Are there any computer users left who haven’t experienced some sort of data disaster? Forget the dog eating your work. Now we can blame drive failures, alpha particles, power glitches, viruses, or any number of other data-garbling maladies. With local backup storage, such as to another hard drive, flash drive, NAS box, or even optical disc, you’ve got more protection, but you’re only one disaster away from losing your entire digital life.
Additionally, it’s harder to share your data from local storage. When you’re away from home but still want to dip into your photo archive, stream a song, or pull up a PowerPoint file you’re working on, what do you do? You can’t fit everything on thumb drives. With network-attached storage (NAS), you may have the ability to get remote access to your files, but the price of entry is usually several hundred dollars, plus you need the tech savvy to set the storage up properly and maintain it.
One increasingly popular answer is to turn to cloud computing services. Cloud computing is a freshly minted term for applications and services that are hosted and run from one or more remote data centers. Consider Hotmail or Gmail as examples. But if you run email as a local application in Outlook, Outlook Express, Apple’s Mail, or something similar, then all of your messages save on your system. Unless you’ve made other provisions, if your computer burns to the ground, your email data is gone forever. Compounding the problem, if you paid for a copy of your email program and that burns with your PC, then you’re out the cost of a new email app or office suite, as well.
With Hotmail, Gmail, or any of the other data center-hosted mail services now billed as “cloud” apps, your data and software are both safe. The software is running from a bunch of rackmounted servers in the provider’s data center, and even if that data center burned down, it’s likely that the provider has at least one redundant data center to which your session would be automatically rerouted. And your data? No problem there, either. Good cloud providers have your data duplicated at multiple levels, both within one data center and across multiple data centers.
Why cloud computing does or doesn’t make sense for consumers and small businesses is a bigger topic for another day. For now, we want to focus on cloud-based storage services that can help you better protect, share, and distribute your data.