Men's Life Today: Expert Q+A
I've been told I should use cloud services to store and access my files. What are they, exactly, and how do I pick one? Are there any security concerns or other things I need to know about?
The “cloud” here is the Internet. Cloud storage sites are essentially server farms to which you remotely upload your data. By keeping your files in the cloud, you can access them from any of your Internet-enabled devices -- computer, smartphone or tablet -- wherever in the world you are. In addition, you can enable password access to specific documents or folders that friends, family members and colleagues can then view on either a one-time or a permanent basis. This can be useful when sharing photos among family members, for example. It’s also a good solution for transmitting files that are too large to send via email.
Before you sign up for a cloud service, figure out how much space you’ll need. On a PC, go to “My Documents” and look at how much memory you’re currently using. On a Mac, you can find similar info in the folders you’ve designated for your various documents. Over the next couple of years, your storage needs will likely be two to three times the amount you’re currently using. There’s no need to buy all of that space now, but be ready to upgrade down the line.
Although there are multiple cloud storage companies, I like Dropbox, SugarSync and KeepVault. And for Mac users who are seeking to save and sync their media across multiple iOS devices (computer, iPhone, iPad), you can’t beat iCloud. All of these services are easy to use, flexible and reasonably priced. (With the exception of KeepVault, they’re free until the user exceeds a certain storage threshold. Once you’ve used up your free storage, you’ll need to upgrade to a larger account, for which monthly or annual fees will apply.)
After you’re set up, use your cloud account to both archive data and back up different versions of your documents as you alter them on your computer. These automated backups will continue on an ongoing basis so you won’t need to worry about setting them to run manually.
Although the idea of putting your files on a third-party server might raise privacy alarms for you, I wouldn’t worry too much about peering eyes. Nobody is that desperate to see your vacation photos. For sensitive files, you can always password-protect them before uploading them to the cloud. This will give you a dual layer of security (the second layer being the password you’ll need each time you access your cloud account).
One final caveat: Although it’s unlikely that any of these cloud services will go out of business or disappear, for your really important files, you should have a backup of your backup, just in case. For that, I suggest an external drive. -- As told to Thomas P. Farley