The past few weeks have been busy times for the cloud storage industry. With each passing day, it seems that some new company announces a new cloud storage service. Whether it’s Microsoft with their SkyDrive, Google with its Google Drive, Amazon with its Cloud Drive or Apple with its iCloud, almost everybody is getting into the cloud storage business. While some may be suspicious that these companies are making a mad dash for everyone’s data, I think the emergence is just the natural evolution of the web and the current economics of technology. These companies are trying to become the collaborative hubs in our lives. They want to offer us a one-stop commons area where we can work, learn, play, interact, communicate and collaborate easily. Cloud storage is just one more effort to get our business and have us using their services. To help folks make informed decisions, I thought I’d briefly review a few of the major free cloud storage services and talk about the educational benefits for each.
One of the newest cloud storage services on the market, Google Drive offers 5 Gb of storage for free. Users can upgrade to 25GB for $2.49/month, 100GB for $4.99/month or even 1TB for $49.99/month. Uploaded files can be shared with other Google users in the same way that Google Docs are shared. Since Google has set the standard for collaboration with Docs, it’s only logical that they would build Drive into the Docs architecture. They really intriguing feature is the ability to comment on any type of document (PDF, photo, video file, etc) or even software applicaitons. This could create some great educational opportunities. Educators can upload a paper into Google Drive, share it with a class and have them comment ON the document or edit the paper together. Google Drive has released Mac and PC apps to make uploading simpler and mobile apps are planned for the future. It’s only a matter of time before people are accessing Google Drive on their smartphones and iPads.
Cloud Drive allows users to upload music, photos, videos, and documents from their computer and access them from other locations. The entry level plan is free and offers 5 GB of storage. Upgrades are available for $10/year for each 10 Gb of storage needed. For instance, 20 GB of storage costs $20 a year while 1 Tb of storage costs $1000 a year. While Google Drive is built on collaboration, Amazon’s service is built on allowing access to purchased media. Cloud Drive users will be able to access the songs and HD videos they’ve purchased anywhere. Cloud Drive even offers a special media player so users can stream their stored music to another location. Without clear sharing options, I see Cloud Drive as more of an individual consumer service than an educational or collaborative one.
Offering a whopping 7 GB of free storage, Microsoft is trying to lure users to its online storage service SkyDrive. SkyDrive offers some of the same features that Google Drive offers (sharing of documents and collaborative features) but already offers mobile apps for many major smartphones. While SkyDrive offers Office Web Apps to coordinate with MS Office products, my initial concern is with sharing those documents with friends and colleagues. I already know many of my friends’ Google Docs usernames and have existing hundreds of documents already saved on Google Docs. I don’t know if 2 GB of extra free storage will cause me to jump ship from Google.
Dropbox is actually one of the older cloud storage services available. For regular readers of the 8 Blog, you’ll recall that I wrote about the service two years ago. The service hasn’t changed much over that time, except for becoming integrated in a variety of mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. Unlike Google Drive and MS Skydrive, Dropbox offers little collaboration ability. Users can share documents but cannot comment on the documents or edit them together. Users get a paltry 2 Gb to start but can earn more by inviting friends.
Much like Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, Apple mainly created iCloud to allow users to store and access their purchased media. Bought a song on iTunes? With iCloud, users can download it to all of their devices easily. Bought an app in the AppStore? Users can download it from iCloud to install on other iDevices as well. Apple provides 5 GB of iCloud storage for free, but iTunes music, apps, books and Photo Stream don’t count against that total. Additional storage can be purchased for $20 per year for 10 GB, $40 per year for 20 GB or $100 per year for 50 GB. Educationally, iCloud might be beneficial for pushing apps to a classroom sets of iPods or iPads. Without any interactivity that could foster cross device collaboration, however, iCloud is more of an individual consumer service than an educational one.