Cloud storage vs. hard drive

 Jack once required magic beans for access to the clouds, but in 2014, all it takes is an Internet connection.

Instead of having to climb a beanstalk to a land full of giants, however, consumers can tap into a kingdom of storage and accessibility — all with the click of a mouse.

With no magic beans necessary, cloud computing allows users to access files, documents and even software from anywhere with a computer and Internet connection.

Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer. This format is on the rise as consumers and Web surfers alike yearn for convenience in the world of technology.

In fact, 97 percent of responders in an August 2012 survey conducted by Wakefield Research, a “market research consultancy specializing in strategic and tactical research for corporations and organizations throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia,” according to its website, said they are using cloud services today via online shopping, banking, social networking and file sharing.

The good

There are many benefits to utilizing an Internet-based storage system as opposed to a more traditional method of backup, such as an external hard drive or flash drive storage.

There are many options for cloud storage, including options from bigger technological names such as Google, Apple and Microsoft.

For people who require storage for just files and documents, there’s Google Drive, a service that lets your files “go everywhere,” according to its website.

“Change a file on the web, on your computer or on your mobile device and it updates on every device where you’ve installed Google Drive. Share, collaborate or work alone: your files, your choice,” the website states.

Google Drive is available for free to store the first 15 GB, and 100 GB of space or more starts at $4.99/month.

The iCloud, which was released on June 6, 2011, “automatically and wirelessly store(s) your content in iCloud and automatically and wirelessly push(es) it to all your devices,” according to a June 6, 2011 Apple press release.

“Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up to date across all your devices,” then Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the press release. “iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps, you don’t even need to think about it — it all just works.”

Now just four months after the service’s two year birthday, the iCloud allows for photo streaming to friends and family, location services for your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and storage of contacts, calendars, music, books, apps and more.

You automatically get 5 GB of storage free in the iCloud, and you can purchase additional iCloud storage from 10 GB for $20/year to 50 GB for $100/year.

The bad

Although there are many advantages to cloud storage, there are also many disadvantages to the Internet-based services.

First: the requirement of an Internet connection.

Because you must be connected to access, any spotty wireless connection or disruption to the service could leave you without access to your files.

Google offers an Apps Status Dashboard (www.google.com/appsstatus) that offers performance information for Google Apps services, including Google Drive.

The information, shown in the user’s local time zone, can tell you whether there are no issues, a service disruption or a service outage.

Apple’s iCloud offers a similar service at www.apple.com/support/systemstatus.

Second: it’s in a cloud.

Because all of your files, photos, music and whatever else you decide to store are located in the cloud, you don’t actually have something physical.

Third: accessibility.

Not all teachers or classes can be used to share assignments, so at this point the cloud storage simply becomes an option for organizing your work before turning it in.

The ugly

Cloud storage could have more long-term disadvantages than just not being able to turn a paper in to a professor.

A November 2011 survey by Nasuni, “the leading next-generation enterprise storage company,” according to its website, found that 81 percent of information technology decision makers had concerns about data security in the cloud, and 48 percent were concerned about the level of control they would have over data stored in the cloud.

“You can’t see the cloud. You can’t cruise around it (unless you’re Superman). And your service provider is the one that gets to reboot the servers,” the press release said. “In short, IT no longer has the control it is used to.”

Boston University’s Information Security Department offers many tips to cloud users to keep their files safe, including making sure the company that is operating the cloud has a “good reputation and solid security policies,” encrypting data being uploaded to or downloaded from the cloud, understanding your options if the cloud provider should be hacked or lose your data, choosing good passwords and backing up your data.

So if you’re ready, grab your magic beans … er … your computer, and climb up to the cloud.