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Cloud Computing and Cloud Storage: A Quick Consumers’ Guide

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Cloud based computing is convenient, but is it safe?

Cloud based computing is convenient, but is it safe?

Pretty much everyone uses cloud computing and/or cloud storage in some form or fashion, whether you know it or not. From web-based email services, like Gmail or Hotmail, or file sharing services, like Dropbox, we all use the cloud daily to send, receive, and store data.

Besides using the cloud to send and receive emails, you can also use the cloud to back up important files, store files, or share files. The cloud replaces the need for any sort of external hard drive or physical device to back up and store your files, and you can access your files from any device, at any time, as long as you have internet connectivity. Cloud storage is also ideal for storing very large files, like photos or video, where space or safety is a concern.

Providers for cloud-based services are seemingly endless, so how do you know if you are finding the best cloud storage for your needs, and if it’s safe?

The way the cloud works is that cloud-based service providers, Dropbox for example, store all of the files and data you save on servers: personal information, photos, you name it. Because the files are stored on servers, rather than on a local hard drive, you are able to back up and access your data and files from multiple devices. So the convenience factor can’t be beat, but we take for granted the fact that cloud-based storage providers are storing our files properly and safely – and with added convenience comes added risk.

Because cloud computing is still a relatively new concept for consumers, they may feel overwhelmed and make poor choices. The first step when choosing a safe provider that also fits your needs is to take in a few cloud-based safety considerations. These considerations include checking out the company’s security standards, looking into whether data is encrypted before being uploaded or downloaded and when it’s stored in the cloud, and understanding your options should your data be hacked or lost.

Unfortunately, in many cases you get what you pay for. For example, a free cloud-based service provider has to make a profit somehow, and sometimes that means your data could be stored or mined for marketing or advertising purposes. If you choose to use one of the free providers, read the fine print to find out who holds your content, and if your data is encrypted when you download or upload a file.

There are providers that are both reliable and inexpensive, however. It all depends on your storage and data needs.

Top cloud-based providers for personal storage and business storage vary widely because of clients’ varying needs for security and additional features. If you are looking for a cloud storage provider strictly for personal use, you probably won’t need many features and shouldn’t pay extra for something you’ll never use. Instead, and if you have a budget for the purpose, use that money to pay for a provider tailored for personal use that offers protection and safety features that you will want and need. Some of the top providers for consumer use are Dropbox, Backblaze and Google Drive.

Dropbox is a crowd-pleaser with its very basic, easy-to-use system. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but it does what it needs to (create, add, delete, edit, etc.) and it will work on any device no matter your operating system. It isn’t the cheapest if you need a ton of space, but for the average consumer, it’s safe and reliable and relatively inexpensive for up to 1000GB of data storage. In fact, Dropbox was recently named the top providers in PC Advisor’s list of the “7 best cloud storage services” and reviewed as one of “The top 10 personal cloud-storage services” by ZDNet.

Backblaze is one of the few providers that offer true unlimited storage space and file size. It also happens to be one of the most basic and inexpensive with only one payment plan, which you can pay by the month ($5 per day), or year ($50 per year). Backblaze is also very safe, using military-grade encryption, and supports external drive backup. This provider is ideal for the average consumer because it’s easy to use, fast, and reliable. The only complaint is that versioning is not unlimited so you can’t keep older files over 30 days.

Google Drive, formerly Google Docs, is a relatively new provider, offering 5GB of service, with apps for Android, PC, and Mac devices (something not all providers offer). The Google Drive system is simple and easy to use. A favorite feature is the Google Drive Sync tools that put a folder on your computer that acts as a “dropbox.” There are multiple payment plans, and if you are on Gmail, an upgrade will earn you an extra free 25GB of space on your account too. Google Drive encrypts data between your computer and the Google servers, and you retain 100% ownership of your files (per their service agreement).

If the services are not free, or you need more data storage, most of these providers offer free trials of anywhere from 10 to 30 days so you can try out the features, but the most important thing to consider when ensuring the safety of the provider is to do your research. Make a list of necessities and make sure your provider protects your files and tailors its services to your needs. While cloud-based computing and storage can be scary or overwhelming, saving files somewhere you can’t see or touch, it really has become in some ways the best option for backing up and sharing files and data.

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About Alyssa Sellors

Alyssa Sellors is an English and Journalism educator as well as a freelance writer and journalist. She has been teaching for seven years and enjoys the challenges of teaching writing to high school students. She is a regular contributor to a number of publications and speaks at annual conferences on topics regarding scholastic journalism. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her husband and two chihuahuas.