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Up In The Cloud: What’s In The Cloud?- Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: What’s In The Cloud?

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: What’s In The Cloud?

Over the next several months, we’ll spend some time looking at cloud storage and related services, but before we launch into that, an introduction to the cloud is in order.

At its most basic level, the cloud is simply storage space on the Internet. If you ever emailed a document to yourself from your home computer so you could print it at the office, or so you’d have it handy anywhere you had access to a computer, you’ve been using the cloud. A step above that is dedicated storage space that looks a lot like the file storage you have right on your hard drive, with folders or directories that contain your photos, documents, audio files, video, or data. Most basic cloud services are designed for automatic synching, so that any time, an exact copy of a folder on your computer is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection: as soon as you save that cover letter in your folder, a copy is sent to the cloud; when you delete a file from one, it is removed also from the other.

This redundancy of files is a critical benefit of cloud storage, because it means that if your hard drive fails (and all hard drives eventually fail), your files and preferences can be recoverable. This means that you can also do periodic all-systems backups so that, for example, if you try to install an operating system upgrade that renders everything you own incompatible with your applications, you can (probably) step everything back to your last backup, as if that attempted upgrade never happened. You don’t have to worry much about your cloud files being lost because the cloud services have their own redundancy.

If you prefer, you can use cloud storage more like an always-available external hard drive. In addition to automatic synching, you can simply decide on a file-by-file basis what you would like to keep in the cloud, the way you once did with that resume and cover letter you emailed to yourself.

One special feature that has found its way to most cloud storage is file-sharing and directory-sharing. If you’re working on a lengthy project with others, you can designate certain folders for access by anyone you invite, setting the level of access for each collaborator, if you prefer. If you’ve used Google Docs or any of its cousins, you have probably seen this at work, with live updating in real time across continents, across devices, and across platforms.

Some of the drawbacks of cloud storage should be clear, and there are hidden drawbacks as well. First and always foremost are issues of security. Once you put something on the Internet, you know it’s really there forever, and there’s not a lot the user can do to keep prying eyes away (although see our article on encryption, which we will revisit in a future cloud services review). You’re counting on the service provider to keep things locked down, but the service provider is fallible at best. At worst, the service provider can be mining data from your cloud storage, so if you’re the type to do all your web searches in incognito mode, you may have issues related to what you store in the cloud. Some service providers are aware of this and have in place guarantees that they would be unable to view your content even if they wanted to. Still, it’s a big, mean Internet, and the bad guys are often a step ahead of the good guys, so certain levels of caution are important for the user.

There’s a lot of competition in the cloud, so most consumer-level services offer some amount of free storage (typically 5GB), with quota bonuses for referrals or connecting multiple devices. Signing up for every free offer out there is a common strategy for those dipping their toes into the cloud. But with the increasing size of certain file types, the free storage runs out quickly, which is where the paid tiers come into play. We’ll take a look at the major players and some of the lesser-known gems in the coming months.


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Up In The Cloud: What’s In The Cloud?- Executive Leadership Articles

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