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Cloud Storage

Computer Column #349

We often have written about cloud storage of computer files. Recent changes in some cloud systems have greatly increased their usefulness. Cloud storage is a figurative reference to storing your computer files on some company’s large computer system reached over the Internet. The object is to protect the files from loss and to allow access by multiple devices or users. There are many available cloud storage systems.

Some companies provide storage for governments and large corporations. Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, has a worldwide network of online storage servers with thousands of commercial and government customers. AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon.com where people buy clothing, books, or electronics online. IBM, Microsoft, Google, and others also serve big companies. There are elaborate features that control who in a company can access specific kinds of information.

Individuals and small businesses will find cloud storage worthwhile, too. Collectors, dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, conservators, authors, and other antiquers can improve computer safety and convenience with suitable cloud storage systems. Though they differ in features and price, they are often free for small amounts of data but have charges for large amounts. Some are even installed as part of a computer’s operating system or office suite.

Cloud systems for small users differ in the nature of their services. Some are aimed at saving your data in the event of a computer crash, ransomware attack, or theft of the computer. In the worst case, the software may have to be reinstalled or repurchased, but the data files will be sitting on the cloud waiting to be used. Some cloud systems add the ability to store a complete hard drive image so the software can be automatically restored.

Some systems store only specific files chosen by the user. Others automatically store all files in specific categories such as documents or photos. Cloud systems associated with an office suite such as Microsoft Office 365 have tools for collaboration between computer users such as coauthors in different locations. The camera in a smartphone and many stand-alone cameras can be set to automatically upload pictures to a cloud server.

Cloud brands are competitively priced and frequently upgraded. If prices were quoted as this is written, they could easily change by publication time. Therefore, prices will be described as “above,” “about,” or “below” midrange. A midrange price for storing 1 terabyte (1 TB = 1000 gigabytes) of data is $60 to $90 per year. But check current prices on the links listed.

Microsoft OneDrive

Users of the office suite Microsoft Office 365 for both Windows and Macintosh (www.onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/plans) have the option of storing documents on their computer, on the Microsoft OneDrive cloud, or both. Apps for mobile device access are available. Small amounts of data are stored for free. The cost of storing larger amounts is about midrange. Many applications other than Microsoft Office 365 can access OneDrive. If an application cannot, files are easily stored and retrieved using the built-in Windows File Explorer or Macintosh Finder. The folder organization of OneDrive is up to the user. Because OneDrive is available to all Windows users and all Microsoft Office 365 users—regardless of the operating system—it is an easy choice for many computer owners.

For years, I have routinely stored copies of the manuscripts for these columns on OneDrive. If a question from the Maine Antique Digest editorial staff comes up while I am traveling, a correction or rewrite can be done on a tablet or smartphone. Of course, the files are password-protected.

Apple iCloud Drive

Macintosh users may want to use iCloud Drive (www.apple.com/icloud/icloud-drive). It safely stores documents while making them accessible via mobile devices. Some of the bells and whistles of other cloud systems are missing from iCloud, but this is a good choice for those devoted to Apple. Software for using iCloud in Windows is available. Small amounts of data are free; modest amounts of data are inexpensive. Larger amounts are within midrange.

Google Drive

Anyone with a free Google account can use the cloud service. In September 2017, Google announced that the old Google Drive and Photos cloud was being replaced by a new cloud system. This update primarily affected users of the Google Drive desktop and mobile applications—web browser users may notice no changes. You can download the new Google Backup and Sync application at the following site (www.google.com/drive/download). It works on Windows and Macintosh computers, as well as most mobile devices. Most reviews of Google Drive have yet to catch up with the upgrade.

Formerly, Drive would both store files chosen by the user and automatically back up most photographs stored on the computer or mobile devices. It also backed up files on mobile devices. Google Backup and Sync automatically stores all files in the Windows or Macintosh computer’s “document” folder by default as opposed to acting as a separate file repository. Drive remains the cloud storage location, while Backup and Sync accomplishes its eponymous activities as a now-separate function. As documents are edited, the service saves previous versions for 30 days or 100 revisions.

The user can elect to add other categories and file sources. For instance, data files from my homegrown antiques dealer point-of-sale software are now stored with Google’s cloud service. Several thousand music files for compulsory ice dance are now backed up on Google’s cloud, too. Users of Google Gmail have their correspondence saved automatically, but users of other e-mail software can also choose to have their e-mail records backed up to Google Drive. Photograph storage and mobile device backup are still done as well. Space for modest amounts of data and pictures is free with a free Google account. The cost of cloud storage for a useful amount of backup is a little above midrange. It all works well, but the help files are skimpy (www.support.google.com/drive/#topic=14940). You may have to use Google searches and a bit of experimentation. For example, I could not find the versions of a document until I right-clicked on the document’s cloud listing. A listing of the past 18 versions appeared with a menu of possible actions.

Other Services

One newer service that is highly rated is IDrive (www.idrive.com) for Windows or Macintosh. It has many good features, and storage cost is well within the midrange. Special attention is given to compliance with federal security laws. A free trial for a small amount of data is available, and there are special limited-time rates offered below midrange for the first year for storage of up to 2 TB. CertainSafe® Digital Safety Deposit Box (www.certainsafe.com) provides highly secure storage for sensitive data. Prices are midrange. Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) is an old favorite. It is often used for transferring files too large to attach to e-mail. It can be used for general backup, however. There is a small free account, and larger accounts are within midrange pricing. One advantage is that many mobile apps and operating systems, including Android, iOS, Windows, and Macintosh, facilitate connections to Dropbox once the user’s security information is entered.

Box (www.box.com) for Windows and Macintosh is rated well. It is collaboration-oriented and targets business users. There is a small free account, and prices for large amounts of storage are below midrange. There are many other cloud servers for individuals and small businesses available, which you can find by searching for online reviews. You might start with the 2017 PC Magazine roundup (www.pcmag.com/roundup/306323/the-best-cloud-storage-providers-and-file-syncing-services), but it does not cover the Google Drive updates. There may be a cloud service that exactly fits your needs and budget.

Users of operating systems other than Windows or Macintosh have a tougher time finding cloud storage, although there is a website listing possible options for Linux users (www.makeuseof.com/tag/10-cloud-solutions-using-linux).

Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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