/ Technology

Why I’ve happily got my head in the cloud

Cloud with cable

I’m terrified of hard drives. Scared to death of them. They’re fragile, they’re prone to disconnecting with a knock of the USB connector, they make odd whirring noises and they’re the right size to lose with ease…

So if I can’t stand the things, why have I bought so many external hard drives in my time? Because I have back-up anxiety, that’s why. I back up my files from my laptop to a hard drive, and immediately start to worry that the hard drive will play up or vanish. So I back up my back-ups. Surely there’s an end to this merry-go-round of file preservation?

For me, online cloud storage is not so much a revelation as a chorus-of-angels-godsend. It lets you store your most important files online to the cloud, where they’ll stay snugly and safely till you need them.

It gets better. Cloud storage lets you access your files from any computer, tablet or smartphone connected to the internet. Change a file on one device, and the latest changes will show up on all the others. You can even share files and collaborate on changes with some cloud storage services.

Silver linings all round?

It’s not all fluffy white happiness with cloud computing, for sure. For one thing, there’s the expense. You can buy a 1 terabyte hard drive for £50, but the same amount of cloud storage will cost you over £300 a year with Google Drive or Dropbox.

Comparing cloud storage prices is a baffling business. Providers list their prices for inconsistent storage amounts, and some list monthly charges, others yearly; some in pounds, some in dollars. We did all the hard work of comparing prices and found huge differences between the charges for services like Dropbox and SkyDrive.

That said, you can get started with cloud storage absolutely free, as most services give you a decent free allowance of two to seven gigabytes. That’s enough for thousands of digital photos.

Cloud clauses

There’s also the privacy concern some have about trusting their files with a name like Google, whose T&Cs often leave a murky feeling around rights to use the content you upload to its services. That said, Google also stipulates that you retain ownership of anything you hold intellectual property rights to.

And even if Microsoft, Dropbox, Google and the like don’t care two hoots about my files, I certainly do. That’s why I breathe a lot more easily knowing that my most important documents are backed-up online, and not at the mercy of another failing hard drive.


simple answer?

I use both


I’m not good at backing up, but I also worry about a dead laptop one day. I back up important files onto a USB stick or two, but don’t have huge files. Bullguard (security software) has on-line storage free, but I haven’t got round to using it – worry a bit about leaving sensitive information in someone else’s care, same as Cloud – maybe irrational, but a bit like the comments on a previous conversation about “midata”.

If storage costs you £300 a year you might as well buy a second laptop?


I think you are right to be concerned about cloud storage, Malcolm. If banks have problems with security, it seems likely that online storage of data could be vulnerable too.


And when your phoneline/cable gets disrupted, or your ISP has issues, you can send all your staff home. Both of these scenarios have hit our clients in the past year. Also beware that many of these ‘cloud’ storage outfits have no facility to let you have a hardcopy backup of your cloud drive, in many cases not even a full download option to get a copy yourself.


Hi Wing Commander – that sounds like a nightmare for any business! I can’t speak for business-level cloud services, but most of the home-user cloud storage providers we tested do let you access your files offline if you’ve saved them to a synced folder on your computer. If you make any changes to those files, they’ll update and sync the next time your internet connection is up and running.

However, as you’re right to point out, they’re not all quite so handy, and some of the cloud storage services we tested don’t allow offline access, which would be a complete pain if your internet went down!


I don’t know what Rich is doing to his hard drives. I have only had one external hard drive fail in the past 15 years, though some were pensioned off because they were too small to be useful. I may have been lucky or it may be due to the fact that I have bought expensive drives with FireWire interfaces, and SCSI before that.

It is so easy to do backups that there is really no excuse for not having one or more backups. I use Time Machine to back up my Apple laptop and desktop. It is better than the backup software that I used to pay for.

When I was working I kept a copy of my home files at work and vice versa, to ensure that I had an off-site backup. Now that I am retired I should get another hard drive and ask a friend to look after it for me. Although I make extensive use of Dropbox to share files and photos, I don’t feel comfortable using cloud services for backup and the cost is rather high at present.

Today’s backup of my laptop was completed in less time than it took to write this message.


Hard drives are generally very reliable and what do you think “cloud” storage providers use?

Sorry but it’ll be a long while before I store my treasured photos and personal correspondence on a hard drive in foreign country over which I have no control.


The convenience factor of having files and photos online if fantastic. It makes a lot more sense to distribute links to large numbers of photos rather than clogging up people’s email with a lot of large files that they may not even be interested in. I always have a local copy of whatever I upload, so it does not matter if online storage failed or was temporarily inaccessible.