Cloud Storage Just Became Cheap Overnight
by, 04-26-2012 at 04:45 AM (9715 Views)
This week, the horse left the proverbial barn, ladies and gentlemen, and now Microsoft, Google, Apple, Dropbox, Box.net, and a large number of other companies are competing in an arena that will help you backup and synchronize your files, forever, if you so desire, online, and at the lowest possible cost. At the end of April 2012, the price for these online services suddenly dropped dramatically, and became available from the world's top companies.
Any File, Any Time, Anywhere
Earlier this year, MegaUpload was taken down by the U.S. Department of Justice on a number of charges for operating a private file storage service. But now cloud storage, or the ability to back up and synchronize files over the Internet, just saw major price reductions over the last couple of days, with companies such as Microsoft and Google entering a market, at full steam ahead, that has been primarily ruled, at least since August 2011, by the Apple iCloud, the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (directly), Dropbox, and Box.net.
How It Works
To clarify, cloud file storage, often referred to in one way as a “box”, or a “drive”, typically allow you to store files over the Internet by installing the cloud storage application and placing your files into a designated folder on your computer. These files and folders then get synchronized onto the cloud service, and can be accessed from the service’s website, or by installing the program on multiple computers. Once these files are placed on the remote cloud service, they are typically backed up and available to you indefinitely, unless you delete them or cancel your account.
When the cloud storage application is installed on multiple devices, like a desktop, a laptop, and a phone, any edits made to the files on one computer are synchronized to the others. Cloud storage is especially convenient due to its cross-platform support. A user working on a Mac could still share a spreadsheet with someone on a PC, for instance.
These services can now function as a serious alternative to file servers. Because the files are hosted on the Internet, they can be kept private, made public, or shared at your discretion. This has the potential to make project management and cooperation between individuals that much easier.
But Won’t My Files Get Lost?
I have been a user of Dropbox for around 5 years, and not a single file has been lost that I did not delete myself. The important issue to remember about cloud storage is that your files are not just being backed up on one system, but on a number of them around the world. This technique, known as distributed file sharing, is often used on what are known as server farms – large datacenters with failovers so that you never lose your stuff. One of the reasons why cloud storage and computing is becoming a success is because the companies that are offering the services are international conglomerates. For example, companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and even Amazon operate countless servers around the world. A gentleman named James Pearn estimates that Google operates about 1.8 million servers and that this number will increase to 2.3 million by 2013. His estimates could be exaggerated, but he counted the floor space at all of their datacenters, looked up their location, and even used satellite imagery to make these assertions. One thing is for certain: The companies that have become the backbone of the computer industry and the Internet itself have an enormous amount of hardware resources that the typical person, or even business simply doesn’t have. When these servers aren’t performing at their full potential, it then becomes cost efficient for these large companies to start allocating additional disk space and development for cloud storage. They can use this type of service as leverage to expand their infrastructure or save costs on their existing servers.
Just days after Microsoft ramped up its Windows Live SkyDrive service, offering existing members a limited-time only chance to upgrade their storage space to 25GB permanently, Google released Google Drive. Both SkyDrive and Google Drive offer file synchronization and storage using cloud hosting, starting at 5GB for free. Similarly, Dropbox was a start-up that has been offering an excellent cloud storage and file synchronization service for the last several years. Only in the last few weeks, however, did they suddenly program photo synchronization into their phone application: When you take a picture on your phone, you have the option of having that photograph automatically uploaded to Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google+, depending on what services you have set up.
This is important because these companies already have existing services for photographs and mail. Facebook, for example, just bought out Instagram, a service that allows you to share your pictures online and through your smart phone. Services like Flickr and DeviantArt offer specialized file sharing specifically for artwork and photography. But for years, companies like MegaUpload (taken down by the US Justice Department) have offered file storage on private servers.
What’s The Catch?
The biggest change that has come recently is that the price of cloud storage has been reduced dramatically. While SkyDrive has been around for quite a while, it looks like Microsoft will integrate the service with Windows 8, and you can therefore see how an entire computer profile can eventually be synced up – and backed up - to the service; accessible from any computer using login credentials. With Google Drive, you also get 5GB free, and Google Mail storage is increased when you buy more space. In addition, if you bought 100GB of file storage, it would cost, roughly $4.99 USD a month from Google. Similarly, Microsoft offers 100GB for about $50 USD a year, or roughly $5/mo. after tax. With SkyDrive, the benefits that you will get from using it with Windows 8 start to become obvious. Even in Window 7, you can start using libraries to save your documents, pictures, videos, and downloads to this service. With Google Drive, your space for Picasa Web Albums is also increased by whatever amount you buy. In comparison, services like Dropbox, which rely on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud for their service, still cost a hefty price: After taxes, a Dropbox account that utilizes 100GB will cost around $200 US dollars annually. Initial tests show that Dropbox and Google Drive currently operate very quickly and have nearly flawless file synchronization. Microsoft’s SkyDrive currently seems to be operating much slower, but these services just became heavily commercialized this week.
If you refer enough people to Dropbox, you can get yourself around 32GB of free space without ever paying for their service. Similarly, if you claim your free Windows Live SkyDrive space right now, for a limited time only, you will be able to lock in an additional 25GB of storage space free of charge. And Google Drive gives you 5GB for free. This means, by installing all three services, you could get anywhere between 15GB of free storage and 62GB without paying anything.
Out of all of the services, Google’s seems to be the cheapest, offering 200GB of storage for around $9.99 USD per month. They also offer storage going into the terabyte range, while others have limited their offerings to around 100GB. These services particularly come alive when they are used with smart phones and other mobile devices. If you maintain your own backups, then you know, for instance, that you would not need to backup all of your music files if you placed them on Google Drive, SkyDrive, Dropbox, or Box.net.
And out of all of the services, Dropbox still seems to be among the best, but its price is hefty in the comparison. Computer users who maintain most of their information on Windows Live, using services like Live Messenger and Live Mail (Hotmail), will likely move towards Windows Live SkyDrive. Similarly, users who have focused their attention on Google and their line of services will be more likely to use Google Drive. Computer users that still use Outlook or Thunderbird, and shy away from services offered by companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, may find themselves going with a proven alternative like Dropbox. Power users are unlikely to pass up the opportunity for free storage and will likely install all of the above. With Apple’s iCloud still costing $100 a year for 50GB, it looks like the game is on, and online file storage has turned into a fast growing new commodity overnight.
So what are you waiting for? Go claim your free storage!
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