It's in the Cloud – Part 1

Attending my first meeting of the Cardiff University of the Third Age (U3A) Computer Group, I offered to write some notes to accompany the talk that was given on Data Storage in the Cloud by David Reeves. So here goes …
Computing has moved a long way from the days when all you stored on your computer were words and numbers. Gradually this has been extended to include first pictures, then audio, and then video. With the addition of these media so the requirements for memory to store them increased first by needing an increase in the Random Access Memory (RAM) that the computer had so that you could actually view or listen to the media, and then in the disk storage you needed to hold and recall the images or music at a later date.

220px-floppy_disk_2009_g1220px-laptop-hard-drive-exposedThis need for additional storage meant first the introduction of floppy disks, then hard disks inside the computer, then external hard disks 250px-toshiba_1_tb_external_usb_hard_driveconnected usually to a USB port on your computer and then flash drives which you could carry around 220px-sandisk_cruzer_microwith you and then connect to a USB port on your computer.

With the changes in technology, so the amounts of information stored by each device increased. To give you an idea of how much this has changed you might like to look at the table below – which is actually out of date because you can now get both USB Memory Sticks and Hard Drives considerable larger than those quoted here.


If you want to read more about Information Storage including some technologies I’ve not discussed here such as CD/DVDs you could follow this link or this one, but there’s far more information in these articles than you need to understand why it might be a good idea to store information away from your computer – in the cloud.

Before we do that it might be a good idea to raise an issue that storing all this data causes – what happens if the device breaks, gets corrupted in some way, or just simply gets lost! Now, computer professionals have always done back-ups of their stored data (or they should have done), but the home computer user has never really put a value on their data UNTIL they lose it. So backing-up your data (stored information – words, numbers, images, music and videos) is actually an ESSENTIAL part of owning a computer. This article describes the various ways you might consider backing-up your data but at the bottom of the list is Cloud Storage and that’s where I’m going to take you now.

Wouldn’t it be great if every time you saved a picture, word processed document, spreadsheet … whatever, a copy was automatically made and stored away from your computer so whatever might happen to your computer, the most important part of it – the information it stored – was safe. That’s the essential value of Cloud Storage and the most important reason for using it. We’ll turn to the second most important reason – sharing information with others – later.

cloud-storage-imagesThere are a number of Cloud Storage options you can use for free as long as you keep your storage below a certain limit. You can use as many as you want to and you might consider using different providers for different purposes. For instance I use Google Drive mainly for Photo Storage, Apple’s iCloud for documents, and Dropbox for sharing stuff. [I’ll maybe explain why I do this in another post.] The other main provider is Microsoft with their OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) offering, I don’t tend to use this much, but the principles for using it are much the same as the others.

So how do you use them? As I said above, the principles for each are much the same. I will use Google as the main example, and provide links to the others as well.

Google Drive. You will need a Google Account. This is a good idea in any case as it allows you to create another eMail account – I’m a strong advocate for having more than one eMail address anyway (see Point 3 in this post). Go to Google Accounts to setup your Google ID – you can use your existing eMail address if you want to. Then with your account set up you can go to this page. I would suggest you download the applications for your desktop as well as setting it up for your browser. Installing the application on your Windows PC, or your Apple Mac, will then create a Folder in which you can store information and which then will then be backed-up to your Google Drive “in the cloud”. Voila – you have peace of mind that your precious information has been saved. Any changes you make to the information will be synchronised with the version saved on your cloud storage.

For Dropbox go to this link and create your account, perhaps using the Google email address you’ve just created above – a lot of services allow you to link to your Google ID and this means you don’t have to remember lots of IDs and Passwords.

If you’re an Apple user (iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad, etc) it makes sense to use iCloud. Even if you’re not, you can still add an iCloud Drive to your desktop and access the 5Gb of free storage you’re provided with “in the cloud”.

If you’re a Microsoft (Windows and Office) user it makes sense to use OneDrive. Like iCloud you get 5Gb of free storage from this link. You may also find that you are offered the option of installing OneDrive when you install Microsoft Office (or Office 365).

Finally sharing information with others. I don’t think I can improve on David’s demonstration and on this YouTube video …

I’ve focussed on using a Folder on your desktop/laptop machine to backup or synchronise files to your Cloud Storage. Remember also that David demonstrated how you can Upload a file using your web browser (I would recommend using Google Chrome) from your desktop to your Cloud Storage.

Just supposin’ … [Part 2]

Reaction to my previous post from an old colleague and friend Brian Kelly and the lack of response to my enquiry about using diaspora* and any of the Indieweb offerings has led me to put those ideas to sleep. However, having set the hare running, I need to close the issue with a short description of what cloud-based services I do use, and offer a justification of why – remembering that continuity and reliability are of huge importance to the individual who has no access to corporate systems.

Unlike Google, I recognise the value of RSS feeds so Feedly has become a really important part of my personal IT infrastructure. Being able to track the posts on a number of blogs and/or websites that I have chosen to follow places it for me above other services such as Flipboard, which I do use to create magazines of content I want to archive, but not as an RSS aggregator at which it is rather poor. Having farmed my RSS feeds, what do I do with them – well I tend to save them in Pocket which I can then access offline as well. [I should mention that it is essential for me to also have services that have an iOS app (for the iPhone/iPad) as well as being able to be accessible from a web browser.]

I think with these two I have chosen niche applications that have no stronger competitors and therefore I have a reasonable expectation that they will be around for a long time.

The same is the case with my next piece of “kit”. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realise the significance of this until rather late on. I’m talking about Evernote.  It’s difficult to find a thing that Evernote cannot do. It’s not only a note taker, but it can hold clipped webpages, store video and audio clips and even do a reasonable job as a word-processor! If you don’t use it – give it a look. I just love the way you can share a note or a notebook with someone else. Such a convenient way of sharing ideas.

Of course I could use the services offered by Apple as all my kit is provided by them, but I’m not yet convinced by iCloud. Let me give you an example. One of my most-hated pieces of software is iTunes because of the limitations of its data base. Despite that I use it a lot – perhaps I shouldn’t, but I have invested a lot of time and effort in getting it to work for me and now it does, on multiple devices including my Apple TV, using an ingenious workaround that involves storing my iTunes Library in my Dropbox folder and the media on a separate external hard disk. Why don’t I use my iCloud Drive? Well I can’t get it to work on that drive because … would you believe it … iTunes can see my Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive folders but NOT my iCloud Drive!!!

In any case it makes sense to use multiple cloud storage services so I make use of all the main ones with subscriptions to Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud.

That just leaves collaboration and social media services. Until very recently I was convinced that Google had the service offering that was best for me. It provided the granularity, security and functionality that I wanted. It integrated with my main interest – photography – exceptionally well, and even provided a photo storage and editing facility that was as good as any other around. I’ve previously blogged about my discontent at the demise of Picassa, and the confusion of Google+ Photos and Google Photos. Well the latter is beginning to emerge as a nice piece of software but what has happened to Google+ is just not acceptable.  How can you expect a piece of software to develop when you take away functionality. It doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m now looking more seriously at returning to using Facebook more, after all I now know how to share Google Photo Albums on Facebook.

So that’s about it … my personal cloud-based infrastructure. If I’ve forgotten anything, or I change my mind, I’ll update this post at a later date. Bye for now :-).