For years backups have always been a challenge. For anyone else who has lost a hard drive or had a computer crash you know the importance of backing up your files and data. The solution has often been a local external hard drive connected to the computer and or a local network. This is ok and I do use this but have had those drives go down too.
More recently many of us are finding that portability of our data and files with use on the go is something we want with easy access. This is where ‘syncing’ comes in and something I personally was always frustrated with. You would have to remember to connect your device to your computer, launch some software, and pray that the data came over the same on both (which often it didn’t). Today, it truly is enter-once-and-update-everywhere and I personally love that. This is ”the cloud” you keep hearing about and I for one am truly loving it.
Ok; back to files and not only backup storage, but also ease of access and use. There a couple of great new options for that and they work in similar ways. The three (and one extra) all have a simple install which creates a “sync folder” on your computer. By simply adding folders (or individual files) to that main folder, you designate which folder stays in sync. So if I add a file to that same folder via the website I’ve logged on to, the file gets updated in the same folder on my internet-connected computer automatically and vice versa. Most of these services also have mobile apps as well which makes it very easy and convenient for quick access to a file on the go. For example, Joe calls and says he needs that spreadsheet which is on your laptop and your Dropbox folder. No problem. Yo simply launch the Dropbox app and attach the file to an email (or share a link to it) right within your phone. Your PC went down or you get a new one? No problem, simply install the application and sign into your account. All your files show up on your PC again. There are other uses too such as simply file transfers compared to hookups with cables or from work to home for larger files.
Let’s take a look at some of these services:
- Dropbox.com – This has emerged as one of the most popular services recently. Each user right now gets 2GB of storage space for free and can pay reasonable prices for additional storage. Getting others to sign up gets you more space added to your account. It’s one of the easiest and most “flexible” since it works on Macs and PC’s plus mobile apps are available for iOS (Apple), Android, and Blackberry. It’s very straight-forward to use and works seamlessly. It’s one of my personal favorites.
- Google Drive - This just launched this past week from Google and actually enhanced Google Docs (which is now called Google Drive). Many people were already using Google Docs for online storage, but the issue was that syncing to your PC wasn’t really there. This is where the Google Drive enhancement comes in which adds in the sync folder to your PC (Macs are a bit quirky with this right now from what I understand). Users get 5GB free and again can pay for additional storage. The Google Docs mobile app for Android was replaced with the Drive app. iOS users access their files through the mobile browser. Again, another favorite of mine since I am a big Google and Android user. Works very nice.
- Microsoft SkyDrive – This actually came out a while ago as an enhancement to Office. It was kind of difficult to use at first. Microsoft just recently enhanced the service and it works very similar to the other two services I mentioned. Users get 7GB for free and can also pay for additional storage. There are mobile apps for iOS and Windows Mobile. Android users can access their files through the mobile browser.
- Google Music - I mention this one because it acts very similar to these services and is strictly for music. For those of us that are music lovers and have large digital collections . . . it’s been a wonderful answer to prayers. Rather than storage being measured in ‘GB’, users get to add up to 20,000 songs for free. You can also easily download your collection once for restores. Once uploaded your music is available for streaming on your mobile device or any internet connected computer.
- There are others too such as Box.com which is also really good as well.
Confused yet? Hopefully not and I guarantee that once you begin using any of these services you’ll find them to be pretty simple and very beneficial. So what are some things to consider when deciding on a service?
- Can you use more than one? Yes. I do. I primarily use Dropbox for business files and Google Drive for personal and Church related items. To keep it organized and get easy access on my PC, I simply add shortcuts to individual folders on my desktop.
- Total storage space you really need. You do have to plan it out a bit or this can be really frustrating. Most of us have a lot more than 2GB or 5GB or files on our computers. Pictures and/or music alone will easily cap that. I actually do not use these services for photos (which that folder is 50GB+ alone) just yet and rely on a local back up for photos. All my other files (documents and whatnot) fit easily into these other services. So I keep photos and music (which is all on Google Music and my hard drive) out of my evaluation and focus on the other folders and files. Again, additional storage is available through all of these services for reasonable fees.
- Security. This part is always something I check out. Each of the service have great security, but don’t forget to learn the security features yourself especially when it comes to ‘visibility’ settings. For example, you can share links to files or folders rather than attaching via email (great for large files that won’t go through servers). You want to insure you are sharing privately to the individual and not ‘public’ especially if it contains confidential information.
- Mobile use. Again, I am an Android user primarily so SkyDrive isn’t my first option since it lacks a mobile app and has limited uses through a browser. But I have the account and can use it for some things. Dropbox’s mobile app is one of the best in my opinion in its design and ease of use. The Google Drive App is good but needs some work. I just find it a bit disorganized, but the functionality is still great.
- Reliability. A few years back I remember Yahoo had this great service where you could upload all of your photos for free. I loved it because I no longer had to worry about losing my photos. So I uploaded them, started mainly storing photos there, and about a year later they cancelled the service leaving me to scramble to insure I had all of my photos. This was my wake up call to never rely solely on an online backup service. I have all of my files organized and stored on my PC as well. Use the service as backup, but not as a main storage place.
- It’s file storage and not a service for complete restores. ‘Backups’ in the past were typically about creating a “mirror image” of your computer in which software that you installed was also backed up. These services are like virtual file cabinets for your files and NOT software. If you have software you are concerned about, look at services like Carbonite and/or make sure you keep the installation CD’s/files safe.
What services have you used? What do you recommend?