It used to be the case - and still is for many - that these backups were made using an external hard drive or USB memory dongle. Both of these have now shrunk in physical size while at the same time have hugely increased in their storage size.

However, one key benefit to your ultrafast broadband connection at home or for your business is being able to easily keep all of these digital assets safe using cloud storage.

What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage is like having your own personal drawer on the internet to put stuff - like files and documents - away in. Your drawer will vary in size depending which service is providing it.

Some drawers work better than others for different types of digital assets – so one might be more useful for music or photos and another for documents.

This is because not all will give you the ability to grant access to others to share your drawer or just share certain files, allowing them to be viewed or downloaded or collaborate on by others, editing your documents, for example.

Crucially cloud storage will help you to free up space on all of your devices and your ultrafast broadband connection makes it easy to quickly upload each file to the drawer and download it again when you need it.

The cloud isn’t actually a real cloud. Your data isn’t kept in the sky. You’d find it hidden somewhere inside a huge server  - a machine that’s like a massive hard drive and computer in one, storing all sorts of data to make the internet work. They’re usually contained in huge buildings sited across the world housing hundreds, if not thousands, of servers in one place.

For those who are not yet using cloud storage, thankfully it's easy to get started with our 10-point plan. Five are below and you'll find the next five in part two coming next week.

1) Sort out your digital clutter

It's useful not to fall into the trap of simply uploading every single file you have accumulated to your cloud storage, otherwise your drawer will get full fast. So look through your files, whichever device they are kept on, and sort each into clearly-named folders. For example, have one for important household documents, another for bills and you can make specific ones too for pictures and videos from different moments. Doing this makes it easier to find what you need in the cloud.

Crucially, use this sort out to also delete all the duplicate files you have. A quick search on the internet brings up detailed advice on doing this but remember to be mindful of buying software or apps promising to do it for you without checking their reviews - and research each one to ensure they are offered by legitimate manufacturers otherwise they could hide viruses, spyware or malware.

2) Check if you already have cloud storage

It's likely you already have some cloud storage without even realising it. Often this is connected to your email address or other software or entertainment accounts you have already signed up for, either for free or that you pay for with a subscription on a monthly or annual basis.

Examples of this are:

  • Microsoft Hotmail
  • Google Gmail
  • Apple iCloud
  • Amazon Prime

Each of these popular services will come with cloud storage included but the amount of space you get in your 'drawer' will be determined by the type of account you have.

You can check this by signing in and looking through the details of your account. There will be a specific section for storage. Or a search on the internet for the service you are using will explain what extra benefits are included.

As an example, Amazon Prime comes with Amazon Prime Photos that offers unlimited photo storage and 5GB of space for files such as documents and videos.

3) Start with free or inclusive storage

There's no point paying out for something until you need it so start utilising the inclusive storage space your provider offers or sign up with one that offers a limited amount of cloud storage for free. For example:

  • Google - an account with Google when you sign up for one of its email addresses offers 15GB of storage for free through its Google Drive platform
  • Microsoft - an account with Microsoft when you sign up for one of its email addresses offers 5GB of storage for free through its OneDrive platform
  • Apple - an account with iCloud using one of its iCloud or @me email addresses offers 5GB of storage for free through its iCloud platform
  • Amazon - an Amazon Prime account comes with Prime Photos offering unlimited photo storage and 5GB of space for other files like videos

There is nothing to stop you using multiple free accounts/email addresses for different aspects of your cloud storage or to separate different people's storage throughout the household.

4) Buy more cloud storage as you need it

Every cloud storage provider offers the chance to purchase extra space. Their charges vary and you can usually get a cheaper deal by signing up for a yearly subscription rather than paying monthly.

But again, it's worth checking on other services you already pay for because, for example, if you use Office 365 (now called Microsoft 365) it includes at least 1TB of storage - which is 1000GB.

Some examples of extra paid-for space would be:

  • OneDrive 100GB - £1.99 a month
  • Google Drive 100GB - 1.59 a month or £15.99 a year
  • iCloud 50GB - 0.79p per month

Many of these providers offer increasing amounts of cloud storage for extra fees. Apple and Google go up to 2TB costing £6.99 a month and £7.99 a month (£79.99 a year) respectively.

As a guide to how much space you'll need, a typical MP3 song is around 3.5MB. There are 1000MB in 1GB. A one-minute video recorded on an iPhone, depending on its quality, could be anywhere between 60MB and 200MB. The average photo as a JPEG file could be upwards of 0.5MB to many tens of MBs depending on its quality.

Remember, you can right-click on files and folders to see their size - which makes our No1 point about organisation so very important.

5) Consider an external cloud storage provider

There are two key external cloud storage providers that many people use: Dropbox and Box.

These offer extra tools to manage your stored files, as well as collaborate with others. We'll explore that more in-depth in part two. As a simple guide, if you want to store files for work as well as personal use - for instance if you run a small business or work self-employed - these could be a useful option to keep the above platforms for personal use.

Dropbox Basic gives 2GB of storage free but can be upgraded to Plus, costing £9.99 a month for 2TB of space (£7.99 a month if you pay in one lump annual sum). The next level is 3GB costing £19.99 a month (£16.58 a month when paid in an annual payment).

Box has a Starter package for £3.80 a month when paid annually or £4 if taken out monthly and this offers 100GB of space.

So how do you decide what provider to use?

Now you can see what cloud storage actually means and hopefully you now understand all of the options available, in part two we will look at the reasons to choose one over another as well as offer handy tips and tricks for your cloud storage over the long-term.

Whether it's collaboration or multiple users, security or encryption, there are also many other areas of cloud storage that are crucial when making a decision which one is right for you - and we will explore that time. 



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