Cloudy With a Chance of Convenience

It is amazing what can change in 18 months. Last time we blogged about cloud storage , the main topic was how awesome Windows Live was as a cloud service.  It has email, calendar, free cloud storage (up to 7GB) and free online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. All still true, though it is now called “Outlook” and has changed its look to the Windows 8 look (tiles and pastel colours).

18 months later, I am still a loyal user of SkyDrive, happy that I can access and edit those files (including this one) from wherever I am. I also now use Dropbox, which has a different (and better) interface with my phone, and have been dragged into using Google Drive by another organization in order to share files with me. In all cases, I can see my online files on every device, and I can get them wherever I am.

Some security advice: don’t save anything overly personal or confidential to the cloud, and never save banking access info to the cloud. While it is unlikely that you will be hacked, it does happen from time to time. There are also many employees of these cloud services who do have access to those files, and though unlikely that they will troll through your files and cause you problems, it is something you should know.

Cloud computing in general has recently taken a significantly public stage with Edward Snowden’s revelations about just how much of our data can be watched (answer: all of it!). According to the movie “Terms & Conditions” (available on Netflix) everything is being recorded. And everything includes your phone calls, every email, every website you have visited, and every document you upload to the cloud. It is all being recorded and stored on a more or less permanent basis, and in fact a new facility in Utah is being build to do just that.

So I am not sure that “the cloud” as fluffy a place as it was for me 18 months ago. Yet even for the overly cautious, there is a lot that the cloud has going for it, and a small business or charity may find significant advantage to using these services. File sharing across long distances or many users, moving very large files between users, and for voluntary organizations, having a place to save files that is not tied to an individual’s computer can be significant in terms of organizational continuity.

Cloud services offer more secure business services, and (if you are willing to pay for it) individuals can get similar services. Dropbox is likely the most widely known outside of the integrated email service of Google and Outlook, but there are others like Box who offer similar services.

As with many things, sometimes we do stuff just because we can. For a very large majority of individuals, instant access to documents is simply not really needed (though we may want it). For businesses, access and file sharing is close to an absolute necessity.

To see if cloud storage is for you, check out these cloud services: www.dropbox.com and www.box.com.  There are good videos on what these services do, they are very jazzy…remember they are trying to sell you their services. Finally, assess what you need. If you are very mobile and want access from wherever, then online storage is a solution you can use.

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