Cloud storage - is it for you?

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With music, movies, photos and important documents all coming by way of technology these days, storage can be a problem. Cloud storage offers a simple solution, but is it right for you? We take a look at the pros and cons to help you make a decision.

What is cloud storage?
The 'cloud' allows internet users to store everything from files and documents to personal photos and music online, freeing up space on your hard drive and allowing you to keep your important files in a safe yet easily accessible place. There are many providers of cloud storage, some of which are free, and others which charge an fee based on how much you plan to use.

Why use the cloud?
The major benefit of storing your files in the cloud is that you need no longer worry about losing those treasured or essential items should your hard drive be damaged. Whether you store files on your own computer or on an external hard drive, there is always the risk that it could be lost, stolen or damaged, and with it, all of that data you so carefully stored away.

Data store in the cloud, on the other hand, is securely saved online so it's a great way to back up your files. And because your documents are not linked to one particular PC or hard drive, you can access them from any piece of tech simply by logging in to your own personal account. Even if you update from another device, the changes will appear when you next use your home PC or laptop.

Cloud storage also offers flexibility and ease of use when it comes to sharing files. For instance, some services will allow you to share directly with others via a link or email invitation, while others allow you to password protect files so that only those to whom you provide the password can see them.

So what's the downside?
When it comes to the cons of cloud storage, it is generally the price. Since the cost is typically dependent upon how much space you need, i.e. 500GB or 1TB, those looking to save large files may find they pay a good deal more for cloud storage than for an external hard drive. While a 1TB external drive might come with a one-off cost of around £60 to £90, the same amount of cloud storage could cost anywhere from £10 per month per user, and that means the price can quickly mount up.

Of course the other big worry is security. If your cloud account was to be hacked, your files would instantly be in the hands of the scammers. Cloud storage companies do use encryption (starting at 128-bit and rising to 256-bit as the most secure) to keep your account safe, however, as well as a two-step verification process to ensure only you can access files.

Best cloud storage deals
There are a whole raft of storage providers and solutions available online, and which you choose will depend entirely on your requirements. Both business and personal plans and packages are offered by most of the major providers, so there should be something to suit your needs. What you don't want to do is end up paying a huge monthly fee if you're only going to be using a quarter of the available space, so do try to work out exactly how much space you'll need before you sign up.

Those with only a small amount of personal data that needs storing can get up to 15GB absolutely free from Google Drive, OneDrive and Copy, while both Apple's iCloud and Amazon's Cloud Drive offer 5GB fee free.

Higher up the chain, Dropbox offers cross-platform capability so that you can use Linux, BlackBerry, Windows, Mac OSX, Android and iOS, meaning you're free to access your files from almost any device, and prices start from around £6 a month for 100GB of storage, and it's very simple to use. Rival firm Box also offers a 100GB plan at £7 per month with individual files limited to 5GB each, or there's a starter plan for £3.50 a month, where you'll receive the same amount of storage but file sizes are limited to 2GB.

If security is your main worry, then Spideroak provides a super-secure option where you and only you can read the data, and if you are looking to save very large files, Bitcasa offers 'infinite storage' for a very reasonable price of £69 per year.

Do you store your files on the cloud? What advice would you give to others looking to back-up important documents online? Leave your comments below...
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