Everyone has probably had the same experience, a lost phone full of photos, a laptop that just packs it in for no apparent reason or even a keydrive that gets misplaced with some important documents. The chances of loosing data that is critical or images and files that have sentimental value like family photos being deleted or not transferred from a phone to somewhere more secure is a worry that people seem to ignore. The truth is that we’ve all probably lost something digital at some point or another, but there is a better way. The cloud.
It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot by software companies or tech people about the way that things are going. Everyone seems to be a the very least somewhat aware of the cloud, but just in case the easiest way to think of it is that the term is one of those catch-all expressions used to talk about storing data or running apps and programs, not on your physical PC in front of you, but on some server somewhere in a big data center, quite possibly on the other side of the world.
Facebook for example stores the info and pictures you upload in the cloud, that is to say that it has warehouses full of machines where your data exists, but nothing is in your own computer. Apps can now be run in this remote manner too. For example, Microsoft now allow you to subscribe to their Office suite and run Word and Excel through your browser rather than having to purchase the full product and install on your computer.
More and more companies are moving to the cloud option as they get more of your data on their systems which gives them more insight into their consumers and therefore sell you more services. It also means that they can get you on subscription services monthly which is better for everyone over time. So the cloud is definitely here to stay and isn’t something we should shy away from simply because the term is so broad and general.
There is, for the consumer, a really useful aspect to the cloud and that is online storage. While there has been done reluctance on the part of businesses to embrace this due to perceived security concerns, or the unwillingness to allow company data to be stored anywhere but on in-house machines, for the personal user this shouldn’t be an issue. Cloud based storage allows for two really useful functions; firstly you can get at your files anywhere and at any time. This may not have been so important a few years ago I often find myself looking up documents and files while out and about or travelling, and it saves me from having to carry a laptop or drive everywhere. Secondly and most importantly, backup. With a little bit of simple setup you can set up your cloud storage to automatically backup your personal documents and not just on your PC, you can also ensure that your phone photos and videos are kept securely in the event that you lose your device.
Some reading this may think that it’s not necessary to back up to the cloud if you are the type of person that regularly copies everything to external storage or backup drives, and, while this is great practice, there’s always the dreaded what if, or that important file that might get lost in the interim. Without trying to be an alarmist, the worst can and does happen from time to time, be it fire, flood or whatever and having your important data off-site can only be a good thing. Besides, the comfort of knowing that it’s all automated and running constantly means that you don’t need to think about it once it’s up and running.
There are many of these services available but for this post I’ll just mention 3, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. The reason I bring up these is that they are probably the best known, and while you may or may not have heard of Dropbox or Google Drive, chances are your struggling to remember why OneDrive sounds so familiar. Well the reason for this is that it’s pre-installed on most Microsoft Windows versions for the last few years and, as it’s part of the operating system, is probably already up and running. Microsoft, like Dropbox, give you a small amount of free storage space once you activate your account, and you may find that this is enough for normal home use, so given that it’ll cost you nothing, there’s no reason not to try. Of course if you need additional space you can pay a small monthly subscription fee and, in the case of Dropbox for example you’ll get 1 terabyte of storage for about €9.99. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with sizes and don’t really get what that equates to, but 1tb is bigger than the hard drive on most laptops and PCs at the moment, so you’ll be able to back up everything.
There’s another advantage to this cloud based option, the ability to synchronize your files across multiple machines. This is ideal if you do a lot of your work on a desktop, but then travel with a laptop. You can just allow the selected folders to sync and you have your files anywhere you are. Even take that one step further, now when you buy a new laptop in a year or so, you can install the Dropbox or OneDrive app, login and just let it pull all your files down from the storage account automatically. No need to fiddle with cables or copy to a portable drive then copy back to the new machine.
Slowly but surely the move is on to make your machine simply the terminal that you work on and, this means that you can sign into your new phone or laptop and your files and soon preferences and settings will sync from the cloud. Microsoft in particular are pushing towards a time when you can login to any Windows PC and it will be like working from your own device as everything is stored remotely and cloud servers remember your programs, bookmarks and settings.