Amazon Web Services says it will build a Region in New Zealand. AWS plans to start operating local cloud data centres by 2024.

An official press release telling us about this runs to more than 3200 words. It’s long, wordy, poorly written and hard to understand.

Despite the torrent of words, it is light on details.

Mystery

It doesn’t answer key questions.

Such as: “Where will Amazon locate its promised data centres?”

That’s not mentioned anywhere in the 3200 plus words.

It’s an important question. New Zealand is on a fault line. That has implications.

Our biggest city, Auckland, is closest to the submarine cables piping in data from around the world. That’s handy. Yet because it sits on an active volcanic field it may not be the best site for a $7.5 billion investment.

Auckland has a large workforce, although the construction skills needed to build a data centre are in short supply. Does Amazon propose to bring that expertise in?

Electricity

There’s an undersupply of electricity in the Auckland region. In winter Huntly’s dirty old coal-based power plant kicks in to top up the power supply.

Will AWS be using that power?

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country there is, or soon will be, an oversupply of low cost, clean, green power. Is that in the plan? It should be.

New Zealand’s south has a cool climate. Cooling is a major operational cost for data centres. Locating in a cooler climate not only reduces costs, it smartens up green credentials, an important part of any cloud marketing programme.

Data transit

If Amazon locates in or around Auckland, it won’t have to pay much in the way of transit charges for data travelling up and down the nation’s backbone.

Nor will it pay for the cost of bringing in the power needed to run a hyper-scale data centre.

New Zealanders subsidise moving power around the country. There is a limit to how much of that is possible without network upgrades. Who pays for that?

AWS’ numbers look as they have been polished up for maximum press release impact.

From the press release:

AWS released an economic impact study (EIS) that estimates it will create 1,000 new jobs through investment of NZ$7.5 billion (US$5.3 billion) in the new AWS Asia Pacific (Auckland) Region with an estimated economic impact on New Zealand’s GDP of NZ$10.8 billion (US$7.7 billion) over the next 15 years.

Jobs for who?

We can assume many of the 1000 jobs will be temporary roles for people building the data centres. It’s rare for a giant data centre to employ more than a handful of people and that includes security guards.

Once the ball is rolling there won’t be many data centre jobs. There could be development work piggybacking off the data centre. AWS doesn’t say. Nor does it say where the people to fill those roles will come from.

Amazon doesn’t tell us enough about its plans for any sensible analysis of its $7.5 billion investment claim.

We know AWS is a worldwide hyper scale cloud business. Any comparison with Spark is always going to look odd. Yet, Spark operates New Zealand’s largest existing data centre at Takanini. That makes it the closest we have to a benchmark.

Spark’s original project cost $60 million. Subsequent expansion means that price will be a lot higher. It won’t be anywhere near $7.5 billion. It won’t be one tenth of that amount.

Market share

IDC Research says Spark and Datacom have a 43 percent share of New Zealand’s Infrastructure as a Service market. Amazon has a 23 percent market share. Microsoft is a touch behind on 19 percent. In other words, the four are all roughly the same size.

As a rule, the large, hyper scale cloud providers AWS and Microsoft Azure take 70 to 80 percent market share in any territory.

Their lateness to build here is one reason they have less share at the moment. The lure of winning that additional market share could be part of the reason both Microsoft and AWS have made big New Zealand cloud announcements in recent months.

Sure, there is more to cloud than IaaS. Yes, the market is expanding fast. Yes, Amazon is hyper scale. Does it need to spend 20 or 50 times as much as Spark?

Datagrid

Datagrid is a $700 million project to build what may still be New Zealand’s first hyper-scale data centre. The business is headed by Remi Galasso and Callplus founder Malcolm Dick.

The pair know a thing or two: they got the Hawaiki cable off the ground.

Datagrid has chosen a Southland site.

Interestingly, Amazon has invested in Hawaiki. It’s likely the Datagrid team has talked to AWS about potential cooperation1.

Part of Datagrid’s plan is to build a new submarine cable connecting Invercargill to Australia. There will also be a domestic submarine cable linking the site to major New Zealand cities.

Will Amazon build a similar cable to distribute its data?

Scale

At first Datagrid will be a 60 megawatt, 25,000 square metre data centre. Over time it will grow to 100 megawatts and 40,000 square metres. That’s a lot of data centre.

Assuming data centre costs scale better than linearly and Amazon can call on its worldwide economies of scale, its project will build more than ten times Datagrid’s capacity.

Which brings us to another question. How big is New Zealand’s cloud market?

In March Spark told Computerworld’s Sarah Putt it estimates total cloud revenue at around $730 million.

That figure doesn’t square with AWS’s $7.5 billion build budget over 15 years unless AWS anticipates the market continuing to grow at a fast rate.

Assuming AWS doesn’t capture the entire market and intends its New Zealand operation to be profitable, either the local market would need to grow at about 40 percent a year for the next decade or the company expects to host a huge amount of international business here.

Unknowns

There are plenty of unknowns. Too many unknowns to make a careful analysis of AWS’s plans. Yet there are four possible conclusions one could make about the $7.5 billion announcement.

The first is the most cynical: that it is pure public relations hype.

Mentioning a big enough number and promising lots of jobs is a sure fire way of seeing off any resistance and buying-in political good will. AWS can rest assured no-one is going to look back in 15 years to check it spent $7.5 billion.

Big technology companies like AWS have plenty of form when it comes to talking things up.

Efficient

A second conclusion, is that Amazon throws money around like water and is hugely inefficient. It overpays for everything.

This is implausible. It doesn’t square with anything we know about Amazon which is famous for trimming costs to the bone. Operational efficiency is key to making money from the cloud.

The third possibility is that AWS expects to scythe through the local cloud market. It has done this before. It’s possible, but wise cloud customers are wary of dealing with a single international ecosystem. Many will seek alternative service providers as a back-up.

That’s going to limit AWS’ potential market share. And even 100 percent share of a $730 million market doesn’t justify spending $7.5 billion even with heroic growth rates.

A more likely story is that AWS has bigger plans for New Zealand that serving local markets. It has hinted at this without explicitly saying anything. New Zealand gives, say, Australian AWS users a viable alternative location with, if not always similar, at least readily understood local conditions.

One last point. Until now, the big global cloud companies stayed away from New Zealand. They didn’t like it when there was only one submarine cable network. They didn’t like what they saw as a hostile and monopolistic telecommunications market. It took ten years of industry reform.

As far as technology is concerned, no-one thinks of us as a smug hermit kingdom.


  1. A speculating person might wonder if Datagrid will become part of AWS. ↩︎

Almost every business software company sells the idea of productivity. Yet there’s evidence that it does not deliver on that promise.

This graph shows US total factor productivity from 1947 until 2020. The last 20 years are the flattest part of the graph.

total factor productivity chart USA 1947-2020

It’s a time that has seen the rise of cloud computing, mobile apps and agile thinking. None of which appear to have moved the productivity dial.

Until 1970 there is a sharp rise. Then, around the time business computers became commonplace, the productivity rise tapers off. We see a burst in the late 1990s and the start of the 20020s, then it flattens.

Austin Vernon writes at length about software’s negligible impact on productivity. It’s worth a read if you can divert yourself from your own productivity for five minutes.

Software a management technology

He gets into economic concepts. His key point is that software is not a general purpose technology but a management technology.

General purpose technologies drive productivity growth in ways that are easy to understand. That term covers technologies like electricity, railways and steam engines.

Software has more in common with assembly lines.

These have a slower, plodding effect on productivity. In part that’s because they deal with high levels of complexity. In comparison building railway networks is straightforward and easy to repeat.

He says their benefits don’t show up in society at large until the companies using them have a significant market share.

“The current status quo means we don’t get productivity growth until these software-driven companies become behemoths.

Amazon was founded in 1994, almost thirty years ago. In 2020, it was still less than 10 percent of total retail sales 1. Is it any wonder that we haven’t seen robust productivity gains? Amazon is still mapping and digitising processes at prodigious rates.

In other words, Vernon thinks we’re just getting started with software productivity gains. If he is right, then we can expect more productivity as the world’s technology giants grow larger. Of course, that brings another set of problems.


  1. I think Vernon is referring to US sales here. If you know otherwise please help me correct this footnote. ↩︎

Some employers will give you a work-from-home computer. Others leave the choice or even the cost up to you. You may be your own employer and make all your own decisions.

Either way here’s a short, straightforward guide on choosing the best computer for your needs.

Start by taking a breath. There is no need to stress. You won’t fail this test. Making the wrong choice will not be a disaster.

That’s because for most people reading this almost anything you buy will be adequate. It will get the job done. There are some exceptions. We’ll look closer at them later. But if you fall into the exception camp you already know that.

Here we’re going to focus on finding the right kind of computer for you to work from home. That means something you are comfortable with. One that fits with both your work and the way you live at home. We’ll consider entertainment and other non-work tasks.

We’ll leave specifics, which brands, operating systems and models for another time. This is the first of a series of posts.

What is a computer anyway?

Let’s start by looking at the big picture. When we say computer, we mean what people in the industry might call a device. It could be a desktop personal computer, it could be a laptop or a tablet.

There are devices that sit between these classes. There are 2-in–1 devices that sit between laptops and tablets. Desktop replacement laptops are another class straddling category. As you can guess from the name, occupy the space between conventional laptops and desktop PCs.

At a pinch the right device for your needs could even be a high end mobile phone. Premium smartphones are a least as powerful as most conventional computers. You can connect many phones to keyboards and screens to act more like everyday computers. Samsung designed the Dex range to make this easier and better..

For the sake of keeping things simple, let’s say a computer comes with a screen, a processor and storage. Most come with a keyboard and either a mouse or a touchpad. There are devices worth considering where these are an optional extra.

Cloud does heavy lifting

Earlier we saw that almost anything you buy will be adequate. That’s because cloud computing can do much, even all, of the heavy lifting. So long as you have a reliable internet connection you’ll be able to connect to cloud services.

There’s a good chance the software and tools your company work with are already hosted in the cloud. The most popular cloud software is Google G-Suite and Microsoft 365.

Even the most basic device can connect to the cloud. In some cases there are cloud versions of applications that you might run on a desktop when working in the office.

Being able to connect to cloud apps and tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams covers most of the important stuff. Up to a point everything else in this post is about the icing on the cake. Your choices can make for a better working experience. They will give you something more comfortable to live with, can make you more productive and will offer more fun when you’re not working.

Laptop
laptop

Laptops

The perfect device depends on what you intend to do, where you intend to do it, how you live and how much budget you have.

Laptops are the most popular choice by a long way. They range from tiny ultraportable laptops to huge desktop replacements. You can pick up a serviceable low-end laptop for a few hundred dollars or spend thousands.

If you don’t have a spare room or a rumpus that can act as a home office, a laptop you can pack away means you can work on the kitchen table or anywhere else. As things return to normal you can take the laptop to a cafe or the local library. You’ll also be able to carry it between the office and home when needed.

Laptop downside

The laptop downside is they often don’t last as long as desktop computers. In part that’s because they can take more of a hammering. Moving them around and bumping them doesn’t help.

Some laptops are fragile, others are more robust. As a rule of thumb smaller, lighter, thinner models are more robust. But first impressions can be deceptive.

Although it is easy to upgrade some laptops, that’s not always the case. This means the internal hardware can become out of date if newer, more demanding applications come along or if your needs change.

Unless you have technical and fine motor skills it is best to leave laptop upgrades and repairs to professionals. There is a cost, but it is often worth the investment.

You will hear stories of people who made a laptop last a decade or more. It happens far more often than the industry might have you think. Yet in general you can expect about five years useful life from a laptop if you look after it.

iPad Pro 12.9-inch 2018 with Pencil

Tablets

If mobility is your main consideration you may do better to choose a tablet with a keyboard case.

Tablets are easier to move around even when compared with light laptops. You can sometimes work on them in places where laptops feel clumsy. If space at home is tight or there’s a lot of competition for the kitchen table, a tablet could be your best bet.

Although tablets are not always more robust than laptops they often cope better with knocks if you have a nomadic working life. You will need to buy a cover or case to protect the screen. Often tablet keyboards double as protective covers.

Tablets tend to go a longer time between charges than laptops, but that can be down to how you use them.

You can buy tablets that connect direct to the mobile network for communications. Yet most tablet users do fine relying on Wi-fi or by tethering to a mobile phone to reach the internet.

Dell Inspiron 13 5000

Hybrid computer, 2-in–1s

The distinction between tablets and laptops is blurry. There are tablet-like laptops and laptop-like tablets.

Some laptops fold, origami style, to become tablets. Some can also work in a tent configuration. This is useful for watching movies or giving presentations.

It’s not always the case, but foldable laptops can be more fragile than straightforward tablets or laptops. Take care when choosing.

Another consideration with hybrids that almost everyone overlooks is that buyers often end up using them as only a laptop or tablet.

Given they tend to cost a little more than straight laptops and tablets, this means you can waste money. There are almost always better ways to spend that part of your tech budget.

Desktops almost forgotten these days

Laptops outsell desktops almost two to one1. In round numbers that means desktops only account for one computer sale in five.

There is still a strong case for choosing a desktop computer. Yet they are not right for everyone2.

Desktops can have big screens, far bigger than even the largest laptop. Big screens are great for productivity. They allow you to place documents or windows side by side. If you work with spreadsheets you can see a lot more data.

Desktop computer productive, fun

At a pinch a large desktop computer screen can double as your television. Lots of people do this with laptop or tablet screens, but larger screens are better. Desktops can also have far better audio speakers than laptops. In general they are better than laptops for games and other entertainment software.

You can also use a proper keyboard. While many laptops have great keyboards, desktop keyboards are often better. Again this can help productivity, especially if you are a touch typist.

In some ways desktop computers can be less expensive than laptops. You generally get more raw computing power, storage and graphics for your money.

Desktops also tend to be far easier to upgrade. They take less of a hammering, so you can make them last far longer than a laptop.

You need to have enough room and a spare desk or table for a desktop computer. You can’t pack it up when you’re not working. You can push the screen back and store the bulky part under the desk.

Don’t get too hung up on specifications

At the top of this story it says specifications are not the most important thing to consider any more. That’s true, but it needs more explaining.

Almost every device has more than enough power to handle all your everyday tasks. Writing, web surfing, playing music, watching videos and Zoom calls will not challenge any modern device.

Likewise every modern device will come with a screen of some description, that way you can see what is going on.

Storage used to be a huge deal. Today, if there’s not enough in the device you choose, you can make up for the shortfall by using cloud storage.

Where computer specifications matter

More processing power and memory means you can run more applications at the same time. You also need a more powerful processor if you want photo, video or music editing.

People who work with large databases or huge spreadsheets also need more powerful processors. But you can often let cloud computing do that kind of heavy lifting.

So by all means choose an upscale specification, but don’t waste money buying more computer than you will ever need. You’d be better off spending that money on a better quality device. We’ll come back to this point in a later post.


  1. In case you were wondering laptops outsell tablets by around four to three. ↩︎
  2. I’ve recently gone back to using a desktop as my main work-from-home computer. ↩︎

 

The digital services churned out by the world’s computer centres are multiplying. Their energy use is not, thanks to cloud computing, a new study says.

Source: Cloud Computing Is Not the Energy Hog That Had Been Feared – The New York Times

The New York Times story refers to a study published in the journal Science: Recalibrating global data centre energy use estimates.

It starts:

Data centres represent the information backbone of an increasingly digitalised world. Demand for their services has been rising rapidly. Data-intensive technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart and connected energy systems, distributed manufacturing systems, and autonomous vehicles promise to increase demand further.

Given that data centres are energy-intensive enterprises, estimated to account for around 1 percent of worldwide electricity use, these trends have clear implications for global energy demand and must be analysed rigorously.

Efficient cloud computing

There’s a common belief that accelerating data processing means the energy used to power data centres is rising fast. It turns out it is not.

Data centres did six times as much computing work in 2018 as in 2010. Yet their power consumption increased only six percent.

There’s also evidence cloud computing means less pollution and greenhouse gas than we feared.

The reason for the new optimism is the amount of work that has shifted to the cloud. And not just any old cloud. Most has moved to the bigger and more energy efficient services.

Low carbon

Cloud giants like AWS and Microsoft run huge data centres. Many place their data centres where they can use low carbon energy. Hydroelectricity and solar power are favourites. Some are located in naturally cold places. This means less need for air conditioning.

There is a trend towards green data centres. It is an opportunity for New Zealand. 

Big cloud companies use technologies that pack more computing and storage into ever smaller hardware. Small hardware is usually more efficient.

Energy efficiency is good for the environment. It’s also good for the cloud companies. Energy is often a significant cost. Cloud companies love to boast about their clean energy. It also helps them win business.

Network for Learning, N4L, says ‘moving to the cloud’ is on the to-do list for many New Zealand schools.

It makes sense. Schools often don’t have the skills or resources to manage servers and other computer infrastructure. Moving to the cloud leaves teachers free to concentrate on doing what they do best: teaching. 

Here’s the first of a series of posts written for the N4L blog that aim to demystify the cloud and how to make use of it. It’s written for a non-technical audience.

“Cloud computing is using remote computers for jobs that were once done by local machines.

We call it cloud because the computers are somewhere else on the internet. Most of the time you don’t need to know where they are.

When the idea was first developed, people would draw diagrams to illustrate how it worked. They used pictures of clouds to show the remote computers could be anywhere. The image and the metaphor stuck.”

Cloud means network computers

Cloud replaces servers. These were, in some cases still are, the computers that organise network traffic, store data and parcel out work to devices like printers. It may help to think of them as hubs.

Because servers are computers, they can also run applications. This lightens the load on desktop or laptop computers. Today, cloud servers handle so much everyday computer processing that you can often get away with less powerful hardware on your desktop or in your hand. This explains the rising popularity of less expensive devices like Chromebook or tablets. They leave cloud computers to do their heavy lifting.

 

Read more at The Cloud on the N4L website.

Vodafone TVYou need a fast fibre connection to use the new-look Vodafone TV. Less than 100Mbps won’t cut it. That means a UFB connection or Vodafone’s own FibreX alternative.

You also need a Vodafone broadband account. The service is company exclusive. CEO Russell Stanners says he hopes customers who like the look of Vodafone TV will reward his company with their business.

Vodafone has offered a TV service for some time. Its 2013 earlier incarnation was, in effect, a version of Sky TV’s My Box reworked for the internet.

The new version is something else. The hardware is a puck-sized box packaged with a remote control. In some ways it is like Apple TV.

It’s not about the hardware

There’s not much to the hardware because there doesn’t need to be much. The cloud does all the heavy lifting. An Amazon server stores all TV shows, movies and other video. It could be in Australia, but it could be anywhere in the world.

Cloud storage has the vast catalogue of material and the user’s own saved program choices.

There are also mobile clients for phones and tablets. Stanners says, you might be sitting at home watching the All Blacks test on a large screen before going on a trip.

When your taxi arrives, you can press pause on the big display. Load yourself in the car and resume watching the game from the point where you stopped en route to the airport. Pause again, dump your bags and find a seat in the lounge before getting back to watching the game on your tablet.

Stanners says the experience is seamless and brings all the screens together. Vodafone wasn’t able to show the hand-off at the Auckland event to show off the product. Yet staff were able to show how well Vodafone TV works on big screens and on mobiles. It is impressive and like all impressive technology has a faint whiff of magic about it.

Reverse electronic programme guide

Using the cloud has other advantages. There’s no likelihood of running out of local storage. And there’s a powerful reverse electronic programme guide.

This makes it easy to find the shows you want. One neat twist is you can use your mobile phone to cue big screen content. It’s a form of on-demand programming. Armed with the reverse programme guide, you can search back through the last week or so to find shows that you may have missed. The actual timespan wasn’t discussed.

Vodafone TV uses the company’s proprietary intellectual property. The company has a similar product in parts of Europe. Stanners says there has been a huge amount of local input into the service on sale here. Not least, is the work clearing the rights with content owners to build the reverse electronic programme guide.

Vodafone TV: made for Sky merger

The TV-as-a-service product was already in the pipeline when Vodafone planned to merge with Sky. It shows what Vodafone was able to bring to the party. Sky, meanwhile, owns the bulk of content. It will all be there on Vodafone TV, but it’s isn’t an exclusive relationship. The device is able to run apps and from day one there will be Netflix, YouTube and content from Mediaworks. TVNZ will join them soon after.

Vodafone was coy about the precise launch date and the cost. Stanners says it will be soon. There was a whisper at the event that soon means the next week or two. We could have the new Vodafone TV before we have a government.

He wouldn’t talk prices, but Stanners says they will be competitive. Again, the word around the event is that it won’t be expensive. There will be add-ons, some premium content and extras like Netflix subscriptions. At this stage customers will have to buy Netflix themselves, but Vodafone may yet offer it.

Party-on dudes

It doesn’t stop there. Stanners says one advantage of Vodafone’s approach is it makes distribution easy for smaller content providers. He says that means we could see the emergence of Wayne’s World-like niche channels.

The event made it clear there is still a strong relationship between Vodafone and Sky. Vodafone TV delivers most of what a merged operation could have achieved. It does so without causing regulatory ripples. There is no legal compulsion for Sky to offer the same content to other broadband suppliers.

Vodafone TV puts the company in a strong competitive position. It should be able to grow its share of the broadband market. Yet even with stellar growth it will struggle to match Sky’s satellite reach. It goes places fibre doesn’t.

Fibre is important to Vodafone TV. You need a solid, fast, reliable connection for it to work.

Chorus and the other fibre companies have graphs that show how fibre uptake took-off. It happened first when Spark introduced Lightbox. Then, again, when Netflix opened in New Zealand. There were two clear inflection points.

Inflection point

It wasn’t only uptake. The graphs also showing how much data users download. These also turned corners at the inflection moments. Expect a similar effect as Vodafone TV kicks in.

Close Vodafone watchers may have spotted a theme with the company in recent months. Vodafone group product director Sally Fuller was in town earlier this year. The main thrust of her presentation was that we’re moving to: “Everything-as-a-service”. She says the ownership of things is on the way out, instead we buy outcomes.

This is something you could miss in Vodafone’s TV announcement. Yes, it is a flash new product. It has the capacity to delight customers and win business from rivals.

At the same time it is another step closer to “everything-as-a-service”. This is the future world Vodafone refers to in its advertising. Vodafone TV is more than a product, it is a strategy.

Ben Kepes writes about an infosec panic:

Bitglass, a company that is all about protecting organizational data, wanted to see the impacts of widespread use of public wi-fi, alongside the use of unsanctioned file sharing solutions…

…Bitglass’ threat research team tested two real-world scenarios—public wi-fi use and sharing of data from within a cloud app. The assumption being that the combination of public (and, one assumes, at-risk) wi-fi and cloud file sharing apps (shock, horror, cue the “cloud is risky” FUD) would deliver a double blow of cataclysmic risk.

Source: Public WiFi plus cloud file sharing: A recipe for InfoSec panic? « The Diversity Blog 

Kepes goes on to talk about his experience of using public wi-fi. He says he uses it a lot and never runs into trouble.

That makes sense. But it misses something. Kepes is motivated. He owns a business. He has enough experience, knowledge and sense to steer clear of obvious traps.

You, I and Kepes might be sensible. You can’t assume everyone using an enterprise computing app on a mobile device will be as careful or as savvy.

No amount of training or awareness programmes changes that.

Public wi-fi, risky, not too risky

Organisations are at risk from careless use of public wi-fi. As Kepes points out the level of risk might not be high.

There is a simple way to deal with the risk. Build VPN functionality into every heavy-duty mobile enterprise app. That way that users have a secure, encrypted end-to-end link from their mobile device to the server handling their data.

VPNs are not expensive, they are not hard to build. They don’t impose much of a performance overhead.

Enterprise software companies can absorb the cost, a few cents per month, into their pricing model. It makes sense to guarantee security with an insurance policy against data being hijacked between a mobile device and the server.

Kepes’ point, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt undermines cloud computing. In general, cloud is more secure than older computing models. You might not expect cloud infrastructure vendors to address mobile access risks; it should be a priority for an enterprise SaaS business.

Four years ago Microsoft lost its mojo. The software giant had failed to compete in web search.

People questioned whether Microsoft was on an IBM-style path to irrelevance. When the phone business flopped, it looked like Microsoft’s time in the sun was over.

Today it is back. The 2017 Microsoft is a different beast, the main reason for its revival is a successful transition to selling cloud computing services. Microsoft’s rebirth isn’t yet on the same scale as Apple which came back with the iPhone, but that can still happen.

This week Microsoft reported quarterly profits that are more than twice the level of a year earlier.

It’s not all good news. Some of the jump was down to the company realising a tax benefit after writing off its failed mobile phone business.

Fast growing cloud transition

Yet that’s the past The important part of the quarterly announcement is that Microsoft’s cloud business is growing at a clip. That was enough to send the share price up three percent.

This wasn’t the first quarter where Microsoft’s cloud business was the star of the show. It’s been climbing for years now. In the latest quarter Intelligent Cloud revenue was up 11 percent to US$7.4 billion. Revenue for the company’s Azure cloud services was up almost 100 percent.

While Azure still trails behind Amazon Web Services, there is clear blue sky between Microsoft and the next set of cloud service providers. Being second in the most important market of the day is a huge win for Microsoft.

Azure profits

At the same time, cloud economics means it is close to a winner takes all game. Amazon and Azure share almost all the cloud profits.

The other cloudy good news from Microsoft is that revenue from the cloud version of Office 365 went past traditional software sales for the first time. There are now 90 million Office 365 users on iOS and Android. That is a big thumbs up for CEO Satya Nadella’s decision to support non-Microsoft operating systems.

Although Microsoft is doing a better job of transforming than rivals like IBM, Oracle or Google, it isn’t in the clear yet. Sales of Surface devices fell two percent during the quarter. Meanwhile enterprise service revenues fell. Yet it appears to be keeping pace with AWS, that’s something no-one else can manage.

Cloud storage means you can have fast access to all your important data no matter where you, no matter which device you are using at the time.

It is good for storing and sharing files. That’s important if you now find yourself working at home and need to collaborate with remote colleagues.

You can use cloud storage for Word or other written documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and photos or anything else that is a digital file.

Cloud storage means you can access all your work files, even when you’re not at the office.

Your files are safe. Even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet, they will still be there in the cloud.

If you don’t already use a cloud storage service, you should think about it. You’ll get an added layer of protection for your important files. But first, take time to check you are not paying to store junk data.

You may already have cloud storage

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or pay for a Microsoft Office 365 subscription. Google’s Gmail and Docs services come with a healthy helping of free cloud storage.

Free storage is good. It may be enough for your needs. Yet it’s often worth paying for more.

That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security.

In some cases paying means you can not only store more data, but also store larger files. There may also be better ways to share them with friends or colleagues.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is Microsoft’s default cloud storage and synching service for Windows 10 and Office. It integrates well with the operating system. It also works well with Office.

If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account.

If not, there is a free 5GB basic version of OneDrive. That’s barely enough to get you started, but it will give you a taste or what OneDrive can do.

Microsoft sells a 100GB of OneDrive cloud storage for NZ$3 a month.

OneDrive comes with a comprehensive set of cloud tools and apps. This includes web versions of Office apps like Word and Excel. In practice OneDrive seems to be slower at syncing than the other options listed here.

If you use Windows and Office, OneDrive has to be the first service you should consider.

While there are apps for iOS and MacOS, the integration isn’t always smooth.

Apple iCloud

Apple customers often use iCloud in a different way to the way Microsoft owners use OneDrive. iCloud is more about syncing between devices than simple storage. Although it does that too.

If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you may end up using both iCloud and OneDrive.

Every Apple customer gets 5GB of iCloud for free. It’s not enough for serious use, but does show you what to expect if you pay.

A 50GB plan costs NZ$1.69 a month. It should be enough for a light user. There’s a 200GB plan for NZ$5 a month. This is ideal if you have a lot of files or if you plan to share your iCloud account with family members. Families who get through a lot of data can buy the 2TB plan for $17 a month.

iCloud is a must for Apple users. You only get one 5GB allocation even if you have many devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.

Apple designed iCloud to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. You may not even notice you are using it, the experience is that seamless.

iCloud is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.

Google Drive

There’s more to Google Drive than cloud storage and sync. You could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud. Those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.

Drive goes further. It is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite along with Google Docs and Google Sheets. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.

Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services. Yet it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.

Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional back up. In practice backup works well enough.

Google Drive is a must if you own an Android phone or a Chromebook. You can’t avoid if you work with Gmail or Google Docs.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less free storage but it’s independence means flexibility. You’re not tied to anything. In practice it is the best way to share files with others when you don’t know what technology they use.

In some respects Dropbox is simpler than the services mentioned above. That’s a good thing, it does one job and does it well. The main drawback is that paid Dropbox accounts are expensive. Prices start at US$15 a month.

You can connect to Dropbox via the web, but there’s some pressure to download and use an app to handle uploads and download. In practice I found the app is not as reliable as the web service, it some cases data transfers to the cloud could take more than a day when uploaded using the app.

Box

Box is expensive compared to the other services here. It’s easy to use and the free service is generous. For these reasons along you should look at it.

Mega

New Zealand-based Mega has a generous 15GB free allowance. It’s main claim to fame is that you get end-to-end encryption, which is an added layer of security and privacy. If you want to store private documents online, this is the service for you.

In practice I found Mega requires a little more work than the services from Google, Apple and Microsoft that integrate with apps. Yet it is on a par with Box and Dropbox.

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GBNZ$20
200GBNZ$60
2TBNZ$200
Microsoft OneDrive5GB100GBNZ$36
Office 365 Home 1TB is includedNZ$80
Google Drive15GB 100GBUS$20
Storage shared between 2TBUS$120
Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos10TBUS$1200
20TBUS$2400
30TBUS$3600
Dropbox2GB3TBUS$200
Box10GB100GBUS$60
UnlimitedUS$180
Mega50GB400GBNZ$100
2TBNZ$200
8TBNZ$400
All prices in US dollars unless it says otherwise, annualised and prices rounded to nearest sensible number