What is the cloud?

It wasn't all that long ago that we were amazed at the power and portability packed into flash drives.  A whole 2 GB of storage packed into this little tiny USB drive that fits right in your pocket!?  Amazing.  But the thing is, the flash drive was really just the next iteration in the mobile storage world.  We used to have floppy disks.  Then CD storage.  And then flash drives.  And while flash drives aren't on their way out, they are slowly being phased out in favor of something much, much bigger- the cloud.

Unlike the portable storage solutions of the past, the cloud cannot be seen or carried around with you.  This makes it very different, and to some, confusing.  So let's examine what this entity is, and how it actually works its magic.

First things first, the cloud is nothing new.  The cloud is basically the internet.  Think of it this way.  When you log on to Facebook and upload a picture of yourself, you store that photograph on Facebook's server.  You can look at your profile, and see it.  But since the image is now hosted on Facebook's server, and not just your computer, others can see it too.  If your whole computer were to explode and be damaged beyond repair, that picture would still be there.  Let's say you want to show that picture to someone else.  All you have to do is log on to Facebook on your mobile device, and that picture will still be on your profile.  And if someone else wants to view that image, they can look at your Facebook profile and see it too.

It really is as simple as that.  Let's say that you have a report for school or work.  In the old days, you would type it up at home, and store it on a flash drive.  Now, you can finish it up at home, upload the file to a cloud server, and then download and access it at work.  Assuming the cloud server that you were uploading too is mobile compatible, which most are nowadays, you can also download and make changes to it from your cell phone or tablet.  It's fast, it's easy, and while it doesn't completely make data loss obsolete, it makes it a lot harder to prevent.  After all, on the way to school or work, you could lose the flash drive, drop it in your coffee, or any number of things.  But with the cloud, it doesn't matter.  You could drop your laptop in a puddle on your way into the office, but your report is still okay, and can be accessed from any of your coworker's computers.  And so, it's easy to understand why you would want free storage.

The Cloud, ExplainedCredit: http://www.prospettiva.co.uk/getintothecloud/images/the_cloud.jpg

Paying for Storage.. or Rather, Not Paying

So when you upload a file to a server, you are costing the company that hosts the server some money to keep that file online and connected.  So it is understandable that they would want you to pay to use their service.  However, in most instances, the files that you upload will not be large enough to make the company even consider you an expense.  And so, in the hopes that you will become a paid customer, many companies will offer you some free storage.  For many people, a few GB of free storage is more than enough.  After all, it would take thousands of word documents to ever fill up that space, plus you can always delete old files you don't need anymore to clear up more space.  But what if your job dictates involves the transferring of many large files?  If you are a graphic artist, web designer, or video editor, and want to keep your projects synchronized and accessible to work on no matter where you are, then that space is going to fill up mighty quick.

Even if you don't have a job that requires it, most people could still use extra cloud storage space, but for a different purpose- backing up your files.  You've probably heard a million times that you should back up your files, that is, make a copy of them in case something were to happen to your computer.  With the cloud, that is easier to do than ever before.  Just grab all of the files that you wouldn't want to lose, throw them up on a cloud server, and you're done.  Unfortunately, all of those family photos and videos, as well as that massive music library you're so proud of, takes up a lot of space.  Way more than the free space allocated to un-paid users.  Luckily, there are ways around this if you are willing to put in the work.

So what's the magic answer?  Simple- be a free, un-paid user for multiple cloud storage services.  For instance, if there are 5 different services that give you 1 GB each, then you actually have 5 GB of free storage at your disposal.  The downside is that you have to be willing to split up your files.  This is where the organization comes in.  Below is a list of free services and their features, as well as what they are best for storing.

Google Drive - 5 GB Free

Best For - Your Most Precious Files

Google Drive is cool in more ways than one.  First of all, if you use Google Docs, those files that don't count towards your 5 GB of storage, they are truly free!  Second, it is very accessible across multiple mobile platforms, and is extremely easy to use.  You can also set up a Drive folder on your computer, and just drag and drop files in that you want to be saved safely.  Plus, it's Google, so you know that your files aren't going anywhere.  Therefore it makes Drive the best place to put all of those VIP files you can't live without.

Dropbox - 2 GB Free

Best For - Photos

Dropbox allows you to set up a folder to sync files on your computer as well, and like Google Drive, they also are very accessible across multiple platforms.  Their mobile application is very quick and easy to use, making it a very good option for pictures that you may want to show people, as it is the quickest way of pulling them up.  The other cool thing about Dropbox is that if you refer people to the service, you get more free storage space.  You get 500 MB (that's 1/2 of a GB) for each referral, and you can earn up to 18 GB of free space!

DropboxCredit: https://lh3.ggpht.com/fYkYPcew96AUyfRPhH8_GA_W1uvQVSUcjcA-OQ0EiZXcOuX8XMTSO2JO76jCL61zvA=w705

SugarSync - 5 GB Free

Best For - Videos

In terms of functionality, SugarSync is very similar to Dropbox.  It's mobile applications are also easy to use, cross-platform compatibility is seemless, and it's just an all-around fantastic option.  Since videos tend to be larger and take up more storage space than photos, you may want to use it for them.  You can still share them easily through your mobile device, and you've got a bit more space to mess around with than the 2 GB cap with Dropbox.

Amazon Cloud Drive - 5 GB Free

Best For - Music

When you purchase music through Amazon, you automatically have free cloud access to it.  However, you can also upload your own songs to it and be able to listen to them anywhere.  If you're stretched for space on your phone or tablet, this can be a good option to extend the amount of songs available to you.  Plus, like Google, you know that your files aren't going anywhere since it is run by one of the largest companies in the world.

Amazon Cloud DriveCredit: http://www.shinyshiny.tv/amazon-cloud-driver-600x294.jpeg

Microsoft SkyDrive - 7 GB Free

Apple iCloud - 5 GB Free

Best For - Misc.

Don't worry about taking sides here, you can get free storage through either Microsoft or Apple.  Microsoft tends to play well with others cross-platform, while Apple's service will be better and faster if you are using a compatible iDevice.  Still, between these two big computer companies, you can grab yourself 12 GB of free space.

Mediafire - 50 GB Free

Best For - Files You Don't Need Regularly

Although it offers some of the largest free storage space of any cloud provider, Mediafire is separated from the other 25 GB of free storage due to some restrictions it has on the service.  For one, file uploads, even on your home computer are limited to 200 MB, which actually is pretty small in today's age.  Furthermore, they have problems with folders on mobile devices, making it disorganized for on-the-go use.  Therefore, it is recommended that you use some of the other services listed above for your go-between the office and home.  Save that large 50 GB of Mediafire storage for the peace of mind that those files you don't need everyday are safe and sound.