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Cloud storage

Cloud storage has changed the way we use computers and data.

Thanks to the cloud you can breathe easier. Your files are safe, even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet.

You can have near-instant access to any of your files from almost everywhere.

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or Microsoft Office 365. You also get free cloud storage if you use Gmail or Google Docs.

Free storage is good, yet it’s worth paying extra. 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. You may also be able to share them with friends or colleagues.

Most, but not all, cloud storage services double as syncing services.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is the default cloud services for Microsoft Windows 10. 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, Microsoft’s 50GB Basic plan costs US$24 a year.

Microsoft offers 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. 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 how 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 services.

There is a 5GB free tier. The 20GB for US$12-a-year plan gives you 50GB. The price of the 200GB plan is US$36 a year while a terabyte of cloud storage costs US$120.

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.

iCloud can be confusing at times. Apple designed it to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. Even so, it 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. 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.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less storage for free, but it’s independence means flexibility. It is also a great way to share files with others.

 

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GB$12
200GB$36
1TB$120
Microsoft OneDrive5GB50GB$24
Office 365 Home 1TB is included$80
Google Drive15GB 100GB$20
Storage shared between 1TB$100
Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$120
Box10GB100GB$138
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB200GB$65
500GB$130
2TB$260
4TB$390
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

Satya Nadella Microsoft CEO

Microsoft shows a refreshing ability to reinvent itself. On his first day in the job incoming CEO Satya Nadella told employees:

“Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”

Microsoft has repeated those words, rearranged as cloud first, mobile first many times since. It  used them as a slogan when launching the iPad version of Office.

While the phrase sounds good, it leaves questions. Not least: what does Microsoft mean and how can two things be first?

Cloud computing and mobile computing are not distinct categories but two facets of the same idea:

  • Cloud is all about abstracting data, intelligence and services from place and device.
  • Mobile is the means of accessing data, intelligence and services. To a degree that means devices. Mobile can include phones, tablets, laptops and anything falling into the gaps between.

Modern work now revolves around mobile and cloud computing. Nadella’s statement acknowledges that. When Microsoft says cloud first, mobile first, it is telling us it has repositioned its business in light of the new reality.

In other words Microsoft understands the challenge. So do Microsoft’s rivals: Apple, Google and Amazon.

Apple dominates mobile. The iPhone and iPad redefined mobility while the MacBook Air set the laptop standard. Outside Apple’s world it looks as if it under-performs in cloud computing. That’s not how Apple customers view iCloud.

Google’s mobile play is Android. Most smartphone users and many tablet users get mobility through Google’s operating system. Google’s cloud-based apps are their productivity tools.

Amazon‘s mobile device move floundered, it towers over all-comers in enterprise cloud services.

Microsoft is strong in cloud services. Compared to Amazon it is still small in enterprise cloud, but it is expanding fast and has a solid lead in consumer cloud. Office 365 plus Azure is a powerful combination.

Apple and Google compete head on with Microsoft’s Office, OneDrive and Skype. They give services away for free while Microsoft is still in the business of selling software licences. That’s tough when competitors own the cloud and mobile parts of their technology stacks.

All this explains why in a cloud first, mobile first world Microsoft has no choice but to move into devices. Long term it needs to move from selling software licences to selling a cloud and mobile focused technology stack.

wellington cloud

Free, or almost free, unlimited consumer cloud storage moved a step closer overnight. Microsoft increased the free storage on its OneDrive cloud service to 15 GB. This is more than double the previous seven GB and is free to all comers.

Microsoft also boosted OneDrive storage for customers of the company’s Office 365 software to a whole terabyte from 20 GB.  For most users, that’s effectively unlimited cloud storage. The terabyte applies to all Office 365 subscribers including Office 365 Personal which costs $NZ110 a year.

Until yesterday Microsoft sold 200 GB of OneDrive storage for US$100 a year — so in effect, it has boosted the storage and thrown in the Office software.

Consumer cloud storage: the battleground

Microsoft, along with Apple, Google and a host of smaller, more focused cloud service providers are in a cost-cutting spiral. Earlier this month Apple slashed the prices of its iCloud service. Overall personal cloud storage costs have dropped and free allocations have soared in the past decade.

It all started in 2004. At the time Microsoft allowed Hotmail users 2M of free storage, then Google came along offering Gmail users a gigabyte.

Microsoft, Apple and Google realise people tend to use the applications associated with each company’s cloud service. OneDrive users are most likely to create documents using Office, Apple with iWorks and Google with Google Apps.

Cloud sells software, hardware, advertising

This means whoever stores the documents, gets first option to supply the editing tools.

Given that Microsoft still earns rivers of gold from selling Office, having the most generous storage offer makes economic sense: it sells software. In Apple’s case free cloud can sell hardware while Google gives away free storage to, eventually, sell advertising.

For each of these three companies adding terabytes of storages costs little. And let’s face it most consumers will only use a fraction of their allocation so it’s not a matter of one terabyte per customer.

The next step in this game is that it will become difficult, perhaps impossible, to charge consumers for cloud storage. This has implications for focused storage companies like Dropbox and Mega who don’t sell software, hardware or services on the back of storage.

wellington cloud

It would be easy to dismiss cloud computing as the latest fad used by technology companies to flog their products. They told us it is ‘revolutionary’, ‘a game changer’ and ‘a paradigm shift’. All the cliches.

We’ve heard those hype-laden clichés over and over again. No wonder we’re not in a hurry to listen.

And yet, the cloud is new and special. This was obvious five or six years ago when personal cloud products and services first appeared.

Now it is mainstream. Microsoft recently underlined this wrapping its SkyDrive cloud service into Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and the latest version of Microsoft Office.

Cloud computing changes work habits

Cloud computing has changed the way we work. I use it every single working day, storing and backing-up work documents on cloud servers. I barely run any desktop productivity applications anymore. There’s no need. All my important data is there for me so long as I can get a mobile data connection or a wi-fi signal.

Cloud requires new ways of thinking. I was wondering how I could explain this to a non-technical business audience in a story I was writing.

It is usually best for a journalist like me to find an authoritative source to quote instead of acting like I’m the one carrying tablets of stone down from the mountain. I came across Ben Kepes post-Cloud isn’t just a gimmick.

Kepes is a cloud entrepreneur and describes himself as a technology evangelist, so he isn’t entirely independent, but he is right when he says cloud is more than an evolution of what has gone before. Kepes is also right when he says cloud computing combines technology, business and delivery mechanisms.

In the end, I didn’t need to find a quote – the story went in a different direction – but Kepes’ post is worth sharing.

In May Google changed Google Docs to make it work more like Dropbox. It also gave the service a new name: Google Drive.

Like Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive lets you store files online and sync documents across devices. While three services are direct competitors in some departments, each has its pown strengths and weaknesses.

Google Drive’s strength is close integration with the company’s online application suite. The programs are free web-based alternatives to the most popular Microsoft Office applications. Google sells a paid-for version to businesses as a low-cost Microsoft Office competitor.

If you find Google’s applications meet your needs better than Microsoft Office, then Drive is your best choice for an online home base.

Great for collaboration

I use Google’s apps every day for one of my freelance journalism jobs. The apps are great for collaboration, but I run into problems when zooming small text to make it easier to read: the cursor gets out of sync with the characters on-screen.

For this reason, I go elsewhere for word processing when I don’t have to use Google Docs. Your mileage may differ.

All your Google Drive documents are always stored online in the cloud – you can get them from everywhere. Google uses proprietary document formats. In practice moving documents between the Google world and Microsoft Office or any other format is rarely a problem, although you may lose formatting along the way.

Microsoft gives you more free storage, 7GB compared with Google’s 5GB. Dropbox is more complicated, the basic free account is just 2GB, but thanks to special offers, I get 27GB – that’s plenty for my work needs, but not enough for music and movies. In all three cases you can buy more storage.

Best search

As you’d expect, Google beats Microsoft when it comes to searching through your documents to find something.

I find DropBox works best when moving between smartphone, tablet and desktop. SkyDrive is a close second. Google Drive is more clumsy. The mobile site is difficult to use and not responsive enough – even on an Android phone.

Keep in mind that you can use any combination of Google Drive, SkyDrive and DropBox features – choosing one doesn’t lock you out of the others.