In a very short time, cloud storage -- saving files to a server based on the Internet -- has gone from a novelty to a must-have if you work or study in more than one location. Cloud drives can save you a lot of hassle; there's no disk or flash drive to worry about. You just need Internet access, and you're able to work on files on multiple computers or even on the go with tablets or smartphones.
Cloud storage isn't without some downsides, too. Privacy, intellectual property rights, and security are frequently mentioned among problems with saving files in the cloud. Storing information on someone else's machine isn't without risk, and the companies that provide cloud storage take some precautions to prevent your information from becoming lost in the event of a catastrophic hardware or software failure, or from being stolen or destroyed in a cyberattack. It's also a good idea to take a look at a company's terms of service before starting an account, to make sure you're not giving the company the right to use your information when you upload your files.
There are many online storage options for you to consider. Most of them offer a free tier of service for a limited amount of storage, such as 2 or 5 GB, which you can upgrade for a fee. Some of them are integrated with desktop and mobile applications; consider functionality when choosing an online storage provider.
Ellis Hamburger of the Verge compared some of the most popular cloud storage services in April 2012.
Here are some of the more popular services:
Integrated with Apple's Mac OS X desktop and iOS mobile operating systems, iCloud lets Apple users save files to the company's servers. Windows PC owners who use Apple products can also sync their devices. The basic account includes 5 GB of storage space, but the account is less flexible and hands-on than the other options on this list.
Box account holders get 5 GB free when they sign up. Although Box is known as an enterprise storage service provider (that is, for businesses), you don't have to work at a large corporation to have a Box. One of the nice perks of Box that it's been around long enough for many applications to have integrated support for the storage, even though the company doesn't have a desktop client (as of the time of this writing).
Dropbox is easily one of the most popular options for those seeking cloud storage. A basic account starts at 2 GB, but the company awards small increments of additional storage up to 5 GB for sucessful referrals. Desktop applications for Mac, Windows, and Linux enable you to sync at the desktop level. There are mobile clients and widespread application-level integration as well.
Another popular cloud storage service, SugarSync offers 5 GB of free storage and has cross-platform clients for Windows and Macintosh computers, as well as iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry clients. Installing the software on your computer enables you to keep files in sync as you add, delete, and update them.