Every time you look at a document someone has shared via Dropbox, and every time your iPhone automatically backs up your photos, you're retrieving or sending information that lives in the cloud.
Now that you're using cloud storage, why not take a moment to make sure you're getting the most out of the options that best suit your needs? A good place to start is taking a look at all of the cloud storage alternatives and determining which one works best for you.
There are plenty services to choose from. The main ones are Amazon, Google, Apple's iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Box. But there are others, including IDrive, SugarSync, and SpiderOakONE. The big ones all have free options, ranging from 2 GB with Dropbox to 15 GB with iCloud. You can boost that to 50 GB or 100 GB for a buck or two a month, and 1 TB to 2 TB for $5 to $10 per month.
That's a ton of storage for the casual home user, but there are lots of good reasons to spring for a paid option, say Michael Muchmore and Jill Duffy at PC Magazine. First, there's "anywhere-access and sharing (and the productivity gains that can bring), as well as the reduction of local storage requirements by keeping your own documents and media files in the cloud."
You get way more space with paid storage, of course, but there are other perks, such as more access to old versions of your files (in case you or a colleague has messed up the latest version), and bigger maximum upload sizes. "That last benefit is relevant to graphic designers, video editors, and other visual artists who often host enormous files," Muchmore and Duffy note.
So which one is best? That depends on your needs. David Nield at Gizmodo likes Amazon for those looking for tons of cheap storage. "At just $50 for 10TB, Amazon Drive remains a bargain for people with loads of data," he says. He recommends Google Drive for people focused on photos, iCloud for big music users, and Dropbox for people looking for the smoothest syncing of files on all platforms, due to the intuitiveness and appeal of its functions and apps. "Dropbox has been at this game a long, long time, and it shows," he says.
Once you dive in and move files into a cloud service, there's more you can do to "plant feature-enhancing crops into your virtual space," says JR Raphael at InfoWorld. One thing you might want to do is make sure you've protected yourself against data loss or the occasional cloud outage. "These days, most cloud storage is fairly reliable — but it sure as hell isn't foolproof," Raphael says. You can protect yourself from a glitch with your service or internet connection that makes your files unavailable by using tools many providers provide to sync your cloud-based files with a folder on your desktop.
And, Raphael says, "Why stop with the desktop? Bring your Android phone and/or tablet into the cloud storage loop by installing an app called FolderSync. With this $3 tool, it's simple to set up folders on your mobile device that automatically stay synced with equivalent folders in your cloud storage — so you could keep your phone-based documents, downloads, or even screenshots continuously synced and available to you anywhere you sign in." And that's just for starters.
The range of options is "incredible," Muchmore and Duffy say in their rundown of cloud services and backup providers at PC Magazine. Some services, including iCloud, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive, give you file syncing, media playing, and collaborative software all in one place. Others, such as Carbonite, focus on disaster recovery by giving you a full backup of your files. But remember, Muchmore and Duffy say, "easy, immediate access is not guaranteed with online backup, nor is it the point. Peace of mind is."