Well, the market for cloud storage is starting to get very interesting. Free offers range from 50GB (Adrive, except their site seems to be sparodically down), to solutions such as dropbox, offering 2GB. To start with I’m going to look at free solutions, basically because I’m a cheapskate myself! But even some of the paid options are very enticing. for example, dropbox are offering 50GB for 99US per year. In this blog I’ll discuss what cloud storage offers generally, and in a later blog I will analye some of the offerings available.
Options that you might want to consider while looking for cloud storage include webdav support, speed and performance, non-use periods, total space available, largest single upload allowed, synchronisation and desktop software features.
Webdav: webdav support allows you to setup “web folders” (microsoft speak) which in windows is a drive letter in My Computer. On a mobile device, it is integration with the built in file manager. In practice it means a seemless integration into the standard file management processes that you are already familiar with. So to work on a file in your cloud storage, you simply need to go to x: drive (or whatever letter you choose) and open the file. To save a file to your cloud, you do the same.
Speed and performance: If the service is slow, then integration with the desktop (either via webdav or dedicated software) will not be seemless. Uploads and downloads and synchronisations will be slow and tedious.
Non-use periods: Non use periods mean that your account wil expire after a period of non-use. There will also be conditions, for example you files may be deleted even if you reactivate the account later. 4shared for example have a non use period of 30 days, and files are deleted if the service is not accessed in a 30 day time frame. Before selecting a free service, make sure their non-use provisions are suitable for your desired usage.
Storage Space and Uploads: Storage ranges from as little as 200MB to 50GB depending on the service. Adrive offer 50GB and webdav access, but while I haven’t sampled their service as yet, their website has been up and down in the last 24 hours and does not inspire conifdence. 50GB is not useful if access is sparodic or painfully slow. Skydrive offer 25GB but no webdav access. They offer synchronisation (see below) but only on a 5GB slice of the total, via Windows Live Mesh. dropbox offer 2GB, a simple and effective desktop synching tool, but no webdav. box.net offer similiar storage and webdav support. I’ll do a more full comparison of the different services and features at a later date.
Another feature to consider is the largest single file upload allowed. For example, Adrive offer 50GB, but a maximum of 2GB for any single file. If a service offers 2GB, and maximum 10MB single file upload, then you will have trouble uploading DSLR photos for example, or high quality MP3’s
Synchronisation: This feature allows you to select a folder or group of folders to synchronise across multiple computers. A synchronisation is not a backup. It can be a backup, for example if a computer dies and you have the data synchronised to another computer, then you have a backup. However whn you delete a file in a synchronised folder, it will be deleted in all the other computers that that folder is synchronised with. The purpose of synchronisation is not so much a backup, as to keep a set of folders consistant accross platofrms. So when you update a file ‘here’, it updates that file ‘there’ also.
Dropbox for example offers synchronisation, however they also offer history – so if you delete a file inadvertantly, or save changes that you later want to revert, you can go into history and restore back to a previous version.
Synchronisation is a useful tool, but you have to also keep in mind that if you change a file in two different locations without synchronising in between, then when you do synchronise, the latest version of the file will replace the earlier version. some software offers a protection against this by prompting you to choose which version you want to keep.
The desktop client software offered with the cloud service doesn’t always include synchronisation or version backups, so it’s important to check the features of each service’s desktop client before deciding on a service.
So that’s a basic rundown of Cloud Storage. Watch for comments as I add things I might have missed, or that readers suggest.