If there’s one thing that makes even the most tech-savvy internet user confused, it’s probably the cloud.
We often think of a cloud as this massive entity floating in the sky somewhere, holding lots of stuff. This is true — both in nature and tech — except we can see nature’s clouds, whereas the tech cloud is invisible.
First, some common questions about the cloud
So, what even is the cloud, how does it work, and — most importantly — is it safe?
What is the cloud?
The cloud refers to a widespread network of data, programs, servers, content and applications. Sound nebulous, right? That’s because it is.
The cloud isn’t a physical thing. You can’t touch it or see it.
Think of it like Wi-Fi: You can’t see it but you know it’s there because you can use it.
What is cloud storage?
The cloud functions as a massive online storage center of sorts, where internet users put data, files, content and other digital property on remote servers. Everything is stored in a particular “storage unit” — each of which accessible to specific users, user types and even devices.
Devices use an internet connection to access the network and request data and functions from the corresponding server.
How does cloud storage work?
The cloud actually uses an internet connection to create an ecosystem of remote servers that you can access to do things like store and view photos, stream video or send emails. You then use hardware and other software to access the cloud to perform activities on your devices.
Why would you store stuff in the cloud?
Ever run out of storage on your smartphone? It can be pretty frustrating, especially when you’re trying to take photos. When you store stuff in the cloud, you free up space on your hardware. Freeing up said space not only means you have more room to store more data, but it can also enhance hardware performance.
Beyond that, cloud storage makes file-sharing easy. It also means you’re not tethered to a single device to access information and programs. Businesses, for example, might store important data on the cloud so various internal team members can access it regardless of their location. At home, you might use the cloud to share grocery shopping lists or stream videos on your TV.
Some programs also have automatic saving to the cloud. When you use Google Drive, for example, your changes are updated automatically so you don’t have to worry about losing work.
Is the cloud safe?
While cloud storage protects work from being lost, it also makes it susceptible to other potential security risks. However, these aren’t as prevalent as you might think, thanks to some protections that companies and users can take.
How to protect your stuff in the cloud
To protect your data, take cloud security into your own hands:
- Back it up regularly. Should the cloud be inaccessible or your data go missing, you’ll want a safety net.
- Use a reputable tool. Look for data encryption and other excellent security features, like the ones SpiderOak offers.
- Encrypt data locally before sending it to the cloud.
- Create a strong password for your internet, devices, cloud storage and other logins. Never share it.
- Limit user permissions if you’re sharing access with others.
- Don’t store super-sensitive information like your social security number or birth certificate.
- Install strong anti-virus software.
Best cloud storage
There are tons of cloud storage tools out there, each offering different features for different needs:
- Amazon Cloud – start with 5 GB free, pay for more
- Box – meant for businesses that need file sharing
- Dropbox – similar to Box, offering basic file storage, management and sharing
- Evernote – organize notes, notebooks, files, images, URLs, attachments and more
- Google Drive – access Google’s version of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other popular programs
- Google Photos – one of the best cloud storage for photos
- iCloud – Apple’s straightforward cloud storage
- MediaFire – one of the best free cloud storage — you get 10 GB and can earn up to 50 GB “with bonuses”
- Nextcloud – great for Linux users
- OneDrive – Microsoft’s cloud storage
- OTIXO – also meant for businesses, including workflow and collaboration features
- SugarSync – simple cloud storage with auto-save and sync options