The Era of Cloud Storage Services

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Cloud Computing
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If you are able to read this post chances are that you have been an online slave to the unending prevalence of the big buzz word of 2011, cloud computing and the cloud. This has spilled over to 2012 and we are seeing quite a number of services premiere with each passing day. From what has been happening of late, you are yet to hear the last of it; in fact the cloud is here to stay. And it will bring
with it rain that will cause the flooding of open spaces for us all to store our data “up there”, access and manipulate it in real time and since we are in an era where almost everything is shared, offer us limitless capabilities on how to share and with whom to share.

Cloud services have brought with them numerous benefits to the normal user and small businesses; of course I don’t have to mention big businesses that are already miles into this. For small businesses and individual users, they don’t have to deploy physical  infrastructure like file and email servers, storage systems etc., the cloud takes care of all that.

Locally, that is in Kenya, telecommunication leader by subscriber base Safaricom Ltd, runs the Safaricom Cloud. This is well suited for businesses and the average user may not require all the storage capabilities and other features offered by it or afford the cost. Nor will they require use of advanced cloud storage services like those from Amazon (its Cloud Drive is free for 5Gb but access is restricted to flash-ready devices, a major disadvantage). So what should you go for? There are many products currently in the market. Many more are still within months or days of official launches and rumours are flying all over about the extra features they will be bringing to the average user who just wants something that simply guarantees him/her 99% uptime and full access to their files anywhere anytime with easy syncing with all their devices be it a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet or any other device that can access the internet.
Most of these offer some substantial amount of free storage and charge affordable rates for upgrading to limitless storage or increasing the storage capacity. Yes I am talking about the Dropboxes of this world.

Here is a quick look at some of the available cloud storage services that are well suited for the average user. Note that my focus is on storage for the average user since most of these services also have business packages.

Dropbox

This is my personal favourite and is among the very first cloud services to truly have the average user in mind. The service has been around for some time (started in 2007) and has already fully established itself independently despite competition from big players like Apple, Microsoft and recently Google (though Google already gave it a run for its money with its Google Docs application which is cloud based).

Dropbox users get 2 gigabytes of free storage upon signing up for the service and this can be increased by inviting other users or by paying a few bucks ($9.95 a month for 50 Gb or $19.99 per month for 100 Gb) to increase storage space.

What I don’t like about it is the inability to edit documents as you will require external applications like Microsoft’s Office suite to be able to make quick changes to that Excel spreadsheet you had synced.

Uploading photos on Dropbox is like a drive to paradise. Very efficient both on the PC application and on smartphones (I have used it over and over again on Android). One area where Dropbox wins and other competitors lose is its cross-platform compatibility; it is not only available on Android and PCs but also across iDevices, Macs, I use it on my Linux OS and Blackberry users can confirm that it is also available on that platform.

Its ability to only upload and download parts of files that have been modified is the most attractive feature I have found in my usage over the last two years since this saves me a lot of bandwidth.

SkyDrive

This is a cloud storage service from Microsoft and is very handy for those of us who cherish having their important documents with them everywhere they go since it allows online document viewing and editing with Office Web Apps. Previously it was Windows Live SkyDrive.

It provides storage space of 7 gigabytes upon signing up. Loyal users, those who had Hotmail/Windows Live accounts before April 22nd have the option of upgrading to 25 Gb of free storage. For more storage, users have to pay for increments of 20, 50 and 100 Gb for between $10 and $50 per year.

Unique feature? It allows you to remotely connect to a PC where you’ve installed the SkyDrive application and get files that aren’t in the local SkyDrive folder.

It is expected to be a key feature of the upcoming new Windows operating system, Windows 8. I have not yet fallen over for the Android app but the PC client is really good and provides seamless synchronization of files. Another plus is the departure from only integrating photos with Windows Phone users to allowing everyone upload photos in an instant.

Google Drive

This one had been rumoured to be coming for so long until it arrived last week. It is an upgrade of sorts to Google Docs since once you upgrade to Google drive, your Google Docs menu disappears from the black Google bar in your Google Accounts page and subsequently becomes an integrated service of Google Drive.

It provides users with 5 Gb of free storage upon signing up and those craving for more storage can get that in tiers from 25 Gb (at $30 per year), 100 Gb ($60 per year) up to 16 Tb ($9,600 per annum).

Of course online document editing is powered by Google Docs.

I hastily installed this on my PC and Android device but I spotted one weakness, everything to do with photos is locked to Google’s other services, photo sharing service Picasa and social network Google+. This is unlike Dropbox and SkyDrive that offer quick uploading and sharing of photos without integration of other services. Another thing, it does not allow connection to your Facebook account unlike the other two.

This service is still invite-only so you have to request an invitation from the Google drive website.

Upcoming Cloud Services

There have been endless rumours about the unveiling of Samsung’s own cloud service to take head-on other cloud services, most notably those that tie down users to the devices they use like Apple’s iCloud which is available only to iOS devices and Mac users. Samsung’s cloud service of course will offer storage for its users and sync across all its devices so the rumoured sCloud or s-Cloud will be a big success bearing in mind the big lead Samsung has taken in establishing itself as the largest mobile devices’ maker in recent times.

Another service worth mentioning is LG’s cloud service which just launched, LG Cloud, and is reportedly placing a lot of emphasis on streaming media rather than every type of file. My main interest is storage and LG device owners who install the LG Cloud Android app will get 50 gigabytes of that for 6 months while the rest of us who simply sign up for the service will get 5 Gb. This is set to reduce to 5 Gb after 6 months for the LG device owners who’ve installed the Android app and 2 Gb for the non-LG device users. Not bad.

Others

There are many other cloud storage services out there like SugarSync and Box (Box.net). I have only highlighted those that I have been widely using. For instance, even though Box upgraded my storage to 50 Gb after downloading their Android app in early March, I rarely use it since it limits singular uploads to only files of up to 100mb unlike its competitors who have no capping in this area. This explains why I have used a new service like Google Drive more often than it. I have also disregarded Apple’s iCloud service because I am yet to use it.

SugarSync does not have that one main “magic” folder where you drag and drop files; it allows you to sync almost any file you choose to and being used to having a Dropbox folder or a SkyDrive folder on my PC or smartphone makes it cumbersome to just add any file to my online storage space. This is an advantage to many but for the data conscious, this can increase the way your devices eat into your data plan since it does not limit syncing to only those files that have been modified the way Dropbox does it.

The choice is yours. Weigh the pros, the cons and fly straight into the cloud with the service of your liking.

IMG credit: qarea.com

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