Comparing cloud-based storage services

February 16, 2016

If you have used a computer in the last few years, you have been piling data into a big virtual heap like some kind of digital hoarder. Just ask Microsoft and Amazon: Cloud-based storage is a booming industry.

A “cloud” stores digital data in “pools” spanning multiple servers and physical locations that are owned and managed by a hosting company. In essence, your storage company has a building (or several), full of super-computer drives networked together to cradle your precious bytes forever—or at least until you stop paying.

At one time, the cloud seemed like a fanciful new idea, enabling your Aunt Sally’s secret turkey meatball recipe to float gently along in PDF format with all your other files on the magical, swirling mist of the Internet. It was a special place the rare few could find, afford, and manage with the speed of dial-up web access.

Nowadays, you are bombarded online with offers from companies coveting your gigs like Gollum wanted the Ring. Everyone is getting into the act, from online merchants like Amazon, to software and hardware giants like Microsoft, cable/Internet providers, and Adobe.

Amazon has a service called Prime that costs...well, it depends. Approximately $100 annually, though accepting or declining different features will affect the price. Of course, you get more, such as television shows, movies, deals on products and shipping, e-books for free and borrow, even music and image storage. However, you will likely go through the library of Amazon content that you actually want to see pretty rapidly.

Another problem is diversification. Splitting up content, teasing you with partial shows, and then forcing you to fork over extra to subscribe to the channel nickel-and-dimes your wallet, but for a lot more than 15 cents.
You can add your own music, photo files, documents, what-have-you, but for uploaded videos that you don’t wish to store on YouTube, you are going to pay extra.

Microsoft has a staggering OneDrive option. For a mere $70 a year for the personal package (computer, tablet, phone, and one TB of data for one user only), you have no limit on content up to one TB. You can even add more if your files exceed their gargantuan storage.

Another nice feature of Microsoft OneDrive, and its corporate sister OneDrive for Business, is that when used along with an Office 365 subscription, you have the ability to authorize others to manipulate shared data (for which you will have to pay more, of course).

For example, let’s say the form your company uses for expenses needs adjustment, but you are not sure everyone is on-board with the new document. All you have to do is go in and fix the file and everyone who accesses it now has the latest version, even if they saved it on their own little cubby of the virtual work-sphere.

Therein lies the rub, though, because you essentially have to unlock certain permissions to allow others to use your documents. In turn, they need Internet access to retrieve them. If the Internet goes down or they are not on the company’s servers, they must rely on saved copies.

Another irritating thing about both versions of OneDrive is that you must have enough space on your hard drive to access folders you saved, or you will have to go through the browser or OneDrive app to get them. Syncing data directly to your computer relies on having two identical copies—one on your computer and the other on the cloud. OneDrive will check for the latest changes and copy over whatever side is outdated. If you have a massive amount of files, your computer and router are going to be groaning to pour though thousands of cute kitten pics and NRA manuals in PDF.

Granted, you can tailor the settings so your OneDrive does not sync every folder in your database (or on your PC or Mac), but if you are planning to use a lot of files regularly via the server, be aware that it may take hours to fully sync, depending on file amounts, sizes, and the speed and bandwidth of your Internet access.

Internet/cable or satellite providers will often allow you to store data with your ongoing subscription, but be warned: These are the same people who make you pay good money for endless hours of entertainment, and then make you wait for hours to install it.

The speed of your Internet service and the reliability of your hardware—the amount of money you put down for the service, basically—are also factors in whether you have a little or a lot of space available.

Lastly, Adobe. No, it is not the only other storage provider in the world, but it is a big one. While Adobe offers great individual services and software, they are geared more towards the creative professional.

With a subscription to the package of services, which typically costs $50 and up, you get to use a collection of some of the most inspired software in the professional world. Illustrator and the like are powerful tools for creating, and Adobe Document Cloud is probably the best PDF reader and editor on the market.

With their cloud storage, you can work on an image, a video, or even a screenplay and have collaborators from anywhere in the world work in tandem. Of course, this is assuming that you have a group of other creatives to work with in the first place. Otherwise, you will have a great place to throw your ginormously pixelated jpegs, but it will feel awfully lonely in there.

Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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