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Up In The Cloud: Getting Started
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Up In The Cloud: Getting Started - Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Getting Started

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Getting Started

Our last discussion of the cloud provided a run-down on the basics of cloud storage, with a quick look at advantages and drawbacks. Here we will examine the biggest players in the consumer cloud market. Most of these services also offer corporate (or “business”) services, but for those just dipping their toes into the cloud, a little bit of playing around with consumer-level (or “personal”) services is the best way to familiarize themselves with what the cloud is up to, and how it can best be adopted for the specifics of business application.

It used to be enough simply to offer cloud storage for personal use, but competition among providers has necessitated something beyond affordability and capacity: functionality. Cloud providers now do more than store your photos, for example. They also offer in-the-cloud photo editing, seamless in-app uploading and sharing for social media or text messaging, cataloguing and indexing, and quick browsing, and all this is just for the specifics of storing photos. Add other components of our online lives, such as music, video, word processing, desktop publishing, email, website maintenance, database management, and other forms of content creation, and there’s seemingly no limit to the integration of function and storage. While some services began with storage and capacity, eventually adding functionality, many services went the other way: with so much disparate, distinct functionality under their own umbrellas already, the addition of cloud services as a single, easily compartmentalized locker was a clear step.

Here’s an overview of five of the big players in this space (we’ll look at lesser-known services in the very near future). All prices are in U.S. dollars.

Among those beginning with storage and adding functionality is Dropbox, one of the highest-profile services. Dropbox has the advantage of being many people’s first experience with file-sharing and cloud storage, and chances are you’ve already been invited to sign up by its many devotees. This is because Dropbox offers two gigabytes (GB) of storage for free, with storage bonuses for referrals to new users. On referrals alone, you can earn up to 18 GB (that would be 36 referrals), bringing your total free storage to 20GB. Other bonuses for attaching functionality (such as storing photos, or adding a second mobile device) can easily bring your free quota to over 50 GB. If that’s too much work, or if that’s not enough space, $10 per month gives you a whole terabyte (TB, or 1000 GB). As with most other services, there are desktop apps, mobile apps, and available connections to third-party apps or websites. Installing the desktop app enables you to designate specific folders (your whole documents folder, for example, or just a single folder within your documents folder) for auto-synching, so that the folder in the cloud is always an exact copy of what’s on your computer, something that can be invaluable if you use computers in more than one location. Simply log in through the web interface, and all your files are right there.

Google Drive began as an extension of Google Docs and other Google-related functionality. It has the advantage of being seamlessly integrated with most (if not all) of Google’s mind-boggling number of services, including Gmail, Google Plus, YouTube, Google Docs, and Google Photos, plus an enormous list of third-party services that work with that functionality. If you’re using Gmail, you can save attachments right to your Google Drive with a single click, and the free 15 GB can go a long way. Two dollars per month buys you 100 GB in capacity, with $10 and $100 getting you one TB and 10 TB, respectively. If you’re already using Gmail, you don’t even have to set it up: it’s already there, working as the storage for your email. Just click the nine little squares in the upper-right corner of your Gmail, and you’ll see the icon for Drive. Drive apps are available for desktop and mobile devices as well.

If you’re more a fan of Microsoft and its many services and apps, MS OneDrive is the Google Drive equivalent for those functions. The standard $9.99 per month for Office 365 (the name given to the subscription version of its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote apps) comes with 1.1 TB of storage per household member (up to five members), and while documents created on those apps will be stored in OneDrive for easy access on multiple devices and through its web interface, the storage is available for whatever else you want to store there. If you have yet to leap into Office 365, a regular free account with OneDrive comes with 5 GB with bonuses for connecting apps or referring new users. Two dollars per month buys an additional 50 GB.

Chances are, you already have access to two other cloud services based simply on using the products of Amazon and Apple. Amazon accounts come with 5 GB of storage in Amazon Cloud Drive, and if you’re purchased digital music from Amazon, those files are automatically saved in your drive, counting against your quota. Music files can be played directly from the cloud through the web viewer, or streamed to a mobile device through Amazon’s app. Amazon Prime members ($99 per year) get unlimited storage of photos as long as their subscription is current. Amazon’s “Unlimited Everything” plan offers unlimited storage for all other files for $60 per year. And if you have an iOS device, you already have access to Apple’s iCloud, which comes with 5 GB free, mostly for the support of Apple’s mobile apps and mobile services. Its primary functionality is the storage and backup of information on your tablet or smartphone, but it has desktop apps for Windows and Mac computers, with monthly subscriptions at $1, $3, and $10, for an additional 50 GB, 200 GB, and 1 TB, respectively.

For the new user, the best move here is to pick the cloud service that already works with what you’re using. Explore its uses one at a time, and talk about your experience with acquaintances using the same service. You might consider asking around first, so you can list your friends as referrals, giving them a storage boost when you sign up. You’ll find there’s a lot of practical use for each service, beyond just copying files. When you’re ready to shop around, you’ll have a good idea of what your specific needs are, and you’ll be able to compare the many free accounts before committing to a subscription plan.

Remember that your biggest concern is security. If you’re storing sensitive or personal material, be careful with settings for sharing, and be very careful about sharing links to files. A misdirected link can cause all kinds of problems if it lands in the wrong hands. As you get more involved with cloud storage, you’ll find it affects most of your computer and mobile use in positive ways, and you’ll be ready to consider professional uses for the cloud.


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Up In The Cloud: Getting Started - Executive Leadership Articles

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