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What you need to know about saving on the cloud

It’s one of the most overused terms when it comes to online services, but cloud storage is now pretty much part of everything we do online. So what is it and how much should you depend on it?

AS FAR AS buzzwords and jargon go, the cloud has to be one of the most confusing names out there. Thrown around with wild abandon, it’s a term that is regularly used by services yet never properly explained.

Chances are you’re already relying on one service already, companies such as Adobe, Apple and Microsoft have released products that require syncing to the cloud, so what exactly is it and how much should you depend on it?

Ok, so what exactly is ‘the cloud’?

It’s best to think of it as an online hard drive, where your data is saved on the internet instead of on a physical hard drive.

While the origin behind the name isn’t clear, the most popular reason given is during the early days of network design, the symbol network engineers used to describe the internet was a cloud, because it represented more than just networks and the web.

Unlike physical hard drives which are either fixed in the one location or require you to carry around, you can access cloud storage anywhere that has an internet connection, and over a wide range of devices, most of which can be synced together so each one stays up to date what any changes made.

Many people use it as a backup for photos, documents and other important files, while others use it as an easy way to access certain files from different devices like their work computer or smartphone.

For lower-end smartphones which don’t have much storage in the first place, it’s a handy option to have. Also, smaller businesses which don’t want to spend large amounts on hard drives and their own storage use it as a cheaper option to save data.

Normally, you can access cloud services (and any files you have saved) through the web, but you can also connect them to your smartphones and tablets, all the major services have their own dedicated app, and manage your files remotely.

What services are out there?

The answer is quite a lot, each one has its own strengths and uses or work better with certain products. For this, we’re going to focus solely on consumer products and the free storage each one offers so here are some of the more popular services out there.

3 Selected file actions Dropbox is one of the more popular cloud storage services out there, although it facing increasing competition from the likes of Google and Microsoft. Source: Dropbox

iCloud - Apple’s own cloud service designed for iPhone/iPad users. Unlike the other services, iCloud only saves information you would usually store on your phone or tablet so its use is limited. New users start off with 5GB of storage.
Google Drive
– While best used by those who rely mostly on Google products like Docs or Gmail, Drive can be used by anyone who has a Google account. New users start off with 15GB of storage.
OneDrive
– Previously known as SkyDrive, Microsoft’s offering is most useful if you’re a regular user of Office, Outlook and similar products. New users start off with 7GB of storage, but can increase the amount of space available by completing actions.
Dropbox - One of the more popular third-party cloud services out there although is beginning to be overshadowed by rivals offering larger storage. New users start off with 2GB, but like OneDrive, you can earn extra space (up to 15GB) by recommending friends to the service or following accounts.
Amazon Cloud Drive – The online retailer has been developing its web products and cloud storage is no exception. Users start off with 5GB of storage.
Box.com - Not to be confused with Dropbox, Box.com was created with professionals in mind, but it’s still handy for those who use the cloud for personal reasons. New users get 10GB of space for free.
CloudMe – Another alternative which is growing in popularity, CloudMe is based in Sweden and therefore your data is protected by EU laws. New users start off with 3GB of storage.
SpiderOak – Its focus solely on privacy – a ‘zero-knowledge’ policy means it doesn’t know what your passwords or encryption keys are – makes it one of the most secure cloud services out there. New users start off with 2GB of storage.

All services allow you to pay for extra storage, the majority requiring you to pay a subscription fee to avail of it. This would only be useful if you’re heavily reliant on one particular service.

What if I choose more than one service?

Considering how many options there are out there, and how different the amount of storage space each one offers new users, there’s nothing to say you can’t sign up and rely on two or more services to avail of all that free storage space.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the more services you sign up to, the more complicated it is to manage them.

There are services which can help you manage certain accounts together. One good example would be Primadesk, which can allow you to manage ten accounts, including Dropbox and Google Drive, for free. If you don’t mind spending a bit of cash, Otixo might be a better bet and offers a 14-day trial to get you started.

Source: 0tixo/YouTube

How does it work on smartphones/tablets?

In general, just as well as you would expect. Some services allow you to set up your devices so that any new photos or videos – usually the most common reason for syncing – are automatically uploaded to cloud storage, but for those worried about racking up a large bill from doing this, all services require a WiFi connection first before it uploads automatically. 

Usually, you’re asked what methods you want to use to upload the first time you open an app (always choose WiFi unless you have an amazing data plan), but if there’s any uncertainty, it’s best to check the settings for whatever app you’re using first to make sure.

What are the drawbacks?

Like all things, there are cons to any service, the biggest one being security and privacy. Since your information is online, this becomes more important than ever and you should check up to see what precautions a service offers first before signing up.

Companies like Dropbox have been criticised of not letting users know about certain security vulnerabilities, while one hacker recently found a security flaw in Apple’s iCloud allowing a hacker to unlock a stolen iPhone, which doesn’t inspire confidence if you’re considering saving more than just text files and photos.

In some cases, like for Apple or Microsoft, you’re required to sync and backup your products to the cloud. If privacy is a concern, then you need to be aware that if it’s online, then there’s always a possibility of a security breach occurring.

That said, each service offers encryption to make sure your data is safe but on the users’ end, the best thing to do is to create a strong password (make it as long as possible, use different characters, don’t use the same password for different accounts, etc.) and don’t store sensitive information like bank account details on it.

Apple Apple's iCloud service has recently come under fire after a hacker discovered a security flaw that allows anyone to bypass iCloud's security system and unlock a stolen iPhone. Source: Apple.com

What if I prefer to keep files offline?

Considering how much you can now store on hard drives now, and their price, having one can work well in conjunction with cloud storage, both serving different roles.

The price of physical hard drives has fallen in recent times – a 1TB hard drive cost between €70 – €90 depending on where you look – so there’s no reason not to look into getting one.

The obvious problem is the lack of accessibility – you either have to leave it at home or carry one around with you – meaning it’s better for significantly larger files or files you don’t need to access to immediately.

Read: Facebook to offer its 1.28 billion users a privacy check-up >

Read: Have an eBay account? You need to change your password right now >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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