Part two of our series of working in the cloud talks about different services for keeping your files in the cloud.
A few years ago, if I wanted to copy a large project I was working on between work and home, I’d have to burn it to a CD-R or DVD-R. This was clunky and slow, not to mention expensive since both CD and DVD burners were expensive when they were first released. Over time, USB drives came to be and that made everyone’s lives so much easier since they’re so cheap. They are still something extra to carry around, and I’m not one to carry too much with me, so sometimes I’d forget. Since I carry my iPod around with me all the time, I could essentially use that as a storage device if I really had to.
There may be a time when you’re stuck without an iPod or a USB drive, and you need to get your files to a place where you can get to them later when you go somewhere else. This is where The Cloud comes in. There are some paid and free tools that allow you to transfer what you need to a service for retrieval later.
Dropbox – Dropbox came to be in 2008, allowing people to have a way to store files up to 2GB in their section of The Cloud for free. By installing a small application on the client computer (Mac, Windows, and Linux), users get a drive (Windows) or folder (Mac, Linux) which is seamlessly integrated into the OS. This allows the user to just drop a file on the destination and the file is copied to The Cloud. Users can share folders with friends and collaborators, but anything that’s shared is added to your quota. For example, if your quota is 2GB and your friend who shares a folder with you pops a 3GB file on his shared drive, you’re account is now considered over the quota. Users can upgrade to 50GB for $9.99/mo. or $99/yr. I would personally like something like a 10GB quota for $2/mo. since I know I’m not going to use 50GB ever. Still, it’s a great entry-level solution for new users.
Google Docs – Google allows you to use its document space for uploading files. Google gives you half the space that Dropbox does for free, but gives you a lot more space for a lot less money per year than Dropbox does. The downside is that Google Docs doesn’t mount as a drive or folder on your computer natively, you have to use a third party app such as MacFuse to do so. In essence, you’re paying for the convenience of Dropbox. Google gives better incremental pricing, too. For $5/yr. you can get 20GB of space, and for $100/yr. you get 400GB of storage and an Eye-Fi card. You upload files via your browser, or drag them to your mounted drive/folder if you installed an application to do that. Your files show up in Google Docs as separate documents which can be shared and downloaded.
Amazon S3 – Most people probably don’t know that Amazon has a storage system. Dubbed S3 (Simple Storage Service), Amazon allows web developers to place your files on their system with a payment system where you only pay for what you use. You can also optimize where your data comes from to handle latency. For the first 50TB/mo., Amazon charges $0.15/GB and charges $0.01/file request. It’s hard to quantify that for web developer, but may be an attractive solution if ISPs or hosting systems charge more than the developer can handle. Amazon offers a payment estimator to help determine how much the monthly cost would be. S3 also offers versioning so that if you’re working on a project, you can keep a record of the changes you made to your files. I don’t know of another service that offers this. S3′s main transfer protocol is HTTP, but can allow BitTorrent for large files.
MobileMe – Apple’s offering not only gives you space in The Cloud, but email, calendar, photo album, address book, synchronization (Mac only), the ability to find your lost iPhone or iPad, public files, web space, and access to anti-virus applications. This offer isn’t exclusive to Mac users, but it integrates better with a Mac than with Windows. Your MobileMe iDisk mounts on your Mac just like an external drive. For $100/yr. you get 20GB of space which you can split between email and storage. Apple also offers the ability for Windows users to mount their MobileMe drives on their PC. Apple offers the ability to have a Family Plan for an extra $50/yr. which gives you 5 more email accounts, and separately, for $50/yr., 40GB of storage. The price for storage alone doesn’t seem very compelling, but as a Mac user, having all those features wrapped together is a great value. I personally think they charge too much for more storage and email addresses. They have a 60-day free trial.
So there you have it, some of the best known Cloud storage services. Other services can be your ISP via FTP, setting up your own system in your home, and a hosting service using WebDAV to mount the drive on your computer.
Although I’m a MobileMe user, my favorite system is DropBox simply because most of my friends use it all the time, and I can simply drag and drop a file on my mounted DropBox folder instead of dealing with MobileMe.