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How to choose a personal cloud provider

Computer Tutor: John Lucas


JOHN LUCAS

A recent report by Gartner, one of the world’s leading information technology research and advisory firms, predicts “the personal cloud is poised to eclipse the PC (personal computer) as the hub of consumers' digital lives by 2014 as rapid growth in the use of apps and services introduces a new paradigm for how people store, synchronize, share and stream content.”

Brandon Bulter of NetworkWorld agrees that “Consumers are flocking to cloud-based resources.”

Personal cloud storage (PCS) providers, like Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s Skydrive and Dropbox, offer consumers free and fee-based network storage space on their remote servers to store our documents, photos, music, videos and other data. As long as you have an Internet connection, your correct account password and a compatible computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet or other mobile device, you can access your data anytime, anywhere.

While all cloud providers provide data storage, they can vary greatly when it comes to cost, features, accessibility and support. So how do you decide which one is right for you? As a starting point, here are some important factors to consider:

* Compatibility. Is their software compatible with the operating systems of your computer, your cell phone, your tablet and/or other mobile devices?

* Security. How do they encrypt and ensure the security of your data?

* Easy use. Look for an online storage service with a clean and intuitive interface that you can easily understand and navigate. Uploading your files and downloading their software, if necessary, should be straightforward. Remember, you want to make your computing life easier, not more complex.

* Cost of storage space. Most providers offer some level of free storage supported by advertising. Will this free storage space be enough to meet  your needs now and in the future? How much are you willing to pay per gigabyte (GB) per month for additional storage?

* Features. Do they provide automatic backup support and syncing between devices? Do they offer online web applications like Google docs office suite  in addition to their storage services?

* Consumer support. Do they provide consumer-friendly 24/7 technical support, online manuals and tutorials?

If you do decide to join the world of online cloud storage, the first step is to clearly assess your needs. For example, how many GB of storage space are you going to need? How many and what kinds of devices are you going to want to backup? Do you want the ability to share files or collaborate with others in real time? Do you want to be able to stream music and HD videos? How much are you willing to spend for such services?

Once you have a clear picture of what you want in a cloud provider, compile a list of available and potential vendors that match your basic requirements. Check out their web sites. Read consumer reviews. Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations. A good place to start your research is NextAdvisor.com which offers online rankings, reviews and comparisons of consumer Internet services including online backup services.

John Lucas is the owner of Your Computer Tutor which provides personalized home computer instruction and technical support for both Macs and PCs in the Portland metro area. A retired teacher with a Masters in Library Science, Lucas welcomes questions about common computer issues. Reach him by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-333-8542.