Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty
The Internet has brought us many things: ways to communicate, new forms of entertainment, new ways to waste time. Today I’m going to start a new series on something that can be both a tool and a toy … the “cloud.” In this series, I’ll limit the discussion to consumer oriented things, from backing up your computer, to online photo albums, to just plain old “hard drives in the sky.”
I like the term, “the cloud,” as it refers to something that is just “out there” somewhere, kind of amorphous and undefined. In fact, it is just another word for the Internet, in particular as it applies to certain forms of computing and data storage.
Cloud Application #1: Online Backup
In this article, I’ll cover a very handy (and important) cloud service: online backups. Other applications will follow in later articles.
We all know the importance of having a backup for our computer data. We have so much valuable information stored on there. What if that data were lost through some computer malfunction or — especially in the case of a laptop — a stolen computer? The solution, of course, is to have a copy of that data stored on a separate device. I routinely backup to a portable hard drive.
But I spent some time in Colorado this summer, where there were some terrible wildfires that forced people from their homes, sometimes with only a moment’s notice. If both your computer and your backup were lost in some tragedy such as this, you might as well not have had a backup at all. The failsafe to this kind of situation is to store a backup off-site in some other location. I keep an external hard drive in my safety deposit box, for instance. But the easiest way to maintain an off-site backup is to store it on “the cloud.”
In addition to the safety of having a backup off-site, cloud backup services have another advantage. They turn backup chores into an “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” task that occurs automatically. While we all know the importance of maintaining a backup, it is a task that is easy to forget or ignore. The cloud backup services routinely back up your important files in the background, so you don’t even have to think about it.
There are some downsides though. The backup process does compete for CPU time with the work you are doing, effectively slowing down your computer. It also competes for Internet bandwidth, slowing down your Internet access. Some of the cloud backup services do give you some control over the use of your computer and Internet resources, which limits the impact of the backup operation.
The other issue is the time it takes to perform a large backup, especially your initial backup where you may have hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes of data to send over the Internet. I know of one case that took three days (72 hours) to back up just 40 gigabytes of data.
There are many cloud backup services out there. Some are primarily configured for business, but others are tailored to the home computer user. I’ll review only two, but don’t be afraid to shop around.
Carbonite is one of the most popular consumer-oriented backup services for Windows machines. For just 5 bucks a month, Carbonite offers unlimited storage. It will run automatically in the background, of course, but you can also simply right-click a specific file, and Carbonite will back that file up immediately. You can also instruct Carbonite to hibernate while you are using your computer to minimize its impact on your Internet speed.
Another service I like is called CrashPlan. CrashPlan gives you unlimited storage of backups for just $50 per year. You also get a greater degree of control over the backup process, including such things as how much of your computer and Internet resources are being used for the backup operation to how frequently deleted files are removed from your backup.
Of these two services, Carbonite is probably the better choice for the routine computer user. CrashPlan may be preferred by the power user. By the way, both of these services have free trials that you can access from their websites: carbonite.com or crashplan.com.
Cloud Application #2: Hard Drives in the Sky
This is one of my favorite and most frequently used cloud applications. I’ll cover this in a future article. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out ToolsToysAndTechnology.com for other geek stuff that I post from time to time.