Before online file storage came along, people who needed to share files had three options. They would send them by email, load the files on a USB drive and hand it over, or used an online service like YouSendIt.com (now Hightail), SendThisFile.com, WeTransfer.com and TransferBigFiles.com.

online file storage

Eventually, these were no longer viable. Here’s why.

The Need for Online File Storage

Sometimes the files were too large for email. In that case, users switched to a USB drive. However, this requires delivering the USB drive either in person or by mail.

When this wasn’t possible, people searched for “send big files” to find free cloud storage. The problem with this method is that it wasn’t always secure and it was temporary. A file storage service typically held on to files for 24 hours before deleting them.

The service could also be dreadfully slow in uploading and downloading. Some users won’t store data on the cloud server because of security or spam. Recipients weren’t always sure the email they received with a link to download the file was safe.

Phishers and scammers took advantage of the situation with phishing scams. They sent emails disguised as coming from an online file service. In fact, many phishing emails went out using the WeTransfer name. The link took unsuspecting individuals to a compromised or hacked website.

Drew Houston founded Dropbox because he needed a better way to share files. He never had his USB drive with him when he needed it. Houston’s inbox had too many email attachments containing work files from his coworkers. And every computer user’s nightmare happened to him. His desktop’s power supply exploded, taking one of his hard drives down with it. He had no backups. Thus, Dropbox was born.

Dropbox is one of many cloud services for storing data online. The big companies have entered the online file storage fray. Amazon Drive, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s OneDrive allow users to store data on their cloud servers. It’s not just the big companies jumping onto the online file server bandwagon. Others offering storage online include Box, iDrive, and SugarSync.

What Does It Mean to Store Files in the Cloud?

The term “cloud” can be misleading. It leads people to think data is just out there floating around. In reality, data lives in a physical space. It could be on a server, hard drive, or data center. A data center contains giant computers or servers connected to the Internet.

Google Drive, for instance, saves files on its servers in Google data centers located around the world. When you save a file to Google Drive, it lives in one of these data centers. Emails in a Gmail account are not virtual. They’re made up of data that are located on a physical space on Google’s cloud servers. All those videos on YouTube? They’re all files saved to Google’s data centers.

Every email, image, video, document, database, and website exist in a physical space. Storage shrinks with every file you add to your devices and computers. The same goes for data centers and servers. Unlike personal computers and devices, these optimize online storage by relying on more powerful and efficient types of storage. Desktop computers and laptops typically use file-based storage. It’s the simplest of storage types.

Large-scale storage systems need a more powerful storage protocol like block storage or object-based storage. They’re more efficient and perform at a higher level than file-based storage.

What a storage protocol does is make it possible to access and share files. Object-based, block, and file storage use different storage protocols. Online file storage systems need storage capabilities that are scalable and faster. These systems operate 24/7 as they handle huge amounts of data for many individuals, companies, and systems.

Organizations move their storage to the cloud because it saves on costs, streamlines access, and tends to be more durable. However, things happen. What’s challenging about depending on large-scale cloud servers is that it’s possible for problems to arise. Amazon’s AWS cloud computing hosting service went down for four hours in 2017.

It’s not cheap to implement a fail-safe option for managing online storage. The larger companies replicate their data across multiple servers and locations. For most businesses, this isn’t a viable option. Do your research in comparing online file storage services. Ask what they do in an outage similar to the one Amazon AWS experienced.

How to Choose the Right Online File Storage Service

How do you choose the right online file storage service? Cloud service providers have different offerings. Some are made for backing up your data. Others focus more on collaboration. One targets Linux users.

Some teams and individuals need all-in-one document management in which they can use a word processor and file manager that integrates workflow. Google Drive is an example of this as it incorporates a file manager with Google Docs, Google Sheets, and other G Suite applications. Examples of its workflow integrations include tools for signing documents, automating processes, and managing contracts all within Google Drive.

Often, people choose based on how much storage space the cloud service provides. The reality is that there are more factors to consider. Some cloud servers work better with certain operating systems than others. Many online file storage services offer apps for seamless file management on your devices. And not all apps are available for every operating system you use.

To determine the best online file storage option for your needs, make a list of your requirements. How much space do you need? Will you use the cloud storage service for regular data backups?

Will you use storage for file sharing? If you want to share files, do you also need to collaborate on those files? If you only want to share files without collaborating, you might not need an all-in-one service that includes office apps. Perhaps, you travel and you need everywhere access to your own files. In that case, you might want a cloud service that works with multiple computers and devices.

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