As the creation of data on PC’s increases so too does the need for storage and for the chance of loss of data. In a recent article we introduced basic information about your PC Hard Drive. Having your PC turn off or crash can result in data loss. This usually results in data loss from the time you last saved a document or an email that was open – not a great loss overall. However, the most common cause of data loss is hardware failure. According to one study  40% of data loss incidents occur from hardware failure including power surges and hard drive failure. Human error accounts for 30% of data loss (accidental deletion of data and accidental hardware damage). Software corruption accounts for 13% of data loss incidents and computer viruses account for 6% of data loss occurrences. Then there is theft of hardware which is especially prevalent with laptops accounting for 9% of data loss and hardware destruction (damage caused by floods, lightning and fire) account for 3% of all data loss.
One thing is for certain – all hard drives will eventually fail. Data loss from hard drive failure is more common than expected. Here are some related statistics:
Hard Drive Failure
- It is estimated that 15,000 hard drives fail every day.
- The odds of a hard drive failure are 1:118.
- While hard drive manufacturers claim less than a 1% failure rate, research shows that a 2%-4% failure rate is more common and under some conditions the failure rate may reach as high as 13%.
- Drive quality has diminished over time as the result of price competition in the industry.
Reasons for PC hard drive failure are varied. Not only can it occur from manufacturer defects but the cause of failure can be exasperated as a result of how you operate your PC. Examples include exposure to detrimental environmental conditions such as adverse temperature and humidity as well as workloads and powered-on patterns. There are technologies available to keep your data safe.
Cloud storage is also known as “file hosting”, “online file storage”, and “cyberlocker”. These terms refer to an Internet hosting service designed to host your data files. The service includes enabling users to upload files to “the cloud” that can then be accessed over the internet from a different computer, tablet, smart phone or other networked device. This data can be accessed by the same user or by other users once the required password or authentication is provided. The reasons for using this kind of service are primarily for backup purposes, to share files with others, or to access the files from a range of devices. An example would be to have online storage that you can view and interact with multimedia files without having to store the data on a device that has limited storage.
As can be seen from a Wikipedia description, there are a variety of storage charge options with cloud service providers. Including the following:
- Some online file storage services offer space on a per-gigabyte basis, and sometimes include a bandwidth cost
- Some companies offer the service for free, relying on advertising revenue.
- Some hosting services do not place any limit on how much space your account can consume.
- Some services require a software download which makes files only available on computers which have that software installed; others allow users to retrieve files through any web browser.
- Some sites offer free unlimited file storage but have a limit on the file size.
See the section on “Free” below for what we consider “free” and what service offers you need to beware of. Taking into consideration the value gained from using cloud storage with respect to the cost of the service is a crucial factor in making the decision to use cloud storage and to choose a provider that is right for you.
Security and Reliability:
Another equally critical factor in determining if the service provider is right for you is whether the data you are storing is safe. You need to determine if the data is secure and if the provider is reliable.
Security: This deals with the aspects of being able to access your data on a continual basis while only allowing others with the proper credentials to access the data. Being certain that your provider uses some form of encryption is vital to the decision of cloud storage. This means that your data encoded in some manner and digital signatures are required so that hackers cannot access the data.
Reliability: You need to rely on having someone store your data and make it available for you. Continual access of your data will depend on several factors including how good the storage providers physical systems are (they also use hard disk drives), as well as the stability of your provider as a company (a financially stable company that will continue operations). In this way you need to feel assured that the organization you are choosing will stay around and not go “belly-up” any time soon.
There are some disadvantages to using cloud storage which need to be identified. This includes the following:
- You do not have direct control of your data. While a cloud storage provider may even be more reliable and secure than your home PC system, you still have to rely on a third party to interact with your data.
- You are at the mercy of the Internet and have to deal with connectivity, bandwidth, and potential outages. This can have an impact on performance.
- When you save your files online you transfer them to the storage service. This involves uploading data and it is slower than downloading files. Large files and numerous files can result in slowing down your computer.
However, despite these disadvantages, if you are interested in the benefits of cloud storage including sharing your files with others, accessing your files from many different devices, and benefiting from having your files stored on a system that is less vulnerable than what your home PC system in terms of theft, damage, or loss… then you will want to know the top contenders.
There are numerous storage providers available and making an informed choice is not easy. In this article we examine four “top contenders” – the providers what we deem reputable and provide a good service. We will examine: Box, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Dropbox. Each of these has web browser interfacing.
While Box looks similar to other services (such as Dropbox), and while it has some of the same basic features it lacks a desktop client in the free version. The mobile client displays a list of files and folders and a history of changes. After uploading multimedia from your cell phone you can send them to box.com and share to email or Skype.
Google Drive is offered by Google. Google has multiple redundant storage facilities to ensure reliability. There are applications that are native to Google – such as Google Docs – for Windows and Mac but there is no Linux native client but this is expected to be supported. It does have Insync and native clients for Apple iOS, Android, and a web based interface for universal access. There are those that consider the Google online suite to be advantageous as you can view a Google doc in the browser and share and collaborate on it with a group of people. It also has some good revision features and editing functionality including the ability to instant message others working on the file. However, there are disadvantages. The downside to using an online application in this manner is that formatting differences exist. For example, you can create and share a Google document and then attempt to put the file into a Word doc. The formatting will not line up and you are left doing a lot of work formatting.
With respect to access, SkyDrive includes Windows, Mac, web, and remote access. Mobile options include iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, Android, and Mobile web. You can collaborate with others on files as it includes online editing and version tracking. There are also a variety of image showcase options such as online slide shows, posting to Facebook and Twitter, captions, and geotags.
Drop Box supports web interfacing as well as having generic clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems and includes native client support for Android, Blackberry, and iOS. This integration across platforms has given Dropbox a considerable competitive advantage over other providers. The dropbox.com mobile app is fun to use as it has a modern look and fancy graphics. Dropbox also has a very good recovery feature in case you need to recover accidentally deleted files. In terms of security, Dropbox uses modern encryption methods for transfer and storage of data – Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and AES-256 bit encryption. They also use a two-step verification process at login.
In Common: All four provides examined here have web interface functionality meaning you can upload and download files through your web browser. To the best of our knowledge, all four also provide a client side application that integrates with the operating system. For example, you can access the file using Windows Explorer as if they were local to your computer or device.
Free is free. Free software is not “nagware” – nag the user with popup messages until their will is broken and they reluctantly buy the product. Let’s look at the levels of free software as we experience them:
Freeware: Software that is completely free with full functionality. There may be a way for users of the product to donate to the creators of the program. There are no time constraints and upgrades and offers are available and free as well.
Free with add-ons included: Some software vendors generate profit by including add-ons that are downloaded and become a part of your computing experience. These can be toolbars, ActiveX controls, or Browser Help Objects. (See our “How to Reset IE” article for more information on removal of add-ons.)
Free Trial version: This is software that enables the user to try the product to see if they want to buy the full version. There can be some functionality disabled or partially in place (such as using watermarks on images). These can be for a limited time and then you can choose to no longer run the trial version or you can buy the full version.
Nagware: Software that makes the claim that it is free and it is true there is no initial cost. However, popup messages appear every time you use the software, messages for upgrading appear and do not provide you the option to configure to not bother you again.
To begin, we feel that as a user first entering into the cloud storage world, baby steps are in order. Trying one or more of these services for free is a good way to start. We also recommend that you do not rely solely on cloud storage as a means of backing up your data. We would suggest instead that you use a combination of your PC, external hard drive, and online storage. While it is true that all hard drives will eventually fail, it is a safe bet to have data on more than one device as simultaneous failure is very unlikely. This way you will have the best of all worlds… being able to back up your important files, share any files via the cloud to others, access file on your own mobile devices, and feel secure in the knowledge that your data is safe from the most common forms of loss.
We do not recommend that all your data be backed up online until you feel more assured that this is the solution for you. In which case, you will need to look at a whole new set of features such as how well the service interacts with Internet Explorer and how well it synchronizes your files.
For a free online cloud storage that offers good storage, has multi-platform support, offers a variety of access to devices, and is easy to use… we give Dropbox the nod. The reasons include:
- It offers 2 GB of free space with no time restrictions or nags and you can get more storage using their incentive promotions. This leaves the choice up to you as to whether you want to get more space if you feel you need it.
- It sets up very well with Windows Explorer in that you get the sense that the files are local to your computer and you can easily upload and download them.
- It has very good cross platform support so you can synchronize between computers and devices.
- It is easy to use, secure, reliable, and one of the least intrusive programs of its kind.
One More Recommendation:
Don’t just take our word for it – do some due diligence. You need to feel that the service and the company you are dealing with can be trusted. We suggest examining their website and finding out where they are located, what contact information they have, what support they offer. These factors indicate stability and actual proof of existence. We are of the opinion that it is still possible to have a relationship to vendors even if they are part of our digital world. While there are many scam artists out there, we feel that the best way to profit in any industry is through long term established and trusting relations.
We hope this information has been helpful to you, our readers. In our blog article we will provide some instruction on how begin using an online cloud storage such as Dropbox. We have no affiliation with the vendors we recommend and do not profit in any way through our recommendation. Our views here are based primarily on our experiences and we hope to pass these views forward.