/ 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.

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.

For those who want to keep information for a long long time these could be the answer. Only £3 per disk and with a Cheap LG writer the odd thousand years rather than than the 5-10 years of most DVD’s. And if one decides to encrypt with TruCrypt then storing the back-up off-site should not be a problem.

However an easier method might be the Transporter which is now on sale..
and this is how it works

If you really want to keep something – like paperwork – use good old fashioned paper! If your computer fails you still have your backup paper copy. Believe me having had two computers totally crash and burn at work our office couldn’t have survived without the paper files – we were solicitors so needed instant access. Very old-fashioned i know but it works!

You can keep paper copies, but surely it is better to have a proper backup strategy so that you have a series of backups of different ages in case a file becomes corrupted without you being aware of the problem.

I have both primary and secondary computers from day one
both of course inter connected…I keep additionally secure
paper files I’m paranoic about….of course have smartphone
AND micro portable device for travelling light, for extra

I use a bit of a hybrid. On my main computer I store everything locally, but then use a service from CrashPlan that backs everything up to the cloud, which is then accessible to me from any device anywhere. It has unlimited storage and will retain even deleted files if you’d like. Excellent and good value service.
On my more mobile devices like tablets and phones I use skydrive, which works perfectly and even allows me to edit files in office online on any device.

The cloud is a boon to my group. Files are safe and be viewed and edited by any of us on any of our computers. All of our stuff is text: as a result we can store everything in less than the limit of free space. All our file storage is thus free!

my group is glad of the cloud – we exchange files a lot; keeping them in the cloud saves us doing this. Of course we all keep back-up copies of the cloud content. All of our stuff is ‘text’: this means we can get everything into the cloud without going over the space limit and incuring charges. Great!

Philip says:
15 February 2013

I started life designing disk controllers and computers and in my experience it is not IF but WHEN something fails – its natures way! I too am concerned about the security and availability of someone’s cloud facility.

So I use Sky Drive to store teaching materials and to give shared access to selected people to chosen uploaded photo’s. I use Dropbox to share stuff between the family. And finally I use a Synology NAS which gives us an in-house Cloud Station (running on 2x2Tb green disks in Raid 1 mode) so we are independent of anyone else’s hardware and even the internet – though I would miss it.
As to why, it is because it took two years (spare time) digitising just some of my slides and negatives and together with the digital photos they amount to several tens of GB. So I store them on two separate disks within the computer and on a USB disk kept in a fire safe (and a DVD copy too). And they are backed up to the NAS and available via the Synology DLNA server so we can view them in comfort on the TV. Its probably overkill but it was fun working it out.

YorkshireJumbo says:
17 February 2013

If you really are worried about online security, go for a TNO (Trust No One) architecture. You specify a security key, and only the person who enters that key can unlock it. I’ve been using Carbonite for my online backups for several years. The annual cost is roughly £40, which gives you unlimited space. Only I can access my data using my password as it is not stored anywhere. Without the password, the cloud data is just noise.

The problem is that you lose functionality doing this. The easy thing about skydrive, google drive, dropbox, etc is that you can access them much more easily from within your OS. As they store your password, in theory they can be hacked or coerced into sharing it, so your data is theoretically less secure. So you trade off security for functionality. I use these for sharing files with others – dropbox for my family and skydrive for running a club – stuff I’d share anyway.

I also backup daily to my PC and weekly to DVD. It takes no effort once the backup plan is in place (apart from changing the DVD every week!), but it gives extra peace of mind. You have to think what would happen if I lost all my files – photos, emails, critical documents.

Michael says:
20 February 2013

The cloud has made my life so much simpler. I recently discovered a service called Grepolis – a great big filing cabinet-c*m-notebook in the sky. I can scan important documents to it – invoices, insurances, bank statements, contracts, passport details & co, take screen clippings from any webpage through a Grepo button added to my browser, compile a shopping list as I run out of things in the kitchen, keep favourite recipes and have all these notes immediately synched between my PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone. I shop with my mobile clipped to the Waitrose trolley (using the handy checkboxes to tick off items as they go in the basket), rifle through photos and press cuttings when writing a magazine article, and when I want to check what my water rates are I can do a simple search for ‘water’ in my money notebook to bring up the latest payments that went through my bank account. (You can do global searches of your files, search notebooks within those or individual notes.) I can import spreadsheets, word processed files and databases and store them as individual notes with tags.

I can add up to 60Mb a month of stuff for free without any limit on the sum total of my account. (There are premium accounts for people who need to add more in a short period.)

It has simply been life changing.

Michael says:
20 February 2013

Forgive the asterisks above. I tried to type the Latin for ‘with’!!!

“Grepolis – The browser game set in Antiquity”


Michael are you sure you have the right name?