Choosing the Right Cloud Storage

Cloud storage is cool and it is the future. When I moved to San Francisco, I had to rethink how I managed my digital life.  I wanted to take the opportunity to become more mobile and become more light on my feet. Previously, I hosted all my own servers and storage at my house. Some of it was a control issue but a lot of it was it gave me an opportunity to keep my skills up in managing infrastructure,   Unfortunately, managing infrastructure is a pain in the ass and it creates a lot of baggage and work which I would have to carry around.  Kinda goes against my new mobile, low possession lifestyle.  So decided to move everything into the cloud.  This included all my web hosting too.

What is the Cloud?

‘What is the cloud’, you ask?  The easiest way to think about the cloud is to think of it as a utility, like electricity. When you plug your toaster into a wall socket, it turns on and crisps up your breakfast Pop Tart. You don’t have to generate the electricity yourself. In fact, you probably have no idea where the electricity comes from. You just know that its there when you want it and know that when you have that hankerin’ for a Pop Tart, you will be able to toast it. Cloud computing and storage works the same way. Through your connection to the Internet (think wall socket), you have access to all your applications, files, pictures, music, etc you decided to store in the cloud–anytime, anywhere, from any device. How it gets to you, where it’s stored, and how is it backed up is the last thing you think about…  well, maybe the last thing.  So instead of me keeping all my pictures, music, and videos on my laptop, for example, I keep those “in the cloud” and don’t have to worry about where it is kept, how to get that stuff onto my phone, and how to back it up.  Plus selectively sharing my stuff just got a whole lot easier.

The Requirements

There are plenty of companies out there willing to sell you ‘the cloud’.  But, I wanted to make sure that whatever I chose would give me what I want.  As a systems architect, it is translated into which solution will meet my requirements at the lowest cost (sounds alot of my apartment search).  So my first step was to lay out my needs/requirements.  Some are must haves and nice to haves but this is what I came up with:

Music

  • Keep all music (or maybe just the music I listen to)
  • Play from anywhere (web, phone, media centers)
  • Easily add to storage when purchased
  • Build playlists
  • Support auto-playlists

Pictures/Videos

  • Store all my pictures
  • Create albums or store in folders
  • View from anywhere anywhere (web, phone, media centers)
  • Search for photos via name or tags
  • Easily manage
  • Easily share individual photos or albums
  • Keep some albums private

Notes

  • Easily capture by photo, voice, text, webpage, or snapshot
  • Organize into groupings
  • Keyword search all notes
  • Search for text within images
  • Easily add and view from anywhere anywhere (web, phone)
  • Easily share individual or groups of notes

Documents

  • Add and view from anywhere anywhere (web, phone)
  • Store all file types (Word documents, Excel workbooks, html, etc.)
  • Use store like Windows share on laptop
  • Versioning

How They Measure Up

It would be nice to find one service that meets all my requirements for all the stuff I want to keep but I was pretty sure that I will need to focus on a few services to do the job.  I started some research and laid out what I understand each of the services could do.  This is how I see they panned out:

It was apparent that not one service could meet all the needs cost effectively.  My initial thoughts was getting one service was a particular function like:

  • Music would live in Amazon for $20 per year
  • Pictures would live on Flickr for $25 per year
  • Notes would live on Evernote for $45 per year
  • Documents would live on Google, Dropbox, or Skydrive for free

But from this plan, it sounded expensive.  This cost is in addition to hosting email, calendar, contacts, and tasks with my custom domain at Office365 for $96 per year and Windows web hosting at GoDaddy for $108 per year.

Free services to the rescue

Luckily, some free services came my way that helped me make some decisions.

  • With the purchase of my Sprint EVO 4G LTE phone, Dropbox gave me 24GBs of free storage for two years
  • Since I had a legacy Skydrive account, I got to keep my 25gb of free storage forever (or as long as they want to)

So I decided to use Evernote for all note taking and reference material (if you don’t use Evernote, I encourage you to check it out since you will never lose or forget anything ever again).  I also considering cancelling my Premium account to save the $45 per year.

For documents and music, I decided to store in my 24GB of Dropbox space.  Music is a hog but if I use the Dropbox client on my media center and Dropsync on my Android phone, my music will always be in sync on my computers and my phone.  Plus my phone’s camera roll is uploaded automatically for save keeping.  Duplicate photos from the rest but I will work that out later.

Photos I will keep in Flickr since the photostream feature integrates well with my Lifestream and can easily share photos with friends.  My problem with the service is it is tough to manage photos and it is a little too friendly on all my photos.

So, I think I have the solution that works.  As new services and offers become available, I may switch around since my perfect solution would be a single service I can use across all platforms and storage needs.  For now, this works.


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