Monday, July 29, 2013

What's all this fuss about Cloud Storage?

Do you use Dropbox? (If not, why not? It's great, and free.) 

For the uninitiated, Dropbox creates a special folder on your computer (or mobile device). Anything you put in this folder is automatically copied to a big server in the sky (AKA "cloud"), where it provides a safety backup. Also, your information is accessible securely from any computer or device with a web browser, and if you install Dropbox on multiple machines, all local copies of your information will automatically be kept in sync, so you always have the latest version of a document no matter which device you're using. Plus, you can share information with other people (for example, a folder of photos that's too big to email).

Dropbox wasn't the first "cloud" service, but it was the first really successful one, because they smartly made it dead simple to use. And your first 5GB of storage are free (beyond that you pay a monthly fee).

Of course, success breeds imitators, and there are now numerous companies offering cloud storage—the most famous probably being Google, with their Google Drive, who recently upped their free storage allotment to 15GB—three times what Dropbox gives you.

Right now there's a market share war going on, with the various companies competing three ways:
  1. How much free storage you get for signing up
  2. How much you have to pay for extra storage
  3. "Bonus" free storage for getting other people to sign up

I've tried several of the services, in fact I have too many now and I'm going to start paring back. It's nice to get free storage from multiple companies, but (unless you're more organized than I am), it's just too hard to keep track of which file is parked on which service. I'd rather pay a little bit and have everything consolidated. Also, each service you have installed eats a chunk of your computer's RAM memory.

A worry I have is that the startup companies trying to get a toehold in this business may not make it, and if they go belly-up, what happens to my data?

Dropbox may be the easiest service to use, but it's not the most flexible, or the cheapest (they have a little trick where, if you share a file, everybody it's shared with gets charged for the storage it uses, even though only one copy exists on their server). Google Drive is, well, Google—with all that implies (their "Don't be Evil" mantra notwithstanding). I could totally see them searching through your files to look for clues on what ads to show you (like Gmail already does with your emails). Amazon also offers Cloud Drive, with 5GB free and some other features. And Apple users have the privilege(?) of using iCloud, which in theory streamlines automatic syncing between Apple devices (bookmarks, contacts, photos, reminders, etc.), but has drawn lots of complaints for being unreliable (It's weird that a company that does so many things right has never managed to produce a fully satisfactory remote data service. iCloud is their third or fourth try, and it's still not there—although in fairness to Apple, the technology they're trying to implement is considerably more sophisticated than Dropbox and the others.)

Dropbox does have one other advantage: as the earliest successful company in the business, they've garnered support from lots of other software companies. For example, a password manager keeps its encrypted files in your Dropbox so they're automatically available on all your devices (and backed up to the cloud in case disaster strikes).

So where does that leave the user? IMO, everyone should have Dropbox, simply because it's become a de facto standard that almost everybody uses and supports. But if their free 5GB aren't enough for you, you don't have to pay their prices for more: sign up for one of the other services that offer more free space and lower prices.

Personally, I'm liking Here's why:
  1. You get 15GB free, matching Google Drive. 
  2. If you share files, you can "split the tab": everybody doesn't have the entire block of shared storage charged against their account (like Dropbox does). 
  3. It runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. 
  4. Storage over 15GB is cheap. In fact it might even be free (see below). 
  5. They're not some thinly capitalized startup; they're owned by Barracuda which is a large, successful networking company. 
  6. They also offer service plans with features that appeal to businesses. 
They're offering an incentive to get others to sign up (yep, here's the plug). For each person who joins on your recommendation, both you and they get an extra 5GB free beyond the initial 15GB. It's a pretty sweet deal.

So if you're interested, do us both a favor and go here to sign up:

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