Read any home computing magazine nowadays and you’re bound to come across an article called ‘the future’s looking cloudy’. The explosion of services and applications hosted on the internet, or using the internet to store your data, means that there are literally hundreds of new opportunities for you to take advantage of. But, with a bewildering array of choice, how do you know which one is for you?
The first thing to realise is that all services are not created equally. That’s not to knock the tools that other companies are offering, it’s more to point out that different services solve different needs. So, before you look at any cloud service, you need to properly understand what you want from it. A little naval gazing on day one will save you a lot of pain down the line.
Ask yourself what you want your cloud service to do
Many people are looking to the cloud for online storage. We’re creating more data than ever before: recent estimates say that, by 2020, we’ll have created 35 trillion gigabytes of data collectively. MP3-based music collections, digital photography and video downloads are adding to our storage requirements and many of us now have large hard drives on our laptops or terabyte-sized external hard drives to increase storage.
Equally, the data we have on our home computers is increasingly valuable to us. We’re printing fewer and fewer of our photographs and, for many people, the copy on their laptop is the only one that exists. Our memories of our babies’ first steps, our weddings and other family occasions are just one hard drive crash from being wiped away forever. The same goes for lots of other computer files: academic studies you might be working on, recipes you’ve created, family history research – pretty much anything you might have on your PC could disappear forever.
Horses for courses
These two requirements are very different. The first is for storage – additional space in the cloud where you can move files from your computer so that you can delete them from your hard drive and free up capacity.
The second is for backup – creating a copy of your files on the cloud to protect your valuable data in the event that something happens to your computer and you can no longer access it.
The service you use needs to match your requirements.
When online storage is wrong
Using an online storage solution for your backup can be like creating a rod to beat your own back. Storage solutions, in general, are like online versions of the archive boxes you might have at work. When you want to free up space, you can move things you don’t access frequently up to the cloud, dropping them in your archive box.
Which is great for off-site storage but can be hugely time consuming if you’re trying to use them for backup. For the system to work effectively, you’d need to keep a record of every document you’d created or changed and upload them manually on a daily basis to the cloud. You’d need to find a way of naming them so they didn’t save over each other and also so you could work out which was your latest version.
Alternatively, if all you’re uploading is a set of documents you don’t want on your hard drive, then you won’t have a very effective backup solution as, if your computer went missing or broke down, you wouldn’t have copies of the documents you actually use on a regular basis.
Online backup, by comparison will create a mirror copy of all your files in the cloud. Good services will monitor changes to your documents and file structures and replicate those changes incrementally and automatically. That way, you always have the latest versions of your files that you can restore if you need them.
When online backup is wrong
Using an online backup service to free up capacity on your hard drive is just as problematic.
Because online backup solutions create a mirror copy of your computer files, if you change the files on your computer, these changes will be mirrored in the cloud. So, if you upload all your older documents to the cloud using a backup service, and then delete them on your PC to make some more space, the logic in the system will mark the corresponding cloud files for deletion too.
‘Versioning’ – the process by which all iterations of a file are kept in the cloud for 30 days to allow roll back – can give a false sense of security because, even though you’ve deleted your files on your PC, they still show in your backup directory. This is cold comfort however, as in 30 days time, your files will be gone.
When cloud is right
Both online backup and online storage offer huge benefits for their users: affordable, secure and scalable off-site hosting of your files can give you peace of mind or a faster computing experience.
But, before uploading your files to the cloud, think about the sort of service you need and make sure you understand what’s on offer. If you’re looking for online backup, check out Mozy.