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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
Storage in the Cloud
By: Robert Malinowski, DVM, MA
Robert Malinowski, DVM, MA

In today’s connected world, there are many options available to ensure that you have immediate access to all of your files from anywhere, and on any device. Gone are the days of being constrained by one copy of a file saved to a disc or trapped on a particular computer’s hard drive in your office. With today’s technologies, your files are only a click away. It’s also easy to share files with others to enable fast and secure collaboration.

One of the most popular options available today is called Dropbox. This is a service that lets you store your files online and then access them later from desktops, laptop, tablets or phones. You can store any type of file you like, such as Word documents, pictures and video clips in your Dropbox. After installing a simple application, Dropbox automatically syncs your file collection between all of your digital devices. This means that there is always a “local” copy of the file available on your device. Even if you don’t have an internet connection, you can still access and work on your files. If you make changes, such as editing a document or cropping a photo, Dropbox will pass those changes along to your other devices the next time an internet connection is available.

Sharing files with others is very easy to do with Dropbox. When you’re ready to share, simply invite your friends, colleagues or family members to join one of your Dropbox folders using their e-mail address. The system will contact them with the details they need and walk them through the process of signing up for an account. The process is very quick and easy.

Dropbox, like many cloud based storage solutions, offers several different tiers of membership. The most popular level is called Basic membership and is completely free. This is a good place to start and see if you like using Dropbox. With this plan, you can save up to 2GB of files in the cloud. Of course, there are many things you can do to earn “bonus” space in the system. The easiest way to expand your personal cloud is to get your friends to sign up too. While this may sound like a pyramid scheme, it’s completely legitimate. You’ll quickly see the bonuses pouring in as your share your vacation photos with Uncle Frank and your TPS reports with Bob in accounting. For each friend that signs up, you receive an extra 500GB of storage on Dropbox. There are several other ways to earn bonuses, such as linking Dropbox to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, or sending feedback to the Dropbox team. There are usually a few different special opportunities available each year, so be sure to check out the “get more space” page frequently.

While Dropbox is a force to be reckoned with, it isn’t the only option out there. Another major contender is called Microsoft OneDrive. Right out of the gate, OneDrive seems a little bit nicer by offering up to 7GB of storage space in its free basic plan. It’s also the only provider that allows you to sync your files with a Windows Phone device and an Xbox. While Windows Phone users seem to be hard to find, the Xbox is an extremely popular gaming platform that also functions as a media center in the living room environment. Imaging being able to access music, photos and videos stored in your personal cloud on your Xbox. This could make for some interesting possibilities. OneDrive is also geared toward business users and has built-in integration with Microsoft Office products. This allows you to share Office documents with others with great features such as web-based viewing and editing. Dropbox doesn’t do so well in this area. Overall, OneDrive is a very capable product that has a bit more integration with entertainment and business environments than Dropbox does at this time. If the 7GB free plan isn’t enough for you, it’s easy to add 50GB, 100GB or even 200GB of storage at a very reasonable price.

Of course, there are many other services out there that have similar features. There’s a lot of competition in this area, so that tends to lead to cheaper prices for everyone. Over the last couple of years, the amount of storage available in the free plans has increased dramatically. You may also want to explore solutions such as Google Drive, Box.com and Amazon Cloud Drive to see what’s best for you. While they’re all pretty easy to use, you may find certain products more attractive if you use your Xbox a lot, or spend a lot of time in the Amazon ecosystem, for example. Since they all offer free plans, I highly recommend signing up for several (at no cost!) to see what works best for you.

Cloud storage services are plentiful and, in addition to automatically backing up your files, give you a great way to access your digital assets from anywhere in the world on many different types of devices. You no longer have to spend time copying files to and from media, such as CDs/DVDs and USB drives to make sure it’ll be available when you need it. With cloud storage, it’s always. Cumbersome e-mail attachments are a thing of the past as well. Simply share your files with a service like Dropbox and Aunt Janet can have instant access to all 943 of your vacation photos without overwhelming her email in-box. Isn’t technology wonderful?