Life in the Cloud: The Complications and Conveniences of a Connected World
Over the last year or so, I've grown increasingly aware of and interested in the idea of life without a hard drive. My existence is, admittedly, a bit unique. I spend a lot of time on my laptop; in fact, it is my main computer. When I'm in my office, it is connected to a big monitor for convenience, but my MacBook Pro powers everything.
I'm mildly obsessed with backing up my computer. I have multiple external hard drives that back up various important files and folders, the most important of which are backed up on all of them for safety because I carry my laptop all over the place and the chance of it getting broken or stolen leaves me concerned enough to be a bit of a backup Nazi.
In addition, I use my iPhone more than is probably reasonably safe for a human. I have not migrated myself to an iPad as of yet mainly because two of the more important software titles I used for work are not available on the iPad, nor are there decent equivalents available. So, I'm stuck with a laptop. But, I wondered recently if I should just get a computer for my office so that I can traipse around mindlessly without the fear my data will be lost in a fall or to some jerk criminal.
That has led me to the conclusion that it is time to consider life in the cloud and I've made some interesting discoveries.
Figuring Out What I Need To Go
The key decision for me is determining what needs to be synced and what needs to be stored on a given drive. For example, certain software has to be stored to every computer's drive that I use. There is just no easy way around that. As good as simple apps may be, I sometimes just need Photoshop and that means having it on every computer I use. Other software can be replaced with comparable substitutes, but, ultimately, apps have to be duplicated.
Fortunately, only a relatively small percentage of my hard drive is clogged with apps. Most of it is used for files -- business, personal, music, photos, etc. In fact, I can't fit all my photos on my computer drive, a consequence of being a freelance photographer. Most are archived on backup hard drives, which is not an ideal solution. Ideally, I could access them at any time and from any location, which goes for all my other files as well.
How to do that is a different story.
For a couple years, I have praised Evernote, the note-taking software app available for both desktop and smartphone. I have also used with regularity apps to sync various folders on my computer with my phone like SugarSync and Dropbox. Several years ago, I migrated all my e-mail to Gmail, which is available across every platform. So, the process has been underway for a while, but going from handling a few folders to literally backing up most everything is a totally different task.
In thinking through the process, I realized that some things are better synced using outside apps to keep things the same everywhere, while others need a more unique solutions. All my business e-mails, for example, (and many personal ones as well) are stored on my drive in folders inside my mail software. It's easy but inaccessible from anywhere but my primary computer. That fix is easy: transfer everything to Gmail, which allows users to set up folders and keep files as long as you stay under their space requirements. Good news is that you can inexpensively purchase additional space. It will take a while to transfer the gigabytes of data, but that will be worth it.
For most of my important folders on my computer, particularly the business stuff, the best option is to sync through something like SugarSync or Dropbox. Any change made to any synced folder on any computer will be changed on all of them. There are plenty of storage space options and since I don't come close to going over 100GB with these more active folders, either of these services is a fairly inexpensive solution.
Then there's music. I recently migrated my iTunes database -- all 120GB worth -- onto an external hard drive. Unfortunately, I can't access it when I'm not at home and connected to the drive. Best option there, it would seem, would be Apple's iCloud and Match services, which store your music files off your drive and make them available on any device connected to iCloud (phone included). iCloud can also store SMS messages, contacts and the like, making that a smart buy for the phone as well. But, there can be issues, such as downloading tons of info onto your phone when you aren't connected to wi-fi which could rack up the bandwidth charges through your cell phone provider.
Finally, that leaves me with those drives filled with photos. If I were just an amateur photographer who used iPhoto or some similar software, this would be an easy task, but having drives filled with photos that I consider fairly important leaves me with a daunting task. For now, I feel all right knowing those are probably just going to remain out of my reach. Because I have a server for my business I could conceivably load them there or I could spend fairly big bucks for a machine just for them. But most of them are just not used that often, so I will survive without them until a cheaper solution avails itself to me.
Remember I said I was a bit of a backup Nazi. With all my data soon to be floating around Skynet, it is going to be really important to figure out how to keep all that data secure. For my computer, that will continue the daily backups, which will protect all the files that I sync save music and e-mail. For e-mail, I discovered a relatively inexpensive service called Backupify that will back up not only Gmail, but Facebook, Twitter and the like. Seems like a reasonable solutions.
As for music, that will need to be something I backup manually once a month, but I do that now anyway, so not a big stretch.
How Much and How Long?
The costs will vary on all of this, but suffice it to say I'll probably spend a few hundred bucks a year on various syncing and backup services. To me, that's a reasonable solution and a tax deductible one to boot since most of this is being done for business. For more specifics, I'll need to upgrade my Gmail to probably a $10 per month account, go to a $150 annual solution from SugarSync and pay $25 per year for Apple's Match music service. Backupify runs a measly $3 per month for 35GB of Gmail storage for a grand total of approximately $330 per year.
Then, there is the addition of a home computer. For that, I'll probably opt for a Mac Mini. It's simple and more than enough for my needs. That should set me back about $800. All that will likely preserve the life of my laptop as well, so money well spent.
The next question is how long will it take to set all this up and sync it. The answer: a while. Considering the fact that I have several hundred gigabytes of data to be synced in various locales, I'm guessing several days and I'll probably try and spread that out over a couple months to avoid hitting bandwidth limits from my Internet provider.
This probably isn't for everyone. For someone like me who is out a lot and really needs the convenience of access to my files anywhere, anytime, it makes a lot of sense, particularly since my computer is a HUGE part of my livelihood. But I could understand if someone reading this thought I was nuts. I probably am.
Have any suggestions for me? Am I doing something stupid? Drop them in the comments.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.