Living in the cloud

Cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud this and cloud that.  These are all terms you’ve probably heard before but haven’t really taken the chance to understand.  As an IT professional and a writer I simply cannot emphasize enough the need for this technology.  There are many options for you to start living on the cloud.  All offer free low-capacity space and cross platform applications which are fairly easy to use.  We’re dealing with cloud storage in particular here.

What is the “cloud”?

Cloud computing is the term applied to making the internet do some computational work for you.  That’s a very, very simplified answer.  Unlike what the name suggests you still need some very established hardware backbones to operate “the cloud”.  In the case of cloud storage its often massive storage networks hosted by the service providers that you connect to.  Another variation of the cloud is processing.  Essentially this takes all the available processor power of the computers connected to the internet and uses them to crunch nearly infinite routines for science.  There are many free apps that use this technology.  Once installed on your computer you “donate” the spare CPU on your system so that these people can solve the mysteries of science.  Many of them are used to find cures for diseases like cancer and aids.

The main reason the name “cloud” has been applied to these technologies is that we don’t need to be within a certain network or infrastructure to use them.  We also don’t need to be a member of that network – to some extent.  Working with cloud storage means you can connect from anywhere to any digital resources you have on the cloud.  You can share them with anybody.  It provides the average computer user with great enterprise class file services.

Why should I use cloud storage?

The answer to this question depends on who’s asking it.  For an IT Administrator you talk about cost savings, backups and disaster recovery.  For the average person the biggest reason is backups.  Do you have a backup?  When was the last time you backed up?  Do you store the backup on an external hard drive or DVD?  My guess is that 90% of people answered no to the first two or yes to the last question.  The simple fact is even if you’re doing all that it isn’t enough.  If the tragic happens and your computers are destroyed your backup will likely go with it.  Where do you store your backups?  The answer is likely close by the computer you back up.  You can plainly see why that won’t help you if a fire or other disaster destroys all those digital memories.  Cloud storage does.  It creates a backup system that is away from your home and immune to the things that hit your house.

Another big advantage is access anywhere to your files.  Got a PowerPoint you need to show to some clients but forgot your thumb drive?  Boom, it’s on the cloud.  Have some photos to show your loved ones on your TV?  Boom, the cloud.  Need to make a quick change and print a file you have on your computer while on the road?  Yup, jump onto the cloud.  Essentially any computer or device with access to the internet gets you into your stuff in a few short clicks.  With tablets (some more than others) your user settings and profile information travels from computer to computer as you do.  Suddenly you don’t need to take your computer with you.

Which service should I use?

Microsoft Skydrive.  I have to confess to some personal bias on this one.  As a Windows Phone user I have been using this service for over a year and loving it.  SkyDrive offers a lot of the same features that Google Drive and Dropbox do but has one significant advantage; Microsoft Office.  Whenever you log into the web interface you have full access to the latest and greatest office suite.  That’s right, MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint free!  The SkyDrive app works on all computers and mobile devices.  It adds a link to your computer that looks like any other drive already there.  The integration is seamless!  One of the reasons I chose to use SkyDrive is how it links all my Microsoft devices together.  Many of you probably use Windows based computers and have an XBox 360 in your homes.  SkyDrive works on all these devices and lets you view and edit documents across the board.  Because it integrates into your explorer backing up your essential files is a cinch; just copy and paste.  Mac OS folks aren’t left out either.  Microsoft has shown an impressive amount of foresight with this technology.  SkyDrive is nearly as full featured on Mac and iOS devices as it is on their own systems.  Works just about the same.

Best of all the service is free.  If you have Hotmail or other MS Live you’ll find setup even easier.  For a nominal fee you can increase your storage by as much as 100gb for $50 a year.  This pricing makes SkyDrive by far the best value amongst other cloud storage services.  To add some perspective 100Gb is around 20 single-layer DVDs worth of stuff.  My entire documents folder is sync’ed with my SkyDrive account and uses less than 7Gb, excluding photos.  The best part is I can work on my manuscript wherever and whenever I want; no longer do I have to wait to be home at my computer.

The morale of the story is if you’re not on a cloud storage system you should be.  You have a lot of high value items on your computer which may not be backed up right, or at all.  For that reason alone you should give applications like SkyDrive a look.

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