Not a Cloud in the Sky

Cloud storage can save you from the storm of data loss

7-16 Tech_Cloud_web1If television commercials and the excitable lingo from various tech companies are to be believed, we all now coexist in a mythical place called The Cloud. When did this happen? Is the cloud a real thing? Where is it, really? What even is the cloud? It might seem scary or overwhelming, but the truth is that despite all the buzz, average folks like you and I can—and do—truly benefit from the peace of mind that cloud services provide. In fact, I’m writing this story in the cloud right now.

What’s the cloud?

The easiest way to understand “the cloud” is to think of it not as any sort of universal place or location. When you’re using the Internet to access the cloud, really what you’re accessing is just another computer somewhere. That’s actually the greatest strength of the cloud—the computers are usually in a place that is safe and secure, and you can access them from anywhere with Internet access.

Music, photos, writing, scans of important documents, and plenty of other digital records likely reside on your computer right now. How much of that data is irreplaceable? Maybe you’ve made backups onto DVDs or external USB drives. But what if you lose them? What if they’re stolen, or you endure a disaster like a fire or flood? If your data is synced to the cloud, none of those scenarios will harm your data—it will remain perfectly safe on another computer far away where you can retrieve it when things are back to normal.

How does it work?

Modern cloud-based file storage services mostly all work the same way. They create a folder just for you in the cloud to store your files, meaning you can use phone apps or web browsers on other devices to access those files from anywhere you have Internet access. Some services let you work on files right in the browser, while others have you download the file from the cloud, work on it, then put it back into the cloud drive. Certain cloud storage programs also work with your home computer, keeping a copy on your home machine and ensuring those files stay current based on the changes you’ve made to the files in the cloud. If you’re the type who has ever e-mailed a file to yourself so you can access it from anywhere, this new system can provide a serious advantage!

What should I use?

There are a few options when it comes to cloud storage from some of the most reputable companies. If you’re a frequent user of Microsoft Office or looking for a family solution, you can sign up for Office 365 ($99/year), which gives you and four other people access to the newest version of the Office programs as well as 1 terabyte of cloud storage space each (enough to store over 200,000 MP3 files). Mac or iPhone owners can use iCloud Drive, which is built right in to new versions of Mac OS or iOS for good integration between all your Apple devices. If you only want to keep a few important files in the cloud, services like Dropbox and Google Drive offer limited amounts of storage space for free (around 5 GB), as well as larger paid monthly subscriptions if you want to store more. Though all services feature some similar levels of functionality, make sure to look around on their websites to see specific details on how each service operates.

Is it really safe?

Big businesses trust cloud storage. One poll recently said that 86 percent of companies use more than one cloud service. Reputable cloud services encrypt all files, meaning no human can access them without your password. Most companies also have systems in place that prevent employees from accessing your data. There’s the obvious security advantage of having the files in another location away from your house. And if you have a strong password that you never give out, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to guess or hack. Plus, the files still exist on your home computer. All of that said, the truth is that all data can be vulnerable in some way, regardless of where it is stored. The best way to protect yourself is to use a unique, strong password with a mix of capital letters, symbols, and numbers, make sure to log out of websites and computers when you’re done using them, protect your phone with a lock screen or password, and keep regular physical backups in addition to your cloud drive.

By Brandon Daiker

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