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.


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?


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.


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.

New Research Improves Ability To Detect Malware In Cloud Computing Systems

There should be an image here!Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed new software that offers significantly enhanced security for cloud-computing systems. The software is much better at detecting viruses or other malware in the “hypervisors” that are critical to cloud computing, and does so without alerting the malware that it is being examined.

Cloud computing is being hailed as a flexible, affordable way of offering computer resources to consumers. Under the cloud-computing paradigm, the computational power and storage of multiple computers is pooled, and can be shared by multiple users. But concerns exist about hackers finding ways to insert malware into cloud computing systems. A new program called HyperSentry, developed by researchers at NC State and IBM, should help allay those fears.

HyperSentry is security software that focuses on protecting hypervisors in virtual computing clouds. Hypervisors are programs that create the virtual workspace that allows different operating systems to run in isolation from one another — even though each of these systems is using computing power and storage capability on the same computer.

Specifically, HyperSentry enables cloud administrators to measure the integrity of hypervisors in run time — meaning that the administrators can check to see whether a hypervisor has been breached by a third party, while the hypervisor is operating.

“The concern is that an attacker could compromise a hypervisor, giving them control of the cloud,” says Dr. Peng Ning, professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. If a hypervisor is compromised, the attacker could do almost anything: access users’ sensitive information; use the cloud’s computing resources to attack other Internet entities; spread malware; etc.

“HyperSentry solves two problems,” Ning says. “It measures hypervisor integrity in a stealthy way, and it does so in the context of the hypervisor.” Context is important, Ning explains. To effectively identify hypervisor problems you need to look at the hypervisor program memory and the registers inside the central processing units (CPUs) that are actually running the program. (The registers are the internal memory of CPUs.) This is important because intelligent malware can conceal itself from security programs that look only at the memory where the hypervisor is supposed to be located — they can effectively make themselves invisible to such security programs by modifying certain registers of the CPU and thus relocating the infected hypervisor elsewhere. By ensuring in-context measurement, HyperSentry can successfully track where the infected hypervisor is actually located and thus defeat such intelligent malware.

The fact that HyperSentry can check the integrity of a hypervisor in a stealthy way — checking the hypervisor without the hypervisor being aware of it — is important too. If a hypervisor is aware that it is being scrutinized, and has already been compromised, it can notify the malware. The malware, once alerted, can then restore the hypervisor to its normal state in order to avoid detection. Then the malware effectively hides until the security check is over.

Once a compromised hypervisor has been detected, a cloud administrator can take action to respond to the compromise, such as shutting down the computer, performing additional investigations to identify the scope of the problem and limiting how far the damage can spread.

The research is being presented Oct. 5 at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago, Ill. The research was a part of the thesis work of NC State Ph.D. student Ahmed Azab, and was co-authored by Ning; NC State Ph.D. student Zhi Wang; Dr. Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State; and Dr. Xiaolan Zhang and Nathan Skalsky of IBM. The work was done with funding from the U.S. Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation and IBM.

[Photo above by Lampeduza / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Matt Shipman @ North Carolina State University

[awsbullet:Nicholas Carr]

Cloud Computing Method Greatly Increases Gene Analysis

There should be an image here!Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed new software that greatly improves the speed at which scientists can analyze RNA sequencing data. RNA sequencing is used to compare differences in gene expression to identify those genes that switched on or off when, for instance, a particular disease is present. However, sequencing instruments can produce billions of sequences per day, which can be time-consuming and costly to analyze. The software, known as Myrna, uses “cloud computing,” an Internet-based method of sharing computer resources. Faster, cost-effective analysis of gene expression could be a valuable tool in understanding the genetic causes of disease. The findings are published in the current edition of the journal Genome Biology. The Myrna software is available for free download here.

Cloud computing bundles together the processing power of the individual computers using the Internet. A number of firms with large computing centers including, Amazon and Microsoft, rent unused computers over the Internet for a fee.

“Cloud computing makes economic sense because cloud vendors are very efficient at running and maintaining huge collections of computers. Researchers struggling to keep pace with their sequencing instruments can use the cloud to scale up their analyses while avoiding the headaches associated with building and running their own computer center,” said lead author, Ben Langmead, a research associate in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Biostatistics. “With Myrna, we tried to make it easy for researchers doing RNA sequencing to reap these benefits.”

To test Myrna, Langmead and colleagues Kasper Hansen, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow, and Jeffrey T. Leek, PhD, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics, used the software to process a large collection of publicly available RNA sequencing data. Processing time and storage space were rented from Amazon Web Services. According to the study, Myrna calculated differential expression from 1.1 billion RNA sequencing reads in less than 2 hours at cost of about $66.

“Biological data in many experiments — from brain images to genomic sequences — can now be generated so quickly that it often takes many computers working simultaneously to perform statistical analyses,” said Leeks. “The cloud computing approach we developed for Myrna is one way that statisticians can quickly build different models to find the relevant patterns in sequencing data and connect them to different diseases. Although Myrna is designed to analyze next-generation sequencing reads, the idea of combining cloud computing with statistical modeling may also be useful for other experiments that generate massive amounts of data.”

The researchers were supported by grants from Amazon Web Services, the National Institutes of Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

[Photo above by Bruce Clay, Inc. / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Tim Parsons @ Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health?

[awsbullet:cloud computing dummies]

At Least The Trains Run On Time

In a bold move, Italy has announced plans to hold YouTube itself accountable for all content uploaded to its site. The government plans to extend television broadcasting regulations to Web sites that host videos. According to new regulations, YouTube would have to get a TV license to operate in Italy. If Italy goes ahead with this, YouTube would have to follow the same rules and regulations as traditional broadcast channels.

In 2009, the EU passed an electronic commerce directive that states that any time a service-only site provides a service to transmit content, “the service provider is not liable for the information transmitted.” If Italy goes ahead as planned, sites that have user-posted videos on them — such as YouTube — could face hefty legal penalties.

What could this mean for the future of sites such as YouTube? What are your thoughts on Italy’s proposed actions? This is only one of the excellent things I’ve read today, many of which were found right within our own community!

Yours digitally,

Chris Pirillo
@ Twitter
@ Facebook

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New Zealand Copyright Act 92a

Hi, Chris! Name’s Blake; I’ve emailed you once or twice before.

Us Internet users in NZ need your help! Please take a moment to read this.

Basically, our government is on the verge of passing this new law which entails what you read in that Web page, and in my video on YouTube.

If you could, could you please tweet, blog, or post something about this? Even if you just forward it to some friends? We need international support, please — just to show the opposition to this ridiculous law, and how it would not work in NZ, or anywhere overseas! A number of international characters have already become involved, but your support would carry a hefty weight!

If you get the chance, of course.

Thank you so much!