A client of mine recently purchased a Samsung tablet and wanted to view files from two devices, the tablet and a Windows 8 laptop. In this case, accessibility to files from multiple devices when traveling was the highest priority requirement, but it got me thinking. There are many different cloud drive services to choose from, each with varying features. Add to that that any one person will have differing requirements and you get a bit of a recipe for complications. Want to set up a cloud drive that’ll work the way you want it to? Here’s a list of considerations to help you make the right choices.
Security and Privacy
Keeping your data secure is important and each cloud offering has built-in security. With storage of any information, the key question to ask yourself is how sensitive the data is and what the impact would be (to your business or your family) if that data were compromised. For example, if someone gains unauthorized access to personal information, that’s likely to pose a greater risk for you than if your stored music files are hacked.
Once you’ve answered that question, look at what features your shortlisted cloud drive suppliers offer:
- Each will have some method of authentication, so follow best practice rules for passwords by choosing something that is not in a dictionary, keeping it to yourself only and changing it often.
- Some cloud providers enable you to store your authentication details in a settings file for easier usage. If this is the case, consider adding additional security measures for your device (such as a screen-lock password) so that if someone else picked it up, they would not have immediate access to your cloud stored data.
- Is the data transferred to and from your device using secure protocols such as https? If not, someone else may be able to "see" your information in transit.
- Are the files stored in an encrypted form on the cloud drive? This makes it harder to get at your data in the event that someone gains unauthorized access to the cloud supplier’s infrastructure. There are also additional tools available that enable you to encrypt files before storing them in the cloud, such as BoxCryptor for Google Drive.
How do you want to access the data in your cloud drive and where do you want to access it from? There are two ways you could use the cloud storage from your device:
- Use the cloud storage as a backup copy only and either manually copy or update the file in the cloud, or use desktop tools (if provided by the cloud drive supplier) to synchronize file changes you make on your device with those on the cloud.
- Only work with the file in its cloud location, and avoid copying it to your local machine. This is useful to expand the storage available on your device. Check that you have the necessary tools on the device to support how you wish to view or work with them.
With new devices appearing all the time, you should also check that the specific ones that you are using are supported by the cloud drive supplier. In the case of my recent client, SkyDrive was already integrated with Office 2013 on the Windows 8 laptop, while Google Drive and Dropbox were already available on the Samsung tablet. What we needed to do was to consider which would best to support how my client wished to interact with the files being stored.
Think about how much storage you need now and also in a few months’ time. How will your data grow? All of the cloud drive suppliers provide a specific amount of storage for free, but check the price plans should you need to go beyond this, so that you understand the possible costs. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking to change suppliers because the costs have risen unexpectedly.
It’s good practice also to periodically review what files you have in the cloud and remove those you no longer need. Be disciplined in doing this. It will cost you less money and it will reduce your risk if any data breach occurs.
Recent outages to cloud suppliers have attracted headline news. It’s possible that there will be outages to any service. But remember that your access to the cloud is granted via other services; Internet service providers and wireless access points may also suffer failures. Ask yourself what the impact will be if you can’t access your cloud drive when you need it.
If the answer is "No big deal, I can wait and try again later," then that’s one end of the scale. But if the answer is "I absolutely need it when I need it," you’ll have to take some steps to mitigate the risk that you won’t be able to gain access. Make sure your files are available locally so that if your cloud drive is not accessible, you can still get to them. (This is just one drawback of cloud storage. Read about more in The Dark Side of the Cloud.)
Add-Ons, Features and Other Doo-Dads
A number of cloud drive suppliers include productivity tools to support working with stored files. For example, Google Drive includes a very functional office suite, removing the need to have other software licensed and installed on your device. SkyDrive access is provided within Windows 8 and Office 2013 to make file synchronization easy to set up. It also integrates with online versions of Microsoft Office (Office365).
Cross-check any included add-on features with your Availability and Accessibility considerations. While these may be convenient, make sure they also suit how and when you want to work with your information.
Cloud Storage, Here I Come?
As with many things in life, one feature or aspect of cloud storage can catch our eye and become the greater part of your decision making. In choosing a cloud drive, include the above considerations in your deliberations to determine which is the most important for you. It will help you select a solution that works the way you want it to.