Cloud Computing | Feature
Sitting on Cloud Mine
A multitude of cloud-based, personal-storage companies have popped up in recent years. No two are alike, but most offer some storage for free, with additional storage available for a fee. SpiderOak, for example, gives users 2 GB free. Choosing among the various cloud-storage options can be tricky, especially since it's a rapidly changing industry sector.
Founded in 2007, Dropbox is probably the granddaddy of backup and sync services, and holds a significant market share. Users download the application for free to each of their devices. Any file stored in a user's Dropbox folder is then accessible, online or offline, on any of those devices, as well as being stored by Dropbox on Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3). Each time a user hits "save," Dropbox updates the versions on the Amazon servers and on all the other devices. In addition, users can share files with other contributors or team members.
AJ Ostrow, a first-year student in the computer-engineering program at McGill University in Montreal, relies on Dropbox for team- and partner-based projects. During a recent code jam--a 48-hour programming competition--Ostrow and his partner needed to program in parallel to finish their project in time.
"My partner and I were considering ways to sync our files and share them while we were programming. In the end, we decided Dropbox would be the easiest, especially to get the files onto our virtual machine," explains Ostrow. "It replaced a USB drive or subversioning (version control), which would have taken too long. We shared files with code over Dropbox and updated them in real time."
While Ostrow submits most of his schoolwork via McGill’s Blackboard system, he uses Dropbox regularly for programming side projects and to share business plans. "Basically, anything that needs a USB or to be e-mailed as an attachment is easier to handle with Dropbox," he adds.
SpiderOak, SugarSync, Syncplicity, and Wuala are among other storage and sync services that operate in much the same way as Dropbox, including the ability to share files with collaborators. Many of these companies differentiate themselves from Dropbox by emphasizing their security cred, an area where Dropbox is perceived--rightly or wrongly--to be vulnerable.