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Upcoming EventsWednesday MARCH 5, 2014 Meeting
9:15 AM Set up your computer
9:30 AM Lesson
10:30 AM One on One help
By Greg Skalka, President, Under the Computer Hood UG, California
December 2013 issue, DriveLight
president (at) uchug.org
The latest trend in computer operation and data storage is “in the cloud”. This refers to storage of files not on your local computer hardware, but on remote servers which are accessed through the Internet. The cloud can be used to store your files so they can be accessed from anywhere, not just from your own computer. Applications can be stored and run through the cloud, requiring less sophisticated local hardware.
Almost all computer users today presently use the cloud, and many probably don’t realize it. There are of course the online file storage sites which many use for storing and sharing photos. Any photos you view that are not in your computer, tablet or smartphone’s local memory or hard drive are coming from the cloud. Videos you watch from YouTube, Netflix or other web sites originate in the cloud. All the information you posted to Facebook about your personal activities now resides in the cloud. Anytime you play one of the games associated with the Google Doodles, those changes made to the Google home page logo to celebrate or commemorate something, you are play a game in the cloud. In reality, the cloud is the Internet.
There are a lot of advantages to cloud storage and operation for the computer user. With your files stored on a hard drive in someone else’s server, you don’t need to have as much hard drive space of your own. Most online services, including Google, Yahoo and Amazon, provide some free cloud storage to their account holders. Having your files in the online storage provided by these companies allows access to your files from any computer connected to the Internet. If your computer is stolen or fails, your files are still safe in the cloud. This can be a great means of data back-up, and most software back-up programs now include a cloud option and online storage space for their customers.
Watching media content from the cloud has many advantages over local content. A vast array of movies and videos can be available to view over the Internet without the hassle of loading and storing on your local hard drive.
Many programs that you might otherwise have had to install and run from local storage space on your computer can now be run over the Internet, often through a web browser. Web mail is one example of a cloud application. With an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird installed on your computer, you can download and read your Gmail email and store it on your PC. Should something happen to your PC, however, your stored messages may be lost. By using the web mail online application for Gmail instead, you can always access your new and stored messages from any PC connected to the Internet.
More and more companies are providing cloud-based applications. Cloud software allows users to save local disk space, avoid installation issues, buy on a subscription basis and always have the most current version. For software makers, cloud subscription software lowers distribution costs and provides continuous revenue streams. In addition to the traditional versions installed on your PC, Intuit now provides a web version for all of its TurboTax programs. Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud version of its Office software suite. It allows users to buy a subscription to their productivity software and run it from the Internet, with access for up to five PCs and five mobile devices. This allows users to have access to the most current Office software on a yearly of even monthly basis, with 20 GB of online storage for documents.
Another advantage of cloud computing is that the hardware requirements are lower, allowing computing devices that are less expensive and more mobile to be used. Tablet computers and smartphones don’t have internal hard drives and their internal Flash memory space is limited, so cloud file storage is almost a necessity. Google’s low-cost Chromebook computers are specifically made for cloud computing. The latest version, built by HP, has 16 GB of Flash memory, no hard drive and is priced at $279. It runs Google’s Chrome OS and relies on applications that run online like Gmail and Google Docs, with most data files stored in the cloud. With lower hardware requirements, cloud devices like this can be cheaper, lighter and have greater battery life.
Unfortunately, there are a number of downsides to the cloud computing scenario. All those files you stored on someone else’s server are now no longer fully under your control. Cloud services companies are occasionally acquired, sold and shut down, so you may not be able to depend on your data being there when you need it. Cloud providers can also have access problems outside of your control, causing you to lose access to your data, perhaps at critical times. If your web email provider is down, you lose all email access. If you instead use an installed email client, you at least have access to the email archived on your PC.
With your data in the cloud, not only can there be problems for you to access your data, there can also be unintended access to your data by others. Since the terms of service are often unintelligible, you may not have full certainty that your data won’t wind up in places you didn’t intend it through intentional actions by the cloud companies. And you really don’t know what might happen to your data if the company’s servers are hacked. It is therefore risky to put sensitive personal information in the cloud, even if it is encrypted, as it could be compromised through no fault of your own.
Another problem with cloud computing is that it requires an Internet connection (often through Wi-Fi only) to do anything useful. If you can’t get online, all those files and photos of yours in the cloud might as well be on the moon. That Chromebook laptop may be small and light, but unless it can get a Wi-Fi signal (it has no wired Ethernet connector), it is pretty much useless dead weight, as most of its apps run over the Internet. Other Wi-Fi devices like most tablet computers have the same issue. Even with a cellular-connected tablet or smartphone, a good connection is never guaranteed. I recently found this to be the case in the lower decks of the U.S.S. Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. If you want to be sure you can watch a movie on your tablet during your next plane flight, you’d better load it on the device.
The performance of web-based applications is often much worse than that of apps running on your local hardware. This is especially true if your Internet connection is poor. Even with good connections, some web sites always appear to be slow. I much prefer to use a local email client for my email as my email provider’s web mail site is so slow to respond.
Clearing the Air for Personal Clouds
In spite of the drawbacks, the trend towards computing devices that are more mobile yet storage-limited, like tablets and smartphones, is accelerating this push into the cloud. External USB hard drives and Flash drives may be popular storage accessories for laptops, but few tablets have USB connections. A new class of external storage devices promises to expand the local storage for Wi-Fi devices like tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks and even laptops. These devices combine the bulk storage of a hard drive or Flash memory with a Wi-Fi hot spot to create your own personal cloud.
The Gigastone Smartbox (http://www.gigastone.com/; $45) combines an SD memory socket with an 802.11 b/g/n hot spot and a lithium ion battery. It allows up to six Wi-Fi devices to connect and share up to 32 GB of SDHC memory, providing handy file sharing and streaming. It can even provide a back-up power source for USB-powered devices.
The Sony WG-C10 Portable Wireless Server http://www.sony.net/Products/ws/en_us/pwsintro; $80) does all the Smartbox does for eight simultaneous users, and adds a port to share a USB Flash drive.
SanDisk’s SDWS2 Connect Wireless Flash Drive (www.sandisk.com/products/wireless/flash-drive, $60) does the same as Sony but can’t charge other devices. The Kingston Digital MobileLite Wireless Flash Reader
(www.kingston.com/us/usb/wireless; $60) and Wi-Drive ($60 for 32 GB) are similar products.
Another class of mobile
storage devices uses a hard drive instead of Flash memory, providing
much more storage capacity. This includes the Patriot Aero Wireless
Mobile Drive (www.patriotmemory.com; $150 for 500GB), a 500 GB or 1
TB USB3 external hard drive that serves to up to five wireless users.
Other similar devices include the Corsair Voyager Air
(www.corsair.com/voyager-air ) and the Seagate Wireless Plus
In spite of drawbacks, a greater use of portable devices means an increase in cloudiness in the computer world. To avoid operating in a dangerously obscuring fog, good judgment must be used in determining how and where to access the cloud and what data to store there. Personal clouds like the wireless mobile storage devices now available can be a safe and convenient storage alternative for use with mobile devices.
Cloud Storage - Are You Concerned?
By Bill Armstrong, Treasurer, Lehigh Valley Computer Group, PA
November 2013 issue, The LVCG Journal
Bill (at) yahoo.com
There has been discussion at our Lehigh Valley Computer Group meetings about cloud storage. Concerns include not being able to retrieve your data without an internet connection, and the safety of your sensitive data. Who is looking at it? Is it encrypted? Can the government get at it and see all your data? Can the company hosting the data read it?
These are legitimate concerns, especially since the recent revelation about the NSA spying on our domestic phone calls, emails, and cloud stored data.
In today's Morning Call, I found an ad for Best Buy. It offers a solution to this concern that is very practical.
Western Digital offers their My Book Live Personal Cloud Storage external hard drive (HD). This unit attaches to your wireless router. That makes it available to every connected device that you own, both in your house, and when away from it (via the internet). That means your smart phone, tablet, and laptop, whatever. There are apps for both Android and iOS. You can store movies, photos, and all kinds of data, and access them anywhere you have an internet connection. It also makes a good place to share files with other family members, no matter where they are located. Public and Private shared accounts can be created.
Because the data resides on your personal hard drive in your home, the worries about others (government, hackers, etc.) getting that data is greatly reduced, if not eliminated. Your data is safely stored behind your user ID and password (as well as your router's security), which is as safe as you choose to make it (long, complex passwords are recommended).
The cost is not excessive. Best Buy offers the Western Digital 2 terabyte (TB) version for about $130, and the 3 TB version for about $150. The included software makes backup of your computer very easy.
Online backup services, such as Carbonite and iDrive cost about $60 per year. This unit would pay for itself quickly, and offer the added privacy of local storage.
One drawback that I can see is that if my house should burn down, or thieves should steal the HD, your data is gone. Cloud storage is safer in that respect. Any very safe storage system should include off-site storage in some manner. It could be as simple as burning DVDs and storing them in another location.
So, to summarize, it is an interesting solution with many positives, but not a perfect one.
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