These days any time the discussion is around computers, documents or networks, it will not be long before you hear the word “cloud” surfacing in the conversation, Roberto Caprio, MD of Dial a Nerd.
Now, if you don’t need expert knowledge of computers and simply use one to go about your daily tasks at work and for leisure at home, you may or may not have a vague idea of what “cloud computing” means.
If you do, you probably think of this as a complex technology reserved for expert users, engineers and similarly technically minded people. In reality, if you are reading this article you can very likely access cloud services you can successfully use, for free, that will be valuable to you and in the next five minutes or hopefully after you have finished reading.
Today we just want to look at one specific service, easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and a PC or a tablet/smartphone: personal online file storage.
At Dial a Nerd we design and support complex networks for large businesses but we haven’t forgotten how we got there and that is by helping literally thousands of individual users get the best out of their technology. These days we still help a large number of home customers and assisting them with selecting and properly configuring a personal online storage is something we do on a daily basis.
First of all we need to define what these services provide you with. Very simply you are uploading a copy of your files to a server, this allows you to make them available over the Internet to yourself or another user (if you chose to give them access) from a different location or a different device.
In the past, if you had a file you needed to have available with you and you didn’t want or couldn’t bring your whole computer with you your only option was to use a USB flash key. Today you can have virtually unlimited amounts of files available to you wherever you can access the Internet.
A very important aspect to consider is reliability, you want to choose a provider that is well known and has a good track record, you don’t want to be let down just when you need the information. Probably the best known provider is Dropbox, they only offer 2Gb of free space but you can increase the amount by referring friends, if you need a lot more space you can access up to 100Gb of space for a $10 monthly fee. Dropbox is perfect for simple file sharing and syncing and your files are well protected with password options and encryption. A very important aspect is that, should your laptop be lost or stolen, your files will still be available in your Dropbox.
Don’t forget to encrypt files you want to remain private, the major providers are relatively safe but it’s always a good policy to have additional security.
Dropbox is not the only option available though, there are many others, some of them are big names and therefore just as reliable. I am talking about OneDrive from Microsoft (7Gb free) or Google drive (15Gb free) or Apple will offer 5Gb of iCloud free storage even if you are on a PC.
Can these services be used as backup? The short answer is yes and Dropbox, for example, offers the possibility to recover different versions of the files you store on their cloud servers. This means that, if you have mistakenly overwritten an important file with one containing the wrong information, you can always log in to your online Dropbox and recover a previous version. All you have to do, after you are logged in, is select the file, click on “more” in the top menu and then click on “previous versions”.
Obviously you need to keep in mind the total size of the documents you intend to back up. The first limitation is linked to the amount of space you have online, you might need to purchase additional storage space in order to back up all your documents. The second important aspect is that, if you are on a metered (not uncapped) connection, you might incur expensive charges to upload all your data online; this will depend on the contract you have with your Internet service provider.
There are other lesser known providers but they all work on the same principle: they attract you with an initial free offering and eventually if your storage needs grow they will try to sell a premium service for a fee. So are you being tricked into having to purchase at a later stage?
Not really, you can actually use two of these services at the same time, they synchronize automatically so you don’t really need to worry about it.
For example you could decide to use Dropbox (2Gb) for day to day files that you use often and Google Drive (15Gb) for larger items that you use less frequently, you could even choose to have those files only on Google servers and only download them when you need them. This preserves space on your computer’s hard drive but is a slightly more advanced setting, nothing that Dial a Nerd wouldn’t be able to help you with.
So if you like the idea of storing your files in the cloud and don’t want to pay a premium for additional storage, use multiple providers, that’s what I do.
Roberto Caprio is a Director at Dial A Nerd. Dial a Nerd acts as an outsourced IT department for SMEs, schools and NGOs that require rapid and professional technology support. With a wide variety of products and levels of support available, Dial a Nerd can offer the optimal solution to maximize IT value.