You can’t go anywhere online without hearing something about the cloud. No they’re not talking about those big fluffy white clouds floating in the sky, but a different kind of cloud. The cloud is used to store data, and last I checked you can’t store files on a cumulus cloud. So what the heck is the cloud anyways? So here is some jargon to add to your internet vocabulary. Merriam-Webster defines the cloud or cloud computing as “the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet.”

So what exactly does all that mean, and how can you use it in your business? The cloud is a concept of storing and syncing files online and between multiple devices. There are multiple companies that provide cloud storage. Everyone from Apple, Google and Amazon have cloud services. Chances are if you are using an iPhone, iPad or Android, you are probably already using the cloud and don’t even realize it. For all the iPhone users out there, cloud storage is the reason why when you upgrade iPhones your contact list, notes, pictures and text messages are already on your new device.

The Cloud Basics

So moving beyond the dictionary definition of the cloud, the cloud allows you to store data from your computer online and access and sync that data between various devices. I feel like an example will better illustrate how the cloud works. If you are writing a report on your laptop in the office and save it to the cloud, when you get home you can access that file and work on it on your home computer.

Business benefits of the Cloud

One of my favorite features of the cloud and cloud services is that it makes collaborating with clients and team members much easier. The cloud allows you to share folders and files between team members and work on the same files so that everyone can stay up to date. When I do design work I use the cloud to share large files with my clients. They can send me the assets I need without having to worry about email file limits.

The Security of the cloud

The cloud is set up so that only you and people that you share files and folder with can access your information. With that said, with all the hacking and data theft going on in the world today you should still be cautious of what you store in the cloud. My rule of thumb is that if it is something you wouldn’t want your family to see, then don’t put in the cloud.

Setting up the cloud

How most of the cloud services work is you install the cloud software (there are various providers of cloud storage that offer free and paid plans) to the device(s) you wish to use it on. That can be a computer, laptop, phone, table or any other device that supports that application. For computers you can designate a folder you wish to use as your cloud storage folder. Once that is setup any file (word doc, picture, etc.) that you put in that folder will be available to you online and automatically sync to any computer that you have installed and setup with your cloud service. A lot of the cloud apps on your phone can be setup to automatically sync any pictures you take on your phone so that they are available on your other computing devices. I have found that is an easy way to get images from my phone to my computer.

The vast amount of places that offer cloud services

As I mentioned earlier there are many different companies that offer cloud services and their prices range from free and up. I use several different services with my favorite two being Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive. OneDrive offers 15GB of free storage while Dropbox offers 2GB. You can earn more storage by getting others to sign up, by activating photo backup on your smartphone, and for Dropbox if you use and install their other two products they give you a boost as well. I wanted the extra storage but I didn’t want all my phone images backing up, so I turned it on and got my free storage then turned it right back off. The storage is yours to keep once you earn it. If you would rather pay for extra storage OneDrive offers 100GB for $2 a month, 200GB for $4 a month and 1TB for $7 a month. As of writing this Dropbox only has one paid option and that’s 1TB* for $10 a month. I use Dropbox because it seems to be the most used and its collaboration tools are the strongest I have seen. Another reason I like Dropbox is that a lot of other apps integrate with it to store data and enhance functions. I use OneDrive for the incredibly flexible and inexpensive paid plans.

*a TB or terabyte is roughly 1000 GB or gigabytes. A gigabyte is roughly 1000 MB of megabytes. You can find a better breakdown of here.

Those are just my two favorites but there are many more available. Below are links to two articles that talk about some of the others. They also have really cool comparison charts that make it easier to figure out which cloud service is right for you.

The Best Cloud Storage Services for 2015 – Via Pcmag.com

OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive and Box: Which cloud storage service is right for you? – Via Cnet.com