Computers / Hands-on Review

Cloud Storage for Everyone


Why should you care about cloud storage? The two biggest reasons are convenience and security: enabling you and others you’ve afforded access to global retrieval of your documents, photos, videos and other files as well as insuring data backup to an alternate location, too.

There are essentially two types of clouds: a personal cloud in which you back up your computer files to a network attached storage device (NAS) and a remote (Web) cloud in which data is copied to another location.

Until recently, leasing storage space on a remote server could be an expensive proposition. Lately, though, hard disk drive manufacturers have discovered that they can sell more drives for use in homes and small businesses if they include free or optional cloud backup, too. And some manufacturers let you create a personal cloud on your home network so that anything your local computer can access can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The big advantage of creating a personal cloud is that since the data resides on your own network, it doesn’t incur off-site parking charges.

Several manufacturers take the personal cloud approach but make it easy to copy some data to a remote place, too. For example, Iomega offers its Home Media Network Hard Drive, Cloud Edition with this neat capability: if you store files within specified folders on the device, you can configure the drive to automatically upload photos and videos to Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. Moreover, if you buy two or more drives, you can remotely back up your on-site data to an alternate location, be it another office or a second home. The Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive, Cloud Edition is available in 1-, 2- and 3 terabyte capacities.

Beyond using the Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive, Cloud Edition to personally access your data when you are away from home, you can invite friends and family to view specific files or folders stored on the drive.  There’s no subscription. Also, invited guests will have access to read and write to files and folders on your network drive. There’s no need to email file attachments since everyone on your distribution list automatically gets an email with either the file or a link to download the file. There’s a built-in photos slideshow sharing feature, too.

Iomega’s Cloud Edition can back up all of the computers on your network. Mac users can perform network backups to the drive via Time Machine. The Cloud Edition is compatible with online backup services like Mozy Pro and Amazon S3.

For added reliability, Iomega offers several NAS devices that build in duplicate data storage. Iomega’s StorCenter, Cloud Edition servers are equipped with RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) technology so that in the event one drive fails, the data is still available on another drive. Models are available in capacities ranging from two to 12 terabytes.

Western Digital also offers RAID storage technology in its My Book World Edition II External Hard Drives. Available in two and 4TB versions and compatible with Windows and Macintosh computers, the Gigabit Ethernet drives provide automatic network backup and remote file access. In terms of the latter, the free WD 2go Remote Access software is included with the purchase of either product. That means you’ll have access to your files (photos, music, videos and documents) from anywhere in the world via a device’s Web browser.

WD 2go for the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad is a free download from the iTunes App Store. There’s also a version for Android devices. The app is compatible with such media formats as MP3, MOV, MP4 and M4V. WD also offers the WD 2go Pro App ($2.99) which contains all the features of the free version plus the ability to clip files for offline viewing, auto-sync folders and files from MyBook Live to your mobile device, lock access with a pass code and email files.

If you like the design sensibilities embodied in LaCie products, consider the LaCie 100GB CloudBox Network Hard Drive, a Gigabit-NAS device with secure cloud storage. Included software lets you automatically back up as many as 10 Windows or Macintosh computers on your network to the CloudBox. Then, the CloudBox sends your files to LaCie’s remote server in the background, independent of your computer being powered on. The result: one copy of your data stored on your local network and another kept in the cloud.

If anything happens to your computer or CloudBox, it’s easy to restore your data to a new CloudBox or new computer. All your information—including photos and videos—is backed up in the cloud and encrypted. Only you have the password. The LaCie 100GB CloudBox Network Hard Drive includes one year of cloud service. Users who elect to continue the service after the first year can expect to pay an annual fee of $129, according to LaCie.

LaCie also offers the free Wuala App available for the entire Lacie NAS Hard Drive line. You can download the Wuala App from Apple’s iTunes App Store for use on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Wuala provides access to all your media complete with file encryption directly on your iOS device. You can also share files directly via email. In addition to Wuala for iOS, Wuala is available for Android devices.

LaCie's newest entry is LaPlug, which lets you turn any USB hard drive into a network storage device you can access wirelessly from within your home network or remotely over the Internet through a browser. LaPlug builds on the Pogoplug sharing device, one of the least expensive solutions for streaming your pictures, movies and music.  Just attach a Pogoplug or Laplug to your router and a USB storage device (hard drive, flash drive or memory card/reader) to one of the Pogoplug’s four USB ports, and you’re ready to configure the setup for remote access. Pogoplug also provides mobile apps for the iPhone and iPad as well as Android and Blackberry devices.

The bottom line is that cloud storage isn’t just for big corporations anymore. The cloud advantage can belong to anyone with a home network and broadband access. Practically speaking, it means when you’re away from home and discover you’ve forgotten to load a particular document or media file into your notebook, tablet or smartphone, not to worry. You can always retrieve the file from the cloud. Beyond work needs, you can have access to all your music, photos and videos simply by streaming your content. It’s not necessary to try and pack your entire library into the limited capacity of a handheld device as long as the cloud has your back.

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Why are so many people, including the author of this article, accepting the spin from consumer hardware vendors? The very nature of cloud computing and cloud storage is that it's device-independent. Just because Pogoplug and Western Digital state that their devices are "personal cloud" doesn't make their claim legitimate.

I recently made a software purchase and one of the add-ons was a cloud system. I had no idea what a cloud system was until, as if by magic, your article appeared in the newsletter. Talk about timing! Now I know! It was very clearly written and easy to understand. I really do look forward to your newsletters and their wonderful content. Thank you very much!