I have been travelling for the past few weeks, and even though I have extolled the benefits of online office applications in the past, there’s nothing quite like a roadtrip to truly test the mettle of this new way of working.
Back when I worked for a large corporation, we used “network drives” for the storage, sharing and backup of our important files. Now that I don’t have the benefit of a whole IS department to set up a network of file servers for me, it’s fortunate that there are online services that can replicate that service at a fraction of the cost.
Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, otherwise known as Amazon S3, and Rackspace’s Mosso Cloud Files are so-called “cloud” storage services. Instead of buying file servers, installing backup machines and hiring the staff to manage these systems, all I need is a connection to the internet, and I have the luxury of an infinite amount of disk space. I only pay for the amount of disk space I use — both Amazon and Mosso charge $0.15 per GB, per month. Amazon charges an additional $0.10 per GB uploaded and $0.17 per GB downloaded, whereas Mosso does not have any usage charges if you access the files with their tools. So, to store 100 GB, costs $15 per month. Sure, you could try and put together a file server for less money than this, but the costs mount quickly when you add in the cost of backup systems, fault-tolerant hard drives, and physical security (what happens if there is a break-in, flood, or fire?). Plus, how much disk space do I need? And what happens when I run out of space? By only paying for what space I use, I don’t ever have to worry about these issues. Furthermore, since my files are accessible via the internet, I can have access to them no matter where I am, as long as I have a computer with an internet connection, which is a huge benefit when travelling. I don’t even need to use my own computer, since my files are accessible via a web browser.
That said, while Amazon S3 and Mosso are fantastic services, they are still a bit difficult to use for the ordinary user. After I signed up with these services, I installed Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk is a program that creates a network drive that allows you to easily copy your files up to the cloud. So, on my computer, I have a “J:” drive, that looks just like any other hard drive on my computer that connects directly to my cloud storage service. Jungle Disk costs $2 a month, but has a 30-day free trial.
So, how do I use my networked storage drive? Well, since the network drive is a little bit slower than my local hard drive, I primarly use it for backup, and for files that I may need on the road. Jungle Disk provides an easy way to keep my local files in sync with the ones I have in the cloud. The initial upload was a little painful, since backing up my 100 GB of files took a considerable time over a standard DSL connection. Furthermore, uploading large amounts may be initially expensive if you’re using Amazon, since Amazon S3 charges for usage, so it may be worthwhile trying the newer Mosso Cloud Files service. One tip for those using these services in conjunction with antivirus software like Norton’s Security Suite: be sure to turn off scanning for these network drives, since having these programs scan files in the cloud slows down your computer, and could potentially run up your usage bill on S3.
As cloud services like Amazon S3 and Rackspace Mosso continue to improve, they make enterprise-level computing services available and affordable to everyone, and not just large corporations.