Managing the Cloud Storage Chaos

Google finally unveiled its Google Drive cloud data storage service this week, and Microsoft made dramatic changes to its SkyDrive service. Now Google and Microsoft join Box, Dropbox, SugarSync, iCloud, Amazon Cloud Drive, Ubuntu One, and others in an increasingly crowded cloud data storage market.

The news from Google and Microsoft has sparked an avalanche of articles and analysis comparing the different services against each other, and pointing out why one is better than another, or where different cloud data storage offerings fall short. Information like that can be helpful for people trying to choose which service to go with, but the fact is that many users will simply choose “all of the above”.

All of these services provide at least a few gigabytes of storage for free. Dropbox provides 2GB, SkyDrive gives you 7GB, and the rest each deliver 5GB of free online storage just for setting up an account. Thanks to referral deals, special incentives, or being grandfathered in to earlier programs with larger allocations of storage, it’s quite possible to combine the various services to get 50GB or even 100GB of storage without spending a penny.

The beauty of storing data online, though, is its simplicity. You take a picture with your smartphone, and it’s instantly synced to your PC. You buy an MP3 on your PC, and it’s immediately available from your tablet as well. Data is seamlessly synced so it’s just there when you need it. That simplicity is lost when you choose “all of the above”.

If you use more than one service, you could quickly lose track of your data. It’s no longer convenient if you have to check five different locations because you don’t remember if the file you’re looking for is in Dropbox, or SkyDrive, or Ubuntu One. It is also more difficult to maintain security and protect data when you have to monitor multiple sites and services.

It isn’t that difficult to narrow down your choices. For example, if you want your data to be automatically uploaded and synced from a Linux PC, you need to eliminate the services that don’t have a Linux option. If you rely on Microsoft Office, SkyDrive might make the most sense. Google doesn’t count Google Docs file formats, and Amazon doesn’t count digital music purchased from Amazon against your storage allocation, so if you use Google Docs or buy a lot of music from Amazon you can get virtually unlimited storage for free by choosing Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive to fit your needs.

You shouldn’t use multiple services to expand your cloud storage, but using multiple services makes sense as a data protection solution. It’s possible to use one service as your primary while also having a second service act as a redundant backup. If you can configure two services to sync from the exact same folder (or make the sync folder of one service a sub-folder of another service), you can store the same data in the cloud in two places at once without any additional effort on your part.

Choose the data storage service that best meets your needs, and stick with it. Even if you have to pay for additional capacity in order to handle your data it’s worth it to eliminate the chaos and have the peace of mind of knowing where your data is.

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