The cloud offers lots of benefits for consumers as we all as for small business. But, as a consumer, how do you know what cloud services to use and what they're all for? Here's our dive into the world of personal cloud services.
What Is The Cloud?
The cloud is one of those terms that gets bandied about without anyone really defining what it is. My simple definition is "someone else's computer". When you copy files, save data or use an application on the cloud, you are really using someone else's computer.
That's important to remember as you're trusting your data to someone else.
Types Of Cloud Services
The cloud offers a wide gamut of different. Burt despite all the marketing hype, they can all be categorised into three groups:
- SaaS (Software as a Service): This services deliver applications you can run in a web bowser using your internet connection without installing extra software on your computer. Things like Google Docs, Xero (the accounting software) and webmail services are examples of SaaS.
- PaaS (Platform as a Service): PaaS offers a server with an operating systems and other services pre-installed. For example, when you purchase a web-hosting package from a service provider, they provide a server with all the basic components such as a database and operating system. You can then deploy your own software on that.
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): This is where cloud providers give you the equivalent of a remote computer you can install whatever operating system and software you want.
What's That Mean For Consumers
For the most part, I expect consumers will be focussed on SaaS and PaaS services. And the good news is the service providers with a consumer focus put those together into coherent packages.
So, it then becomes a matter of choosing what data you'll sync to the cloud and picking a service that suits your needs.
Here are some of the most popular options.
Google's cloud offering brings together Gmail with a bunch of other apps as well as 15GB of storage. As well as file synching, you can use their productivity apps to create content, as well as take notes and have all the photos you snap with your mobile devices automatically sent to the cloud.
It's supported on most computers and smartphones, regardless of operating system.
|Storage||15GB for free shared between email and other data|
|Apps||Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, Google Sites, Google Calendar, Google Hangouts, Google+, Google Keep, Google Vault, Jamboard|
|Photo synching||Supported through desktop and mobile apps|
|Own domain name support||Yes|
|Costs||$5, $10 and $25 per user per month with options for unlimited storage, 24/7 support and other benefits. Full details are available here.|
Apple's offering is completely focussed on iOS users. While it works well, it's not as comprehensive as some of the others on the market and is also nobbled by a paltry 5GB storage limit unless you stump up for an upgrade.
There are also easy options for recovering lost files and various types of data.
It's worth noting iCloud very much focussed on individuals and families. So, if you pay for extra storage, you can share that with others through Family Sharing.
|Storage||5GB for free, up to 2TB|
|Apps||Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Notes, Pages, Numbers, Keynote|
|Photo synching||Yes - between devices including iOS, macOS and Windows|
|Own domain name support||No|
|Costs||Monthly charges of 50GB: $1.49, 200GB: $4.49, 2TB: $14.99. Full details here.|
Microsoft's services offer one major benefit over all the others - familiarity. Almost everyone who uses a computer is familiar with the Microsoft Office suite of apps which is the de facto standard for files across most businesses.
Microsoft's cloud offering, Office 365, offers storage, through OneDrive, as well as access to many of their productivity apps and email, calendar and to-do management. For personal use, there are five different options starting with 5GB storage only for free ranging up to 1TB for each of five users on the Home plan.
|Storage||5GB for free, up to 1TB per user|
|Apps||Web, mobile and desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, file storage|
|Photo synching||Via mobile apps into OneDrive|
|Own domain name support||No|
|Costs||Monthly charges of $2.99 (50GB storage only), $99/year for all apps for one computer, one tablet and one phone. $129/year for all apps for five computers, five tablets and five phones. Full details here|
Dropbox made its name as the first mainstream synching solution but has expanded by connecting with lots of other apps and launching their own productivity software, Paper.
Dropbox comes with 2GB of free data although you can often bump that up as the company regularly does deals with hardware and software companies to add more space.
|Storage||2GB for free|
|Apps||Paper but also integration with numerous other platforms such as Slack, Autodeks and others.|
|Photo synching||Via mobile apps|
|Own domain name support||N/A|
|Costs||There a number a different plans ranging from the basic free option though to more expansive multi-TB plans with data recovery and other options.|
How Do You Move Your Data?
With basic documents and other files, the process is reasonably easy but can be time consuming depending on the speed of your internet connection.
All four of the services I've compared require that you put your data into one specific folder (there can be sub-folders and other nested folders) which is then synchronised up to the provider's server.
That can take minutes or hours depending on the volume of data and your connection speed.
With photos, you can follow a similar process. For new pics you shoot on your tablet or smartphone, assuming you have the provider's mobile app, you can direct new photos to go straight to the mobile service. iCloud is the outrider here. If you live in Apple's walled garden, their photo synchronisation works across devices and to the the Photos app in macOS once you've set a few options in System Preferences.
Email is a little trickier. Google lets you synchronise using IMAP or it can grab the messages sitting on your old email provider's server using POP. But you ability to do that will depend on what your old service provider offers and what your new one supports. And Google offers the simplest option to use your own domain name. iCloud doesn't all it all and Microsoft offers that capability but not on consumer-focussed services.
The process of moving to a cloud service is straightforward. The main challenge comes of you decide you want to migrate all your old email from a previous service provider to the new one. But you may find simply keeping a local archive will suffice.