OS X/Linux users.
  4. Price: Free! That’s easy.
  5. Reliability: Personally, I do not use SkyDrive so I cannot account 100% for its reliability. But, from browsing the net and looking around, I have not found anyone complaining about constant downtime/slow speeds. Like always, though, 100% uptime is almost impossible.

If you do not want to pay for a cloud service and don’t mind using a Web-based tool (non-Windows users) SkyDrive would be good for you. It can be hoped, Microsoft releases an official client that expands farther then just PCs. Who can complain about 25 GB of free storage?

Site: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-skydrive

Box: I just recently discovered this company when I was browsing different apps to download on my Droid X. The Web site is clean and very simple. The company even provides storage options to large corporations!

  1. Space: 2 GB to 500 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: With the free (2 GB Plan), you have a 25 MB limit. For the 25 GB plan, you have a 1 GB limit. For the 500 GB plan, you have a 2 GB limit.
  3. Access Options: Everything is completely Web-based, but it is one of the easiest services I have used. When uploading, you can select as many files as you want to upload, all in one windows (CTRL, SHIFT or command selecting files). Also, with the premium plans, you have integrated access to Google Docs, EchoSign, eFax, and more.
  4. Price: 2 GB: Free, 25 GB: $9.99 a month, 500 GB: $15/user/month
  5. Reliability: I have been using it for about a month and have not had an issue and I could not find anything on the Internet about constant downtime/slow speeds.

This company is an excellent option for users and/or companies who need large amounts of space, simplistic design, and high reliability. With plans ranging from 2 GB to 500 GB, it has something for everyone.

Site: http://box.net

Now I know I only gave you three options, but, like I said before, there are several online. Just do a little bit of Googling and you will find more. I am not saying that these companies will fulfill your every requirement for an online storage provider — it’s just a start. I highly recommend you detail out what you need out of a host before you go hunting. If you do not, you will be flooded by features that you may not need and companies that could restrict what you are really after. Happy hunting!

Chris Kader is a 22-year-old fellow from Arkansas. He’s in the Army and he loves tech. Check out his YouTube channel here.

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  • http://www.justenrobertson.com Justen Robertson

    Another thing you could do is grab a free Amazon EC2 box and set it up as a file server. Transfer above 1gb/month will cost you 15c per GB, but you get 10gb free storage to work with (and adding space is as dirt-cheap as the bandwidth). If you set up a VPN and create a network share folder you have a similar degree of convenience to Dropbox (but obviously without the smartphone support, which is admittedly slick). You’ll have to look at what you plan to use it for. As a backup and to share small files across machines and with friends it’s definitely worthwhile, but if you intend to stream music off it or share with a lot of people you’re probably gonna rack up a bill.

  • Amber

    I’ve been using Dropbox myself for over a year now and I LOVE it!
    I just wish I knew more people that didn’t have it but want to try it so I could get more referral space

  • tech savy

    The cloud is a trap! They will control your life! Don’t do it!

  • http://JeremyCouch.com/ Jeremy Couch

    CrashPlan is a little different than these but works great and is cheap. It backs up my entire external drive and with the android app gives me access on my phone too.