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A Consumer's Guide To Cloud Storage


If you use email, you are already a cloud computing customer. But figuring out how best to use the newer online storage lockers isn't easy. There are a dozen choices with varying costs, storage sizes and security. Here to talk more about it is Jill Duffy, writer for PCMag. Welcome to the program, Jill.

JILL DUFFY: Hi, Audie. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So, we just mentioned email but we're going way beyond messages, right? I mean, what are other uses for cloud storage that are growing in popularity with consumers?

DUFFY: I think probably the biggest one is file synching and cloud storage together. So, these are solutions like Box, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and even Google Drive. So, if you remember the old days of emailing yourself a file so that you can work on it from your home computer and then get it again at your office computer, this takes all of that out of the equation. So, now you can store your files or your photos or your music in one cloud solution and it will synch to all of the computers and devices that you connect it to.

CORNISH: So, what are some key questions someone ask themselves before taking the plunge?

DUFFY: Well, I think most people don't ask very many questions. They see the convenience of it but there is always a tradeoff with the risk that you take. So, every big service you've ever heard of has some level of encryption. Then there are some services that go a little bit further with that and offer security as sort of an upfront issue that they look at. And then the other option is to create your own cloud so that you're not using the public cloud. And that would be to use something like - we call them a NASD, a network-attached storage device. And so you could use that to create your own little cloud that wouldn't be anywhere public.

CORNISH: So, help us understand how much this costs the average consumer and how much kind of storage you're getting for that price.

DUFFY: Cost is a big concern for a lot of people. So, if you sign up for something like Dropbox or Box, you're usually paying nothing upfront and you get a little bit of storage. And you can use that until it fills up and then maybe you want to upgrade to have a little bit more storage, and then it'll cost you a few dollars a month. Now, if you wanted to build your own infrastructure, you're probably look at somewhere in the order of, like, $300-500. But you don't pay any recurring fees like you would with some of the other services.

CORNISH: So, with a lot of new kind of innovations and services, people find that a lot of times it's connected to whatever operating system that they use, right? How does that work in the world of cloud storage?

DUFFY: A good example would be Apple and iCloud. iCloud comes preinstalled on any iPhone or iPad that you buy and you get five gigabytes of storage. Now, I wouldn't consider myself locked into that. I mean, a lot of the other storage systems are flexible enough that they can go onto your device and you also don't have to use just one service. What I do personally is I keep my work files in one cloud-synching solution and I use my personal files in another one. So, I try them all out, I see what I like, I know that all of my work files are going to be in one place, all of my personal files are going to be in another place and yet, I can still access them from any computer that I'm on.

CORNISH: Finally, I think there are people out there who see security breaches happening all the time in social networking and even with their email services and are nervous about putting more and more information about themselves online. Are there things to think about in terms what you should actually store in the cloud?

DUFFY: An ounce of common sense here goes a long way. So, you never want to put something so sensitive into a cloud storage solution that would give a hacker ability to make money off of you. So, things like your Social Security number, a photocopy of your passport. So, anything that's sensitive you wouldn't want to put in there. The other thing that you can do is use an encryption service to give another layer of encryption to all of your files. So, you would encrypt them locally before you put them into the storage locker. That way, anybody who intercepts them is not going to be able to make any sense of those files.

CORNISH: Jill Duffy. She's a writer for PCMag. Thanks so much for talking with us.

DUFFY: Oh, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.