Not too long ago, networking connected computers to the internet, but the information was all stored locally. Data was stored on a variety of media, such as floppy discs, hard drives, Zip drives, optical discs and flash drives, or even more exotic substrates including data tape, and cassettes. For many years, the best way to have the data available to the computer was to have it directly attached to the computer on a storage media. Similarly, backups were done to media via a local drive.
Transferring the data between computers in a home environment was frequently done via moving the media and sometimes drive between computers, in what was somewhat tongue-in-cheek termed “The Sneakernet” — referring to walking between the computers with the data.
This accounts for the number of USB flash drives sold, and why many of us had them close by in our pockets or around lanyards on our necks for years, as it was an easy solution to shuttle work between work and home computers.
With the development of faster and more stable bandwidth via broadband, there was an increasing movement for browser based applications and services. Much of this was achieved by having software and data being stored via the internet, getting away from the previous local storage model. This was termed “Cloud Computing,” and “Cloud Storage.” While these phrases have integrated into the fabric of internet nomenclature, let’s take a step back on this fundamental and profound shift in computing.
Having data stored in a central location, for Cloud Storage, now opened up many new possibilities. One that immediately comes to mind is allowing users to collaborate on a single document via a service such as Google Documents. Another example is sharing an online calendar to facilitate events and meetings. Cloud Storage is also more resilient to data loss as while the more industrious of us will have a “Backup Plan” for their data, with a hard drive or two that backs things up, hopefully with some software that does it on a frequent, or even better, continuous basis.
However, with Cloud Storage, the provider will have the data backed up at multiple data centers for a much higher degree of redundancy, making data loss a very unlikely possibility. (On a personal note, it is for this reason that I do my professional writing on Google Drive via the integrated Google Documents these days after having multiple storage drives die with no warning losing all their data).
Enter the wireless revolution
Much of the computing revolution over the last decade has been the shift to mobile. Fancy iPhones and Android devices were critical to this transition, as well as the high speed data networks, such as 4G LTE. However, it could be argued that equally important to this transition was the availability of Cloud Computing on the backend. Services such as Google Play Music for Android users, or access to the iCloud Music Library for the Apple faithful were critical to a compelling user experience for audio, as well analogous services for images such as Google Photos. After all, a continuous high speed data mobile connection has significantly less value with nothing to transfer.
The move to “The Cloud” was hardly a smooth transition. While today there are plenty of options for online storage, this was not always the case. Before Google Drive came standard on every Android device, which as an aside folks were referring to as “Gdrive” for months before the official launch as it was heavily rumored, folks would simply attach the document to be stored as an attachment to an email. While it was a bit of a clunky workaround, it was one simple way to get a document into the cloud, and most folks had two or more email accounts to transfer documents this way- when the goal was really to store them.
With the ubiquity now of Cloud Storage, our data is liberated from our computer. We can now access for viewing, as well as manipulate data, even in a collaborative fashion, from a variety of platforms, from any location with an internet connection. What this translated to is we no longer need a USB flash drive on our neck that could stop working without any notice, and now confidently get work done from the local coffee shop, with our files saved remotely. Now that is progress.
“The Cloud” has represented a leap forward in the technology of the web, and in turn computing in general. With data stored on the network, it became accessible, literally instantly from everywhere, and from multiple platforms. After the overview, we wanted to drill down to some of the more specific services that power this technology at the intersection of networking and storage. Included are the perennial favorites, and some lesser known ones as well.
Google Drive is a popular service from the search engine behemoth. Enhancing the popularity is that the mobile app for Google Drive is preloaded on Android phones, and the increasingly popular Chromebooks.
The access is as simple as the login for your Gmail account, and the free tier of storage is 15 GB of data. Enhancing the functionality are the integrated apps: Docs, Sheets and Slides that mimic their Microsoft Office counterparts of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Additional storage can be purchased at 100 GB for $1.99/month and 1 TB for $9.99/month. Google Drive can also leverage Google search to find a file in your account.
With all this going for it, there are still some downsides. The 15 GB gets shared across the other Google services including email attachments in Gmail, and Google Photos so it can get filled up quickly for heavy users of these other services. There is also the concern of “Big Brother Google” watching, and giving them even more info than what they already have may be of concern to some users.
Still, Google Drive has great cross platform compatibility, and works on smartphones (as long as they are not a Windows Phone), tablets and computers of all types.
Anything that Google can do, Microsoft tries to do also. While Microsoft may try to do it better, at times, their OneDrive feels like an also ran of Google Drive, and falls short in some areas.
The free version of OneDrive offers a less generous 5 GB of data to start. For $1.99/month, an additional 50 GB of space can be purchased. There are simplified versions of Microsoft’s Office software of Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
While it may not offer more space than others, either for free or paid, it still has plenty of popularity. No doubt contributing to this is that OneDrive is preloaded with Windows 10 (and Windows 8.1), and has cross platform support for iOS, Android, and for the few users of Windows Phone that are left out of the Google party. Integration of OneDrive with an Office 365 subscription is offered for those that prefer using Office as a subscription for $6.99/month, and then they toss in 1 TB of storage space.
An added feature is that OneDrive supports annotation of PDF’s, so signing them digitally is a nice bonus.
Another major player in the cloud storage space is Apple with their iCloud Drive. Not surprisingly, it is tightly integrated across Apple’s hardware such as the iPhone, and iPad, giving file access to mobile users. However, nothing is preventing a Windows user from using the iCloud Drive, as long as they have signed up for an AppleID.
The included storage is 5 GB, the same as Microsoft’s OneDrive. Of note, files purchased from Apple’s content, such as iBooks and iTunes stores do not count in the 5 GB total. Additional storage can be purchased for:
• 50 GB- $0.99 monthly
• 200 GB- $2.99 monthly
• 1 TB- $9.99 monthly
• 2 TB- $19.99 monthly
There are also included apps to edit Microsoft Office documents using Pages, Numbers and Keynote.
Getting away from the tech behemoths is Dropbox. The free plan includes 2 GB of data, with the option of a Pro plan with 1 TB for $9.99 monthly. While the basic plan has the lowest amount of storage space, it can go up by inviting friends, completing activities, and connecting Facebook and Twitter accounts. Dropbox also has Android and iOS apps for easy, mobile access.
Dropbox Paper is an included app that can be used for document creation; it is currently in beta.
Amazon gets plenty of attention, but their online storage offering seems to fly under the radar these days. Perhaps that is due to the situation that there is no free offering currently, although there was one previously.
Rather, for Amazon Prime users in addition to faster shipping and Amazon Video, another included benefit is 5 GB of storage, as well as unlimited storage of photos. The step up plan has unlimited storage for $59.99 annually, which offers more storage than competitor’s 1 TB plans, for less money, making this a good deal for users with mega storage requirements.
This is another dedicated cloud storage option. MediaFire has apps for mobile access on smartphones and tablets. There is a free option which includes 10 GB of data, and a 1 TB Pro option, that is $5 month-to-month, or $3.75 if prepaid annually. There is also an option to get up to 50 GB of storage on the free plan through referrals.
Yet another option in this cloud storage space is SugarSync.
The idea here is to synchronize files that are on the computer, and SugarSync keeps them all up to date. This approach may have its appeal, but there is no free option here. After a free 30 day trial, the cost is $7.49 for 100 GB, $9.99 for 250 GB, or $18.95 for 500 GB, making it more expensive than competitor offerings from a pure storage for dollars standpoint.
There are plenty of options currently in the area of cloud storage. Whether integrated with other services, such as Google’s or Microsoft’s offerings, or a stand alone service such as Box or MediaFire, these have become convenient ways to store and collaborate on data and documents.
Feel free to share your cloud storage experiences in the comments below, and let us know of any cloud storage services that we missed.