Most notably: unlimited storage capability and the reliability of offsite servers maintaining multiple mirror images of your data without having to invest in costly equipment. Moving a large amount of data to the cloud, however, will likely require you to pay a monthly fee. There are some additional benefits that may make the investment of cloud computing cost-effective.
Create a Personal Streaming Media Library
Anyone who’s amassed an extensive collection of music, movies and photos can attest to the limitations of storing it all on one computer. Transfer your files to a cloud account that supports streaming (such as Amazon’s “Cloud Drive” or SugarSync). This allows you to listen to or view content over the Internet without taking up space on your computer or mobile device.
Storing a large amount of data will likely require a large, potentially costly cloud account, however.
Some providers offer unlimited account options. Using the cloud service affiliated with the source of your content has advantages. Many providers (including Amazon, Google and Apple) don’t count content you purchase through their associated stores toward your storage limit. Also, only content that’s compatible with your cloud provider’s application can be streamed. If, for example, you have a lot of digital music or movies purchased through Amazon, you’ll have the most seamless streaming experience using Amazon’s Cloud Player.
Share Files With Friends and Colleagues
While many businesses have discovered the benefits of using a cloud account to collaborate on a project, cloud providers that support public folders are a great way to allow friends or family to share your digital media. Pick a provider that allows you to restrict access to data by setting permissions on individual folders and/or files.
Dropbox is the industry leader for easy small file sharing, supporting most software platforms and boasting a large selection of add-on apps to increase its integration with a variety of other programs like Evernote and Quickbooks. However, DropBox is ill-suited to storing a large amount of data. If you surpass the 2GB of free storage, it’s expensive compared to competitors. It also requires everything you want synced to be saved to one folder.
Seamlessly Collaborate on Group Projects
Speaking of sharing files, cloud accounts that support shared-file syncing make collaborating on a project much easier. Those working on the project have access to the most recent version of each file, eliminating the need to manually merge sections together or wait for Fred to e-mail his changes to the group. The instant one person makes a change to the file, everyone else can see the latest version. SugarSync supports password-protected shared files and folders, while allowing project participants to maintain a synced folder locally on their own computer for when they need to work offline. Changes are updated when team members are next online and are instantly available to all team members.
Remotely Access Files Stored on Your PC
Windows Live SkyDrive has a handy feature called “Fetch,” which allows you to retrieve files saved on your computer remotely.
This comes in handy when you discover you forgot to transfer an important file or folder to your cloud account. Provided the computer with the file you need is powered on, connected to the Internet and has an active SkyDrive application installed and linked to your account, you can use a remote access function to retrieve files from your computer using any device with access to the Internet.
The main drawback of Skydrive is limited file size upload, which makes it ill-suited for storing video files.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair to homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.