What is the Cloud? (And how do I store my stuff there?)

What is the cloud?What is the cloud and what is cloud storage? If you’ve ever had a computer die on you or lost an external hard drive, you may have wondered if there’s a better way to backup and store your data, photos, and files.

My dad, Dr. Robert Brooks, was asking me about the cloud and cloud storage over Thanksgiving (anyone else the default IT guy in their family?) as a way of backing up some photos and being able to access them over multiple devices. I’m not sure if it was his idea or mine that this would make for a good 207 segment (my brother’s father-in-law is an excellent mixologist) but I shared it with the good people over at WCSH 6 (the NBC affiliate here in Maine) and they gave it a big thumbs up. 

To answer that first question, the “cloud” refers to being able to store and access data and programs over the Internet and not relying on your laptop or local network. When they used to draw flowcharts of how computers connected to the Internet, the Internet was depicted as a cloud.

What are the benefits of storing data in the cloud?

There are many reasons why you might want to back up photos and files to the cloud. Here are a few: 

  • Redundancy / Backup: We’ve all lost critical data–from vacation photos to a term paper–to a computer crash. With the cloud we can have multiple backups so that if one thing goes wrong, the entire project doesn’t go pear shaped.
  • Ability to access files from anywhere: This is one of my favorite bits. As long as you have a connection to the Internet, you can access your files. This is especially cool when I’m making a grocery list in Evernote. I can start it on my laptop, update it on my tablet, and read it on my phone in Hannaford. (Well, the cell reception in all supermarkets stinks, but in theory.) All three are automatically synced through the cloud. 
  • Free up space on your local computer, tablet or smart phone: My girls are constantly hitting the ceiling on their iPhone’s memory. Now they can just pull down the Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande albums they want from the cloud. (Or rather the singles. No one listens to albums anymore, grumbles the cranky old blogger.)
  • Collaboration: With tools like Google Drive or the Microsoft Office in the cloud, teams can collaborate on a document or file that lives in the cloud.

What features we should consider when choosing a cloud solution?

  • Security: If you’ve got sensitive information (tax information, passwords, that picture of you where you’re all dressed up like the Cure, etc.,) you may want to focus on a platform that puts security first, often above ease of use. 
  • Space (including free space): If you need a lot of space, or a lot of cheap space, there are definitely options out there. Most companies offer free space but start charging you when you go over 2, 5, or 10 gigs. 
  • Ease of use / compatibility: Some cloud solutions are tied into a specific platform (iCloud, for example), that make it easier for people on that platform to use. Other times, you want a solution that can easily work with a variety of people across many platforms (like Box or DropBox.)

What are some of the choices out there? 

  • iCloud from Apple (best for Apple users)
  • Drive from Google (your gmail attachments are saved there, plus it has cloud apps: Google Docs, spreadsheets, forms, etc. Can work collaboratively. 
  • Dropbox: is great for sharing files.
  • Carbonite and Crashplan were mentioned by multiple people who wanted a backup plan for when everything else fails. 
  • You can also check out this great chart from PC Magazine on the best cloud solutions.

What do you use personally? 

Like most of the people I spoke with on Facebook when I was crowdsourcing some ideas, I don’t use just one.

  • Google Drive for collaboration: My team at flyte and I use it to update internal documents, including how-to’s and project spreadsheets. 
  • Dropbox for sharing files with clients and freelancers: As soon as I finish a podcast interview I immediately upload the file to Dropbox for my transcriptionist, and later, my editor. 
  • iCloud because it’s integrated wit all of my Mac products: Yeah, I’m an Apple Fan Boy.

What do you use?

If you’re using any of these solutions, or you use something not mentioned above, let us know in the comments below!

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