Understanding Cloud Storage

cloud server

First came floppy discs, and then CDs. External hard drives and thumb drives are still quite popular, but one of the most recent and foolproof methods of digital file storage is something called “the cloud.”

It may sound mystical, but it’s not. Cloud storage allows you to store and sync your files across multiple devices and access them anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. If you haven’t taken advantage of cloud storage, now is the time to start, because many cloud storage providers are offering large blocks of storage for free — up to 100 GB.

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

What Is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage refers to data saved in an off-site storage system maintained by a third party. This means you can store all of your project drawings, schematics and even detailed building plans without taking up lots of space on your computer. You can access your files online whenever you want, whether it’s on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.

Unlike physical storage devices like internal or external hard drives, it’s highly unlikely that the cloud will ever blow up (thereby losing all of your files). Cloud storage companies store data on hundreds of data servers, ensuring that if one of them blows, you’ll still be able to access your data from the others.

How Do I Get It?

Cloud storage has experienced a boom in the last couple of years, and it’s no surprise. It’s a convenient, relatively cheap (sometimes free) and easily accessible storage solution. Most services charge a monthly or yearly fee for a set amount of storage space, and throw in a few free gigabytes as an incentive for signing up. There are hundreds of providers to choose from, and each one has its pros and cons. Here are a few of the major players.


Dropbox is probably one of the most popular cloud storage devices. One of the best parts is that you don’t need a Web interface to access it, like many other cloud services. Add it as a folder on your computer, and your text files will sync automatically, ensuring you’ll have the most recent version at any time. While the initial free space is minimal, Dropbox has several options for getting more. Referring friends to Dropbox will get you some additional free space, and if you buy a new Samsung tablet or smartphone that has Dropbox pre-loaded, you can get 48 GB for up to two years.

  • Two GB free
  • 100 GB = $9.99/month

Amazon Cloud Drive

If you already have an Amazon account, free space is waiting for you. Amazon Cloud Drive is only accessible through the Web; there are apps for smartphones, tablets and digital readers.

  • Five GB free
  • 100 GB = $50/year

Google Drive

Google Drive is another account that you already have access to if you’ve got a Gmail account. Like Dropbox, you can keep the Drive on your desktop and it will automatically sync your files. In addition to storing “Google Docs” created with Google’s tools, you can store Microsoft Office files and convert Google Doc files into Office files to use on your desktop.

  • Five GB free
  • 100 GB = $4.99/month

Apple iCloud

This service can only be accessed on the Web, but it has an added benefit: You can store any books, movies or music purchased from the Apple store on this account, and they don’t take up any space in your storage.

  • Five GB free
  • 50 GB = $100/year


SugarSync is another service that syncs your files across multiple devices, in addition to storing them. This is great for text or Word files that you edit on multiple devices. When you make a change to a document on your tablet, that change will be there when you open the document on your laptop.

  • 5 GB free
  • 100 GB = $9.99/month