The Benefits of Cloud Computing

Protect your data from hardware mishaps

Created any documents on your computer recently? Updated a spreadsheet while on a flight to Seattle, or edited a short movie for your child’s presentation?

How about your smartphone: Taken any photos lately that you’d like to keep forever?

Every single one of those files is as risk even as you sit and read this.

Storage devices and memory cards are much more reliable, but the problem is that we humans are still, well, human, and we spill coffee on our laptops, drop our cellphones and break them, and even lose tablets on airplanes in the hustle and bustle of getting off the flight and into the arms of loved ones.

It’s inevitable, just as it’s inevitable with computers you’ll power up at some point and see an error message telling you that the hard drive is kaput.

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That’s when you realize that a smart backup and data mirroring strategy is invaluable. Unfortunately most people come to that realization when it’s rather too late, then have to either accept that they’ve lost their wedding photos, the video of baby’s first steps, the recording of mom singing in the car and the proposal for work that took two weeks of weekends and evenings to assemble. And that stinks!

Back in the day, the only solution was really to have an extra hard drive, an external unit that you’d plug into your computer so you could manually run specific backup software to make a copy of the files and folders on its list. Not so good for tablets and smartphones, but a functional solution for a desktop or laptop machine.

Then came Network-Attached Storage (NAS) systems like Apple’s slick Time Capsule that let you backup your Mac systems wirelessly every time you were on your home or office network. Better, if you use it.

The most modern generation of devices now uses cloud-based storage, semi-magical hard drives that aren’t just wirelessly on the network, but are physically somewhere else in the world from your location. Apple introduced iCloud and Microsoft created OneDrive, both tightly woven into the company’s respective operating systems and able to help with mobile devices too, depending on operating system.

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Now there are so many more cloud storage solutions, notably including DropBox and Google Drive, each offering several gigabytes of free storage, up to terabytes if you pay for an account. There are also smaller players like iDrive, Carbonite and BackBlaze. But whichever you choose, the critical step is to actually turn on the backup system and make sure it’s always running — or trying to run if you’re offline — so you’ve got everything covered and have a good backup strategy.

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There are programs you can buy to manage your backups, but check with the cloud storage vendor first. Almost all of them have free-to-download programs that do just fine ensuring that everything you create is safely squirreled away in the cloud too.

And here’s an even better idea: Don’t hesitate to use more than one at the same time. Use iCloud on your new iPad Pro and iPhone 6, while using BackBlaze and OneDrive on your Windows 10 system. Google Drive is a popular solution for sharing and backing up business documents too, and if you’re using Microsoft Office 2016, it has its fingers deep into OneDrive.

Look at it this way: Better to have two copies of a critical document or data file than none.

As digital devices burrow deeper into our lives, each of us is going to have an ever growing archive of irreplaceable data, and the time to get your cross-device backup plan implemented is now, before that catastrophic event, not after something bad happens to your electronic world.

If that means you have to pay a few dollars for additional storage space (you can usually upgrade to a terabyte — 1,024 gigabytes — of storage on a cloud system for $10-$20 a year) then it’s money well spent and a cheap insurance policy at that.