Cloud storage: what are your options?Comment on this story
Cape Town - It seems that just about everyone is offering cloud storage these days and it's something you should be using too. But how do you choose the right cloud storage option that suits you?
What is cloud storage? Well, simply put, it's all about having a backup hard drive drive on the Internet that you can access from just about any computer that has Internet access. So instead of lugging around a USB stick (and losing it) or an external hard drive, users can copy files to their cloud storage and download them to another computer.
But cloud storage is more than just a place to leave files online. You can also use cloud storage apps to automatically back up certain folders on your hard drive so that the second you create a file in that folder it uploads to your cloud drive. So if your hard drive crashes, getting all your important files back is an absolute cinch and you don't need to worry about backing up to an external drive every day.
And if you work across multiple machines, for example a work machine at the office, a home PC and a laptop, you can set up your cloud storage accounts to automatically keep your My Documents up to date on each machine.
The beauty of cloud storage is that you can also share certain folders on your cloud storage application with others, allowing for cloud storage to become a shared backup facility where files can be swapped. This works great in small business environments as there is no longer a need for a complicated network set up. Everyone has their own cloud storage account and within it shared folders where they collaborate. Collaboration takes place across devices as well - a PC, a Mac, a phone or an iPad.
There are two major considerations when looking at cloud storage. Firstly, there are several major players in this space and each of them offer a free service and paid services for when users need extra space.
Secondly, cloud storage consumes a lot of bandwidth usage and data takes time to up/download. Telkom has some competitive pricing around uncapped ADSL accounts, which we'll detail after unpacking the various cloud storage options.
Dropbox is by far the easiest cloud storage application to use and it works across just about every operating system, phone or tablet today. That includes Android devices, iOS devices (iPhone, iPad), Blackberry (it's the only cloud storage solution that has a Blackberry app) and even Symbian. On the desktop it works on Mac, Windows and even Linux.
How does it work? Simply install the application on a PC and it creates a folder called 'dropbox'. Treat that folder like any other and all those files are automatically uploaded to the cloud storage. Existing folders can be included on the upload.
Pricing-wise, Dropbox offers 2GB free to anyone who signs up with the option to increase this to 18GB through friend invites.
Over and above that, the cost is as follows:
100GB for $9.99 a month (about R100) or $99 a year (about R1000)
200GB for $19.99 a month (about R200) or $199 a year (about R2000)
500GB for $49.99 a month (about R500) or $499 a year (about R5000)
However, it's worth noting that Samsung phone and tablet users receive 50GB free space for two years (from the Samsung Galaxy S3 and upwards) and HTC phones receive a free 25GB account free for two years.
Once the two years are up you retain whatever space you are using but lose any free space.
Google Drive offers the usual basics on cloud storage but also integrates with the spectrum of Google's offerings such as Google Docs, Gmail and Google+ (its social network).
Google Docs allows for real-time online collaboration on word and excel files using a browser. The down-side is that files must be converted to Google's format when uploading, which is easy to do, but there may be some conversion problems when downloading the file again.
The upside with Gmail is that any attachments on any mail can be moved to Drive and edited or viewed easily (including PDF files).
Google Drive runs on any Android or iOS device (iPhone, iPad) as well as Windows or Mac, over and above its browser-based interface.
Google offers 15GB free space across Google Drive, Gmail and Google+. The latter is an interesting addition due to its photo offerings - users can upload HD photos and use the instant-upload feature on their phone, so that the second they take a photo its automatically backed up to their Google+ photos. These photos can then be shared across social networks or privately quite easily.
But if users are looking only for a photo solution, Flickr - the online photo sharing website - now offers users 1TB of free space.
Google's pricing on Google Drive is better than DropBox - starting at $4.99 (about R50) a month for 100GB, $9.99 (about R100) a month for 200GB and $19.99 (about R2000) a month for 400GB.
Skydrive is Microsoft's offering in the cloud storage space and it therefore integrates very well with Windows and Microsoft Office and also Windows Phone. It has an app for Android and iOS as well as Mac. Also, it integrates with the Xbox 360, which is an interesting addition. It also offers free email with Microsoft's LIVE email service.
Like Google Drive, Skydrive offers web-based collaborative document editing. However, this can be done through Microsoft Office on the user's computer as well. For example, writing a document and having it backed up onto the users' Skydrive while working on the document is done right in Word. The collaboration can take place on this level across Windows operating systems devices including Windows Phone 8.
Skydrive provides 7GB free space to users. From there it is $10 a year (about R100) for 20GB, $25 (about R250) a year for 50GB and $50 (about R500) a year for 100GB.
So who to go for?
Many like Dropbox's ease-of-use and this is worth noting. However, when looking at the pricing, Dropbox is quite expensive.
Skydrive and Google compete nicely by using a different pricing model - Google has a monthly cost while Skydrive has only a yearly cost. Perhaps the best way to decide between the two is to look at its additional services.
Windows and Office users may find Skydrive a brilliant option, while staunch Google supporters who have bought into Gmail and Google Docs will obviously see the benefit of Google Drive. Here it will come down to deciding whose office suites and applications are going to be more suited to the user, and that will come down to personal preference.
Whichever option you go for, you'll need to seriously consider how you use your cloud storage and what Internet accounts you have. First of all, if you want to get a large amount of data (photos for example) into cloud, it's going to require a large amount of bandwidth. Furthermore your line speed will determine how quickly that data loads onto your cloud storage
If you decide to use your cloud accounts to keep more than one PC up to date with your latest documents or if you use the auto-upload feature for pictures taken on your phone you're going to consume a lot more data on a monthly basis.
Here you may want to look at a Telkom Do Uncapped option with a 4 Mbps line (R699 per month) or a 10 Mbps line (R999) if it is available in your area.
There are slow line speed options with uncapped accounts, but bear in mind your upload and download speeds will be slower. - Do Gaming