Imagine a future in which time and space are one. You create something in one locale and it appears instantaneously in another. Not just teleporting, but existing in two separate places at the same time. Sounds like science fiction, right? Like something from an episode of Star Trek? Actually, isn’t science fiction, and it isn’t the future. It’s reality…and it is happening now.
No, it isn’t happening with material things. But, it is happening with information. Yes, I’m taking about cloud computing or, more specifically, cloud-based storage. What is the cloud? Simply put, it refers to the Internet. When you store files in the cloud, it means you are storing them online. Therefore, you can create a file, save it to the cloud, and then access it anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to bring your files with you anymore via USB (or floppy drives if you remember those). They are already waiting for you on someone else’s server. Pure magic.
If you are unfamiliar with your options, here are some of the best cloud-based storages services out there right now:
- Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage with up to 18 GB free from referrals (500MB per referral). It also offers premium plans with 100GB for $9.99 per month, 250 GB for $19.99 per month, and 500 GB for $49.99 per month. Mobile apps are available for Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Kindle Fire devices.
- Box (formerly Box.net) offers 5 GB of free storage with 25 GB for $9.99 per month and 50 GB for $19.99 per month. Its premium services include a business plan with 1,000 GB that starts at $45 per month and an enterprise plan that includes unlimited storage. Box has mobile apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, and Windows devices.
- Google Drive probably has the most diverse range of pricing options. The free service includes 5 GB. Its monthly pricing options include: $2.49 for 25 GB, $4.99 for 100 GB, $9.99 for 200 GB, $19.99 for 400 GB, $49.99 for a TB, $99.99 for 2 TB, $199.99 for 4 TB, $399.99 for 8TB, and $799.99 for 16TB. Mobile apps are available on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
- Microsoft SkyDrive offers of 7 GB of storage with its free plan. Its paid plans include 20 GB for $10 per year (yes, this one is annual), 50 GB for $25 per year, and 100 GB for $50 per year. Mobile apps are available on Android, iPhone, iPad, and–of course–Windows devices.
- Apple iCloud is nice if you use an iPhone or iPad for a lot of your data. The automatic introductory service includes 5 GB for free. The premium plans are: $20 per year for 10 GB, $40 per year for 20 GB, and $100 per year for 50 GB. Mobile apps are available for iPhone and iPad.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about security? No doubt, it is an issue. Dropbox, for example, had a security breach on June 20, 2011 in which all its accounts could be accessed without passwords for four hours. That’s pretty scary if you’ve got sensitive and confidential materials to protect. (Who doesn’t?).
On the other hand, instances such as these are rare when contrasted with the amount of times that these services are kept secure. Companies do have an amazing incentive to keep your files secure. It’s really the only thing keeping them in business. So, are you taking a risk when using cloud-based storage? Yes, a fairly large one. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Here’s why.
8 Situations that Will Make You Grateful for Cloud-Based Storage
“My computer just crashed.”
If you’ve got all of your important files (docs, photos, spreadsheets, etc.) saved to the cloud, having a computer crash isn’t so devastating. Prior to the advent of online storage, you would have had to remember to consistently back up your data to an external hard drive. Major headache! Now, you’re covered every time you click the save button. Dealing with a computer crashing is as easy as shelling out a few hundred more bucks to get a new unit.
“I’ve got to give a presentation but forgot my PowerPoint file.”
I’ve been there. You’re searching your laptop frantically and, little by little, your heart begins to sink down into your feet. All of your meticulous research and hours of preparation wasted, because you forgot to transfer the file. Skip the Homer Simpson “Doh” moment and save your presentations to the cloud. That way, you will never again have to wing a 2 hour long technical presentation with no material but hand gestures and shadow puppets.
“I started a document on my PC and have to wait until I get home to finish it.”
You get a few minutes to get some work done, but you’re stuck on a train, waiting in a client’s office, etc. All of a sudden, you remember that you had a write-up to finish. You pull out your laptop and, of course, it’s on your PC at home. With saving documents to the cloud, you can work on them whenever you get just a few minutes.
“I’m on a business trip and want to watch a family video.”
Does the boss have you traveling across the globe? Are you feeling a little homesick? With saving your files to the cloud, you can take your family with you. Look at photos of your kids. Watch your wedding video. If you have it saved on your cloud-based storage service, you can access it. Just don’t stay up too late. You’ve got work to do in the morning.
“I just took a picture with my phone and want to include it in a blog post.”
If you blog for your business or personal/professional development, the best pictures to use are the ones you take yourself. They are unique, authentic, and tend to grab attention. See something funny or thought provoking? Snap a picture of it and save it on the mobile application of your cloud-based storage service. Then, when you find the time, pull it from your account and put it in the blog post.
“I need another copy of my resume/CV/portfolio but don’t have access to my home computer to print it.”
You never know when that potential employer or client is going to need another copy of your work. Maybe you carry around a file folder full of resumes, but eventually you’ll run out. And, I think we can agree, it’s pretty embarrassing not to have a resume on you when someone asks for it. So, save your resume to the cloud. Then, you can pull it out anytime and anywhere should anyone need another copy.
“I need to update a spreadsheet with some new information before I forget it.”
I don’t know what you use spreadsheets for, but I use it to keep track of customer data, financials, and more. What if you had a live spreadsheet that updated automatically whenever you saved it? That’s exactly what saving it to the cloud will do. Add data on one computer and it will still be there when you access it from another.
“I need to review a webpage but don’t have time to read it now.”
There are really cool applications like Instapaper and Evernote (which are cloud-based applications themselves) that do this in a more visually appealing manner, but you can technically use any of the cloud-based storage services above to save web pages as HTML files and pull them up later from any computer with Internet access. Ever try to track down an elusive webpage based on a few keywords that you can remember? It can be pretty frustrating. Solution? Just save it to the cloud and get to it when you get to it.
These situations are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure that there are countless scenarios that are already running through your head–times in which you’ve needed files that you didn’t have access to. Cloud computing isn’t just the future–it’s the present.
Pretty soon, USBs and external hard drives are going to be as rare as VHS tapes and floppy disks. My advice for you is to embrace the technology rather than to fight it. Security is an issue, but it will always be an issue for everything. As individuals and companies become more dependent on cloud-based storage, security will inevitably improve.
Thinking about getting into cloud-based storage but don’t want to pay anything for the premium amounts of storage? Here’s a tip: sign up for all of the services listed above and compartmentalize your files into work, personal, extra-curricular, etc. Since you can access all of the services in the cloud, it only really matters that you know which files are saved on which platforms. If you sign up for the free services for all five of the platforms listed above, you will be getting 24 GB of free storage instantly. My guess is that it will be more than enough to get you hooked.
This blog post is written by a friend, Douglas E Rice. Doug is the small business storyteller, a digital media marketing consultant and copywriter who helps small business people use the power of the web to tell their brand stories. You can find more about him at http://www.douglaserice.com or follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/douglaserice.