Is That Cloud Really Clean?

Is That Cloud Really Clean?The cloud — the ultimate solution to computer storage capacity — is becoming more and more a factor of life, but is there a day coming when it, too, will not hold enough data to satisfy the ever-growing needs of our technological society? That could be the case if one looks at the past decade or so, since we have all become increasingly dependent on its ability to store our data. As this begins to take on astronomical proportions, we could find our environment and resources strained to a breaking point.

According to Greenpeace International, these data farms are already consuming energy at a staggering rate. Apparently, almost every major player in the technology market relies heavily on the cloud for storage purposes while consumers use it to confidently save their preferences for everything from font colors to who they acknowledge as family, friends, or acquaintances. So with that in mind, we need to address how these data farms will be managed as they continue to grow and place a strain on our environment and resources.

Additionally, as our population grows, the need to communicate is expected to grow and bring a 50-fold increase (by the year 2020) in demand for cloud storage as we increasingly watch TV or movies, listen to our favorite music, share those precious photographs, and eventually even determine the way we work online. Accordingly, Greenpeace International incorporates a scorecard system that enables it to determine just how much energy companies like Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, and others are using and project their future needs. They also track how much will be spent, this year alone, in building more server farms. Further, the report addresses which consumers or businesses are placing the highest demand on these companies in order to satisfy their own — as well as their clients’ — lust for more and more information.

These demands require large amounts of electricity, which is why these data centers, data farms, or whatever name you wish to use are coming under closer scrutiny. These vast amounts of electricity are used in an attempt to keep the cost down, as companies require thousands of computers to store all of this data. Not only is the cost of the electricity a concern, however, but also access to the electricity, itself, and how its depletion will affect the environment. In its report, Greenpeace International states that some of these data servers may consume enough electricity to power 180,000 homes.

Here is a basic look at how some of the companies were scored by Greenpeace:

CompanyEnergy TransparencyInfrastructure SitingEnergy Efficiency & GHG MitigationRenewables & Advocacy
AmazonFFDF
FacebookDBBC
GoogleBCBA
MicrosoftCDCC
Yahoo!CBBB
TwitterFDFD

Scorecard grading is from Greenpeace, with table drawn by me.

Looking at these grades, one could conclude that, with the exception of Google, most of the major technology companies are doing a poor job of using energy efficiently. While this may be the case, there are other factors at play here besides what Greenpeace has presented to us.

On the positive side, the building of each of these data centers requires a force of skilled laborers, meaning employment opportunities, which are sorely needed in our slowly improving economic climate. In addition, the local community benefits when site builders file for the required building permits and pay their fees. As a result, cities have the increasing revenue to provide their populace with necessary services. These data centers will also bring in additional funds to the local power company, which will have to provide additional sources of electrical power. In turn, any profits that the company makes will be paid out to its shareholders, further providing funds that will fuel the economic recovery in that area. So, before we can evaluate if these data farms are too costly on resources, we must look at the whole picture — from the additional sources of revenue to new job creation. Are they good or bad? Only time and experience will give us the definitive answer.

However, I realize that Greenpeace judges how changes can positively or negatively affect our environment as well as how they will impact future generations. If its figures are correct and its data is correct, one can only conclude that the technology companies (with the exception of Google) need to do more to become environmentally friendly. This is not to say that Google is exempt from trying to make improvements until it can reach a scorecard grade of straight As.

Though I am not naïve enough to think that these centers actually generate a tremendous amount of revenue for the local community, I do know that many communities grant huge incentives to entice technology companies to come to their local area. These enticements include offering huge tax credits and discounted building fees as well as other incentives. These incentives are used by local communities because they know that these data centers will in fact generate employment for workers in the area, thus contributing to the local economy.

So what do you think? Would you want a data center located in your community?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by route79

Do You Need to Use an Online Backup Service?

As anyone who has had the misfortune of losing precious data from their computer system knows, you can never have too many backups. Data loss is preventable if you know how to create backups of your data and keep the data in a safe place. Just how important are backups?

I recall many years ago watching a home on fire as a news helicopter filmed a man running back into the burning home. He came running out from the burning residence and was asked what he was holding in his hands. The man stated he owned a number of dry cleaner businesses in the area, and he was holding his business records he needed for tax purposes.

Over the years I have seen the reactions of people who have lost data on their computers who didn’t bother backing up their stuff. I specifically recall one women’s reaction when I informed her that her email contacts had been lost. She was in tears when I asked her how many contacts she had. I was taken aback when she told me about 10 people were in her contact list. I mentioned that she could call each person and have them send her a message so she could rebuild her address book.

Today, with the advent of cloud storage, we have additional options to help us backup our data. In addition, many of the online backup sources offer free services. I have been using Mozy Online Backup services for the past few years. Mozy offers free service with a 2 GB limit. I store the pictures I have taken of our home and property for insurance purposes online so they can be recovered after a fire or other disaster. Though I also have a copy of these photos on CD, as well as stored in my safe deposit box, having these stored online is just added protection.

This is where I believe that online services are useful. You can store your data online for free and retrieve your files from any computer. Besides having a backup of your precious data, you also have the ability to update and replace the stored information on a regular schedule or a schedule that you chose.

Though I believe that online backups are not a replacement for backing up your data to some type of media, I do believe that it a great way to supplement your backup strategy. Mozy is my supplement, Chris recently wrote about IDrive, which offers a 5 GB free account.

Comments welcome.

Amazon Cloud Player Launches To Bring Your Music Into The Cloud

Right after Amazon releases its own app store, it is back again to announce Amazon Cloud Player, an easy way to listen to your own music on-the-go from any device. Using the cloud, users can upload up to 5GB of music and play them on the Web or any Android device.

The new Amazon Cloud Player adds a new button to the purchase page for MP3s that says, “Save to Amazon Cloud Drive,” as well as the ability to upload music from your hard drive to the Amazon Cloud Drive. Initially, users are given 5GB of free storage, which should be enough for hours of music to upload but if a user purchases an album on Amazon, that storage is bumped up to 20GB and if a user needs more space, they can pay $1 per GB per year for the additional space. Files purchased from Amazon don’t count against that total.

Currently the Amazon Cloud Player will come in two version: a Web version and an Android app. Both players allow listeners to upload their music, organize music, and create playlists. Because all of this is running on the Amazon Cloud Storage network, users can access their music anywhere on any compatible computer or Android device.

The only closely related service to Amazon Cloud Drive is Grooveshark, which allows you to upload music from your computer, but Amazon has many advantages over that service — including an MP3 store and very well-known payment system, it is a more recognizable brand over any other similar service.

There are a number of other similar services, like MP3Tunes, and even Microsoft Mesh which lets you access your media from Windows Phone, Desktop, or Mac, and auto populates with content from your Zune/Xbox Live Market Place

Both Google and Apple have rumors about their own cloud-based players and storage, but Amazon beat them and got theirs out first. Amazon Cloud Player is in still water now, as it is the only one of its kind, but with the upcoming release of Google and Apple’s products, it will face some stiff competition in the future; Google rules Android and Apple controls iPhone and iTunes. It will be a rocky ship for Amazon.

How to Take a Picture With Your Webcam

Taking a photo using your webcam can be a quick and easy way to add an image to your online profile, get a shot of that new gadget you just have to show someone, and even just capture the rare moment your hair looks absolutely perfect. Taking the photo doesn’t have to be a difficult process, and there are several ways to do it.

First, the software included with your webcam probably has the feature built right in. If your webcam didn’t come with a disc loaded with drivers and software, you may be able to find them on the manufacturer’s website. Once installed, reboot your computer and take a look at your taskbar to see if any new programs have been loaded. If not, they may be in your start menu and the folder will generally be highlighted for the first few days after installing.

If, for example, you use a Logitech webcam on a Windows machine, the control software starts up automatically by default and waits in your taskbar near the system clock. As with just about any included webcam software, the splash screen should give you two obvious options to either record video or take a picture. From there, it’s just a matter of following the instructions on your screen.

Taken Using Photo Booth

Mac systems have a program pre-installed that is very handy when it comes to taking photos with a webcam. Photo Booth is located in the applications folder by default and offers users a variety of cool effects and backdrop options. You can even create your own custom backdrop and use that as sort of a makeshift chromakey. In the image to the right, I turned on a dim light and chose the “Glow” effect. Once the shot is taken, Photo Booth sends a copy in to your pictures directory and gives you the option to upload it right away or send it to iPhoto where you can do a little more editing yourself.

There are several options available through cloud services including one service called Cameroid which gives you a lot of the same functionality Photo Booth does, without the requirement of having a Mac. They also include some frame elements as well as a few effects not found on Photo Booth or most webcam-included software.

Taking Using Cameroid

Another cloud service offering webcam snapshots and hosting is Seenly which looks and exacts almost exactly like Photo Booth for the Mac.

For Linux users, Cheese is a great little webcam photo app that allows you to send your snapshots off to Flickr. Currently, the program is optimized for users of Gnome 2.28 and later. Cheese was developed as part of Google’s Summer of Code 2007.

No matter how you choose to take your photos, remember that lighting is important and having a messy background is never attractive. If you have a preferred method for taking snapshots using your webcam, please comment below and let us know.

Why I Love the Idea of a Cloud OS

This morning, I wrote an article detailing why I hate the idea of an OS built with cloud dependence in some of its core features. The fact is, there are many reasons why an OS built with the cloud in mind at its base is a good idea. This is especially true for users that are frequently doing work from the road that needs to access the most up-to-date copies of files.

Files and Content Remains Synced
Doing work in the cloud can be a tremendous help, especially when you’re collaborating with a team that aren’t in a single physical location. Cloud-based office applications like Google Docs have revolutionized the way many businesses think of telecommuting and allowed them to save significantly on overhead costs and infrastructure.

Chances are, something you’re doing on a web-heavy system will likely be backed up and synced across all of your machines no matter their build and specs. My desktop at home will have the same access to the same content my Chrome OS notebook would from the coffee shop down the street.

Hardware Costs are Much Lower
While I did cite hardware is getting cheaper and faster every day, the current state of the economy can’t be ignored. Spending thousands on a powerful system capable of doing tasks that can be done on a web-based platform isn’t always a viable solution. If I can accomplish the same output from a $200 netbook or a $1,000 notebook, I’m going to pick the netbook every time.

Battery Life is Generally Better
Wi-Fi and 3G connections eat at battery life, but not nearly as quickly as a system running hot because of clock cycles being spent running intensive programs. If I streamed music from Pandora and updated my blog on a Chrome OS system, I’m more likely to have a lot more battery life than I would playing music from iTunes and running Microsoft Word on Windows 7.

A Hardware Failure Doesn’t Destroy Anything Important
If you do a lot of work on the computer, you’ve probably had a hard drive, motherboard, or other major system component die on you at one point or another. A hard drive going out is a terrible event that has causes countless hours of work, photos, and other important data to be lost. The most important benefit to working within the sphere of the cloud is that your data is completely backed up. The chances of losing your online data to hardware failure is minimal as long as you’re using reliable services.

Overall, I think the idea of a cloud OS can be both good and bad, depending on your perspective on things. It might not hurt to have one of these resource frugal operating systems installed as a dual boot option for times when you’re on battery power and need to get something out on the net. What does concern me is how Microsoft and other major operating system developers intend to integrate the cloud in to their flagship desktop systems. If they do it right, it could be the best of both worlds.

Link: Why I Hate the Idea of a Cloud OS

Why I Hate the Idea of a Cloud OS

For a while now, the buzz around Windows 8 was that it would be more of a cloud OS than the traditional model. Its core would still remain locked on the local drive and experience, but many programs are rumored to rely heavily on connecting to the ever-present cloud. Unfortunately, the cloud isn’t always there for everyone.

One reason I like services like Dropbox and Steam is though they benefit from a consistent connection to the web, you’re not completely locked out of your files if the connection goes down. Sure, some games sold on Steam independently enforce that kind of ridiculous DRM, but it isn’t a universal requirement. I shouldn’t be required to have a connection to enjoy what’s mine.

Photo By: victor9098

If you move this to the OS and its core programs, you’ve got a machine that has great features you may not be able to take full advantage of. It makes sense that computing is heading to an era where mobile devices have the power only desktop units had just years ago. This shouldn’t mean that we need to have one OS for both platforms. What’s the point of putting a PC operating system on what Steve Jobs called a “Post-PC” device?

Google’s Chrome OS is a prime example of the kind of operating system that could very well frustrate anyone that tries to do anything without an active connection. Even with 3G and 4G connectivity, a bad signal can render your machine useless very quickly. While this may be fine with one group of users, it will likely destroy the experience for many others.

While I like the idea of an operating system that runs on absolutely crummy hardware fairly efficiently, aren’t we constantly speeding up processors and increasing the size of hard drives? Will a cloud OS be necessary even a year from now when low-powered processors are powerful enough to handle more? I think this is one early adopter experience I’m glad I haven’t dived in to.

Comments are absolutely encouraged. Please share your thoughts on the subject below.

Link: Why I Love the Idea of a Cloud OS

Bored? Try 247 Mahjong

One of my favorite games dating back to Windows 3.11 is Mahjong. This seemingly simple matching game combines strategy with luck and serves as a great way to kill time. A quick browse of the Google Chrome Marketplace revealed a new and noteworthy app called 247 Mahjong. The app turned out to be a simple link to their website where you can play Mahjong as long as you want with no charges, signups, or probing questions.

They’ve included a background music track that is undeniably relaxing, but can be switched off if you prefer to play in silence or to the sound of your own tunes. Sound effects are also pretty standard and don’t sound cheesy or clunky at all, especially when compared to so many other Mahjong sites out there. The sound of water splashing while you play also provides a stress reducing effect.

While it is simply Mahjong, it’s worth checking out if you have a few minutes to kill.

Link: 247 Mahjong

Picnik Premium Photo Editing is Now Free

Picnik, the photo editor in the cloud, is now a free service to users, allowing them to edit their photos without the need of a pesky subscription fee. This was a heavily limited feature in the past, allowing only premium members to take advantage of their array of editing features that mimics a lot of the functionality found on iPhoto and other basic photo editing programs. This is no competitor to Photoshop, but it can help you jazz up your images currently sitting on Flickr, Picasa, MySpace, Photo Bucket, Facebook, and your computer.

It still offers a premium service that allows members to get advanced editing, early access to new features, use of a font catalogue, and ad-free use of the service. This is currently available at $24.95 per year, roughly the same price point as a Flickr pro account.

Source: Picnik Blog

Whether or not a premium account is worthwhile to you depends on your level of needs in a cloud-based photo editing program. Simple touch ups are available with almost any photo program currently on the market, though there is a clear benefit to using the cloud in situations where you may be on the road with a netbook or other underpowered system a locally installed program may struggle with. In any case, you can try out the edit features for free.

Source: Picnik Blog

Google Restores Lost Gmail Accounts – Could This Incident Hurt Cloud Computing?

There are things that we experience in life that we never forget. When I was a senior in high school our history teacher mentioned something that I never forgot. As a youngster he recalled newspaper articles that covered the Korean war, which stated that only [fill in the blank] American troops were killed. He went on to state that the number didn’t really matter, especially if you were one of the ones that was killed.

Google Gmail suffered an outage for some 39,000 Gmail account holders, which was, the company was quick to point out, less than 0.02% of its entire account base of some 150 million users. The company also was quick to point out that its Gmail services were spread over multiple data centers and that the Gmail accounts were not lost, just misplaced. Google also stated that all of the information would be restored and every user would have their information returned.

I couldn’t even imagine waking up yesterday morning to have your Google Gmail stuff gone. My first thought would be, who do I call? Google has been criticized for a lack of phone technical support services and I recalled the problem I had when my own personal account was disabled several years ago. It took me four days of emails to get my account restored fully, which was a giant pain in the butt.

Many of you know that I have been beta testing Google’s Chrome OS Cr-48. When I had issues not being able to connect to the Verizon 3G, I posted a bug report and I was contacted by a Google representative. The problem was resolved and I felt like I had received special treatment from the Google Chrome OS team. But others who have had issues with their Gmail accounts have expressed the lack of support as a real concern.

Though I realize that the services Google offers are free, it needs to address the lack of technical support and the concerns users have. Since Google is trying to convince users to store their personal files online in its Cloud, what happens if your stuff is unavailable one day? What are we users supposed to do? Who do we call?

If Google is to convince us to buy its Chrome OS computers and trust all of our important documents to it and it alone, Google will need to change its current support system. I want someone to call and I want to speak to a real person. I would also prefer to speak to someone who speaks English as their primary language.

Is this asking too much? What do you think?

Comments welcome.

Source – Google Gmail Blog

Google Group Re: Chrome Notebook Cr-48 Computer – Would You Buy One?

While browsing the Google Group for the Chrome Notebook Pilot program, I garnered some interesting information from other participants. What is interesting is that others who have been using the Chrome Cr-48 notebook computer have similar views of the product. Most everyone agrees that the Chrome notebook is a solidly built unit. Some of the favorite features are the matte black finish, the portability, bright screen, ease of use, fast boot in under 15 seconds, and the overall quality of the hardware. This basically confirms my opinion of the notebook and my experience.

Some of the prior complaints of issues with connecting to a home Wi-Fi router have seemed to have been resolved with an update, that seems to have worked. I know my personal experience of having issues on the Lockergnome site have faded. Bottom line is that it was not the LG web site but the protocol the Chrome notebook was using. Once corrected the notebook now loads all web pages very quickly. I am now able to use the notebook to write my blog posts and will be able to take the notebook with me when I travel.

But there was one post that caught my attention. A question was asked ‘Would you buy a Chrome notebook’? The answers may not be what Google is looking for. Why?

First of all it really doesn’t matter how many of these notebooks they give away for testing, if the consumer models do not sell. This one statement reflects most of the opinions about the Cr-48:

Get a free Cr-48 for testing is one thing. Pay $250 out of your pocket is another.

There are other hurdles Google is going to need to figure out. First is that people do not like change, especially when they are comfortable with a Microsoft Windows box. Have you ever tried to get a Windows user to try Linux? The first question they ask is why? You can talk until you are blue in the face and they don’t want to try something new no matter how much more secure their system will be. Since Google Chrome is basically Linux in a browser, most users will be uncomfortable using it. Second there is the issue of cloud computing. Ask the average computer user about cloud computing and they will give you a blank stare. When you do explain what cloud computing is many of the users I have spoken with are reluctant to give their private data to any company, no matter how much they may trust the company.

Yesterday one of the Google people asked what people liked most about the Cr-48. I responded that the hardware and the way the system is sonstructed is fantastic. The hardware includes the ability to connect to Wi-Fi, 3G and eventually will be Bluetooth enabled. The SSD is also nice and helps boot the computer quickly and 2G of RAM seems sufficient. The case housing is solid and so is the keyboard. Only down side is the built-in tracking which stinks. :-) I told the Google people if they try to cut costs and produce a flimsy notebook, it will bite them in the back side.

I would also not be surprised if Google doesn’t offer some type of supplement on pricing, similar to what the cell phone companies provide for smartphones.

Now here is my opinion. I am not afraid of change and I believe that the tech savvy bunch will have no issues using a browser controlled notebook computer. In fact I like the Cr-48 notebook and use it daily along with my personal laptop computer. I also have no issues of storing my stuff in the cloud, since I have no super secret documents that I want to hide from public view. I am sure others will disagree with my assessment of cloud computing.

So will I be buying a Google Chrome notebook when it becomes available mid-year? Honestly, I am not sure. I would need to see the final consumer version before making a commitment.

Comments welcome.

Source – Google Group

Socialize Your Life With RockMelt

Today we can all rejoice, the first social browser designed around how you use the web is here.

RockMelt is a revolutionary browser that does more than let you navigate through websites. RockMelt allows users to “share and keep up with your friends, stay up-to-date on news and information, and search” by bringing all of your social media sites into this one browser.

This powerful browser is built on Chromium, which is the open source project behind Google’s Chrome browser. RockMelt is “built for how you use the Web” and not just how you browse the web.

Currently this browser has some kinks and bugs, but if you are willing to work through them you can sign up for early access, and you’ll get an invitation to this social browser.

For the power users of social media, this browser is a haven for you. Like to tweet and share links? The producers of RockMelt have built the features in so that you can share links directly in the browser. Like a site or story? Click the browsers “Share” button and there you go, automatically shared with your Facebook or Twitter followers.

Having built in features like this in a browser allows you to streamline your social media process. Taking out the clutter of using the sites share button or getting into a different application to tweet out what you want, this browser has it all built in for the pleasure of you.

It’s simple as point and share.

RockMelt is the first ever browser that you log into. Logging in unlocks  your powerful Web experience with your Facebook friends, your feeds, your favorite services, even your bookmarks and preferences.

What also makes RockMelt revolutionary is that it is the first browser to be fully backed by the cloud. This means that all of your information is in the cloud so you can use this browser anywhere you surf the internet.

RockMelt keeps track of all your favorite sites for you, alerting you when a new story comes out, a friend posts new pictures, or a new video is available. And when you open a RockMelt feed, the content is already waiting for you. You can Like, comment, reply, retweet, share – all the actions you’ve come to expect from each service you follow.

RockMelt even makes your search faster. With RockMelt architecture you can use your keyboard to flip through Google search results like a magazine and pick the one you want.

After two years of work, RockMelt is still in its infant stages. Be sure to sign up for early access and let the RockMelt team know what you think. Be sure to follow the Twitter account for their latest information.

Guiding Your Way Through The Cloud

So, you want to start moving your life to the “cloud?” Looking for a cheap or even free way to do so? With cloud computing and online storage becoming more and more popular, many companies are starting to put their hands into this highly profitable honey-pot. One thing that you need to keep in mind: You get what you pay for. You are not going to find a free unlimited storage plan online that does not have its limitations. I will be going over several online storage options and list the ups and downs of each. By the time you are done reading, hopefully you will have found an option suitable for you.

What is Cloud Storage?

Before I go into the different options, it is important to understand what cloud storage is. In the past, we have been used to storing all of our music, photo, documents, etc. on our computers HDD, a flash drive, external HDDs, CD/DVDs and even card media (SD/Memory Stick/CompactFlash/etc.). With access to the Internet getting more and more common (with hotspots, cell phones, and expanded broadband coverage), we are relying more on online services. Cloud storage is just that: a huge ass cloud. No, Zeus is not standing up in the heavens with gigantic file cabinets storing away your files. But we have big name companies buying massive amounts of HD space for this very reason. Instead of having to carry around an HDD or a keychain full of flash drives, all you need is a PC and an Internet connection. Plus, cloud storage can be, most of the time, more reliable. I am sure a lot of these online storage providers and not just putting all your info on some cheap HDD without making at least one or more back ups.

Cloud Storage and You

First, you need to lay out what you will need in a cloud storage service. Here are some common options/limitations you need to think about:

  1. Space: This is probably the most important on of all. What’s the point on online storage if you don’t have enough space?
  2. File Size Limitation: Most of the free options of online storage have a file size limitation. Meaning, each file you upload cannot be bigger than XXMB/GB. This is mainly so people do not go get free accounts and use them to host huge files (Movies, ISOs, Games) and suck up bandwidth.
  3. Access Options: To some, this is almost as important as how much space they have. Do you require access to your files on your mobile phone? Do you want to use a desktop client, or a Web-based one? Do you want to be able to give your friends/co-workers access to these files as well?
  4. Price: Free is good, but it is not always the best option. Remember: You get what you pay for. There are several free online storage providers, but you may run into a few issues with them, including file size limitation.
  5. Reliability: Will the company that you are using collapse tomorrow? This is a very important factor. You don’t want to store important files on a storage provider’s server and have them close down tomorrow; you’ll lose access to what you really need.

Your Options

Now we are going to look into your options. The ones I list here are just a few. I am sure there are hundreds of online storage providers out there, and it would be almost impossible to list them all. If you know of one that I did not list, post it in the comments so other readers can try it out!

Dropbox: Dropbox hit the Internet around 2007. This company is one of the most popular online storage options. The cool thing about Dropbox is, if you get a free account, you start out with 2 GB. As you refer people, you get more space. I have not found another provider that does this (free or paid). Here are some specs:

  1. Space: From 2 GB all the way to 100 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: A rare feature for a free plan: If you are using the desktop client, there is no file size limit. If you are using the Web-based uploader, you have a 300 MB limit. It does not matter if you have the 2 GB plan or the 100 GB plan.
  3. Access Options: Dropbox has several access options. Of course you have the Web-based version. It also has apps for: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and more. No matter what OS/device you have, Dropbox has some type of access option for you. The desktop client adds a folder to your OS and it acts just like any other folder on your computer. You can drag and drop, delete, or create like normal. As you modify the files in the folder, your online account is updated in real-time.
  4. Price: 2 GB: Free (This is expandable as you refer more people); 50 GB: $9.99 a month or $99.00 a year; 100 GB: $19.99 a month or $199 for one year.
  5. Reliability: I have been using Dropbox for about a year now and have never had an issue — every company usually has issues (Hell, look at RIM). Dropbox has a very informative yet minimalist status page that gives you the current up/down status of the Dropbox client/Web services.

If you want to give cloud computing a try for the first time, I would HIGHLY recommend Dropbox. With several access options and awesome reliability it would be a good service to test out and see if cloud storage is right for you.

Site: http://dropbox.com

Windows Live SkyDrive: Started by Microsoft (yes, the same people who brought you the awesomeness we call Vista) in 2008, SkyDrive is a good option for users who want to integrate their online storage with cloud computing. One of the unique features of SkyDrive is the ability to edit/create Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote files online without having to install any kind of client. Take a look at the features.

  1. Space: 25 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: There is always a catch, especially when you have 25 GB of free storage. You have a limitation of 50 MB per file. (I don’t think I have any MP3s bigger then 50 MB, but I am not encoding them at the highest bitrate).
  3. Access Options: Currently, there is not an official desktop client for SkyDrive. Any uploading/downloading needs to be done using the Web-based tool. But don’t fret, as there is an alternative. Gladient is a Windows application that you can use to upload/download/alter your SkyDrive on your desktop. Basically, this application will create a virtual HDD that you can access on your computer. Unfortunately, this is only for Windows. Sorry, OS X/Linux users.
  4. Price: Free! That’s easy.
  5. Reliability: Personally, I do not use SkyDrive so I cannot account 100% for its reliability. But, from browsing the net and looking around, I have not found anyone complaining about constant downtime/slow speeds. Like always, though, 100% uptime is almost impossible.

If you do not want to pay for a cloud service and don’t mind using a Web-based tool (non-Windows users) SkyDrive would be good for you. It can be hoped, Microsoft releases an official client that expands farther then just PCs. Who can complain about 25 GB of free storage?

Site: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-skydrive

Box: I just recently discovered this company when I was browsing different apps to download on my Droid X. The Web site is clean and very simple. The company even provides storage options to large corporations!

  1. Space: 2 GB to 500 GB
  2. File Size Limitation: With the free (2 GB Plan), you have a 25 MB limit. For the 25 GB plan, you have a 1 GB limit. For the 500 GB plan, you have a 2 GB limit.
  3. Access Options: Everything is completely Web-based, but it is one of the easiest services I have used. When uploading, you can select as many files as you want to upload, all in one windows (CTRL, SHIFT or command selecting files). Also, with the premium plans, you have integrated access to Google Docs, EchoSign, eFax, and more.
  4. Price: 2 GB: Free, 25 GB: $9.99 a month, 500 GB: $15/user/month
  5. Reliability: I have been using it for about a month and have not had an issue and I could not find anything on the Internet about constant downtime/slow speeds.

This company is an excellent option for users and/or companies who need large amounts of space, simplistic design, and high reliability. With plans ranging from 2 GB to 500 GB, it has something for everyone.

Site: http://box.net

Now I know I only gave you three options, but, like I said before, there are several online. Just do a little bit of Googling and you will find more. I am not saying that these companies will fulfill your every requirement for an online storage provider — it’s just a start. I highly recommend you detail out what you need out of a host before you go hunting. If you do not, you will be flooded by features that you may not need and companies that could restrict what you are really after. Happy hunting!

Chris Kader is a 22-year-old fellow from Arkansas. He’s in the Army and he loves tech. Check out his YouTube channel here.

Sean Deuby Talks Identity In The Cloud

In this RunAs Radio podcast, Richard and I talk to Sean Deuby about issues around identity in the cloud. The conversation explores both the consumer and enterprise aspects of identity in the cloud. Where Facebook and Google are helping things for consumers, the needs of the enterprise are more complex. The acronyms come out – oAuth, OpenID, ADFS, and more!

Sean Deuby, Technical Director for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine, has over 25 years’ experience in enterprise IT. He began his IT career running Texas Instruments’ IBM VM systems, then helped design, deploy, and support TI’s first Windows NT 3.5 worldwide infrastructure. He spent 10 years with Intel Corporation, where he was one of the architects of Intel’s corporate Active Directory forest and the design engineer of the directory services team.

A longtime Contributing Editor before joining the magazine, Sean has written many articles and a book on Windows Server and Active Directory, and speaks on these topics at conferences around the world. Microsoft has awarded Sean the MVP (Most Valuable Professional) distinction for directory services every year since 2004.

Listen to Show #183 | 10/27/2010 (35 minutes)
Sean Deuby Talks Identity in the Cloud

Cloud Access From Amazon Web Services Free

Starting November 1, new Amazon Web Services users will be able to try out Amazon’s cloud web service for free!

Amazon just revealed a free usage program for its Amazon Web Services. During Amazon’s third quarter announcements they made this small footnote that new users will be able to use the cloud servers for one year with no charge.

We know your all thinking that it might be some dinky plan but according to the announcement it is going to be full featured:

  • 750 hours of Amazon EC2 Linux Micro Instance usage (613 MB of memory and 32-bit and 64-bit platform support) – enough hours to run continuously each month
  • 750 hours of an Elastic Load Balancer plus 15 GB data processing
  • 10 GB of Amazon Elastic Block Storage, plus 1 million I/Os, 1 GB of snapshot storage, 10,000 snapshot Get Requests and 1,000 snapshot Put Requests
  • 5 GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 Get Requests, and 2,000 Put Requests
  • 30 GB per of internet data transfer (15 GB of data transfer “in” and 15 GB of data transfer “out” across all services except Amazon CloudFront)
  • 25 Amazon SimpleDB Machine Hours and 1 GB of Storage
  • 100,000 Requests of Amazon Simple Queue Service
  • 100,000 Requests, 100,000 HTTP notifications and 1,000 email notifications for Amazon Simple Notification Service

Amazon Web Services has a deep impact with their web services providing service to many social media applications like Tumblr and they also support many software companies like AutoDesk.

America’s largest online retailer has been sticking their foot in the water for awhile with their Amazon Web Services and this only signals that Amazon has deeper interests with their web services platform. Free Amazon Web Services could also be the starting point of many great start-ups by giving them access to a powerful web service to boost their prescient online.

Dot Cloud: The 21st Century Business Platform Built On Cloud Computing

There should be an image here!Shift happens. The unexpected matters. Remember how the retail book industry was slow to grasp an understanding of the Internet before it got “Amazoned?” Well, here we go again, only this time the shift could be even greater, and it’s happening in the midst of economic turmoil. Right now, there’s something in the air, something really big. It’s so big that to many it’s hidden in plain sight. To others it’s as clear as seeing a cloud in the sky. In fact, that something is indeed the Cloud, the 21st century business platform.

Just as it was with that new-fangled “Internet” thing a decade ago, the Cloud and the technologies of Cloud Computing suffer from confusion and hype. And pat definitions won’t do when it comes to understanding these two new buzzwords. But, as they are game-changing phenomena, business leaders–and the rest of us–must gain an understanding of what these terms really mean and how they will affect us, just as much as the Internet affected us all. In Dot Cloud: The 21st Century Business Platform Built on Cloud Computing, business strategy expert and former CIO, Peter Fingar, explains the main ideas of Cloud Computing in lay terms. Peter also does some old-fashioned reporting to bring together the ideas of the movers and shakers who are actively building the Cloud.

But this is not a technical book about Cloud Computing technologies; it’s a business book. It’s about what the Cloud portends for business … about transformation in the ways companies are managed … about business models for the 21st century. It’s about how companies carry out their work in the Cloud instead of office buildings and skyscrapers, and how they manage their business processes in the Cloud. It’s also about human interactions in the Cloud, and about the end of management and the rise of self-organizing, self-managed “Bioteams.” Even more, it’s about unlocking human potential in business, about unleashing passion. All this points to your company’s future, and your future, set in the context of the biggest economic downturn since World War II. So ultimately, it’s about lighting a fire in you.

According to Jim Sinur, Vice President of Gartner, “To say that we are living in interesting times is an understatement, and Peter has captured the essence of how business will work going forward. Dot Cloud is both visionary and realistic in that each of the pieces of the vision have working examples today, but not woven together like in this writing. The goal of the virtual business platform is not just a dream, but attainable once all the contributing pieces are brought together. Peter brings them together here in a way that will work under any number of situations, across just about any industry.”

Gregory Simpson, Chief Technology Officer of GE, remarked, “Dot Cloud isn’t just about the Cloud; it’s really about embracing change in the workplace. It pulls together elements of Web 2.0, BPM, and other dreaded three-letter acronyms, as well social and economic trends, to give you a vision for how harnessing the Cloud can transform the way your company works. Peter’s unique ability to pull all of these concepts together in an understandable fashion make this a business book for the future, and the future is now!”