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1 The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Thomas MacEntee, of High-Definition Genealogy Clouds in Genealogy? What is the Genealogy Cloud? Did you ever wonder why it is called cloud computing? Well, it all starts with the flow charting symbols used in the information technology field. When planners wanted to show that data and services would be stored on an outside server, they used a cloudlike symbol instead of a server symbol. How the Cloud Works Cloud computing is fairly simple when you think about it. Basically, instead of storing your data on your own computer, you agree to upload that data to a server provided by a vendor. You then can access that data from various devices including laptops, tablet computers and mobile phones, depending upon the vendor you select. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 1

2 You May Be Doing Genealogy In The Cloud Already! It is likely that you may have been storing your genealogy-related files in the cloud without even knowing it. More and more genealogy programs are allowing you to either use their own servers to store your research data or allowing you to access files stored on a file hosting service like Dropbox. Genealogists may not realize that the images for the 1940 Census hosted by Archives.com are stored on Amazon S3, the most popular online storage web service for businesses and non-profits. Overview of Cloud Computing Programs Let s make a distinction between certain types of programs frequently under the umbrella of cloud computing: File Hosting Site. The most common program and one where a user can store multiple types of files (images, documents, videos, etc.) on server space provided by the vendor either for free or for a small fee. Some programs also allow users to synch files between a home computer or a mobile device and the offsite server. Dropbox is a popular file hosting program used by genealogists. Online Storage Web Service. Frequently used by companies and not individuals, these services allow users to run actual computer programs and services on the offsite servers as well as store large amounts of data. Many of these programs charge based on the amount of data accessed, not using a monthly or yearly fee and they don t offer a synching feature. Auxiliary Programs Offering Specific Web-based Storage. A catch all category for programs such as Ancestry s Public Member Trees or Evernote which offer a way for genealogists to store specific types of data through a specific program at a specific website. These programs also offer a desktop application allowing the user to synch data between a computer or mobile device and the server. Advantages of Cloud Computing The ability to store files offsite has many advantages for genealogists: Instant backup of files. No worries about hard drive failure or natural disaster impacting your data. Synching of files across multiple devices. Make a change to a file on one computer, and the file is updated across other computers and devices that have access to the file. Access data from anywhere. Your data is available from various devices and even from an Internet café in a foreign country. Collaborate with others. No need to pass large files around via ; simply share a file or a folder with another user and everyone can make edits. Free or low cost storage. Many programs have a base level of services offered for free and premium accounts start at a very reasonable fee. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 2

3 Disadvantages of Cloud Computing The ability to store files offsite also presents several disadvantages: Lack of instant access to files. Stuff happens. Cloud servers have outages periodically and unless your program has a synching capability, you won t always be able to access your data. Collaborators can delete data. Sharing access to folders and files means that others may be able to delete data or make changes without your knowledge. Storage costs. Storing files on your own computer or device is technically free (except for the energy and time costs of running the device) while cloud servers charge a fee for storage beyond the basic free level. File Hosting Sites for Genealogists Here is an overview of various file hosting sites that are popular with genealogists and family historians. Amazon Cloud Drive Free: 5GB of storage Premium: $1 per additional GB per year Computer/Device Access: limited to 8 devices. File Size Limit: 2GB per file File Expiration: never Mobile Device? Amazon Cloud Player only; Android, others but no iphone Synch Feature? No Recycle Bin? Yes Versioning? No Features: Amazon Cloud Drive is geared towards storage of digital music files purchased at Amazon and these files will automatically play on the Amazon Cloud Player. Other files can be downloaded individually through your web browser or in groups using the Cloud Drive Desktop Application. Also, music purchased through Amazon does not count towards your data limits. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 3

4 DropBox Free: 2GB of storage plus 500MB for each referral person up to 18GB Premium: 100GB for $9.99/month; other packages available Computer/Device Access: unlimited File Size Limit: 300MB uploaded via website; no limit via desktop application File Expiration: 90 days of inactivity on Free account Mobile Device? iphone, Android, Blackberry, others (Free), unlimited (Premium) (Free), unlimited (Premium) Features: Dropbox is known not just as a file hosting service but a way to synchronize your files in the cloud across several devices including computers, smart phones and tablets. Versioning feature allows you to backtrack on changes to documents for up to 30 days (with Free account, no limit with Premium account). Google Drive Free: 5GB Premium: 25GB for $2.49/month; 100GB for $4.99/month; other packages available up to 16TB Computer/Device Access: unlimited File Size Limit: 10GB File Expiration: never Mobile Device? iphone, Android, Blackberry, others Features: Google Drive s main power lies in its ability to integrate with the family of Google products including Gmail, Picasa and more. Important note: Google may make and publicize derivative works of your uploaded content for the operation, promotion, or improvement of its services, and may store its own copies of your content even after you stop using its services. See Terms of Service for more information. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 4

5 icloud (Apple) Free: 5GB Premium: 10GB for $20/year; 50GB for $100/year Computer/Device Access: limited to 10 devices for some services File Size Limit: 10GB File Expiration: never Mobile Device? iphone, Android, Blackberry, others Features: Apple s icloud has strong backup features, and not only backs up purchased music, movies, apps, etc. but also device settings, home screen settings, messages and ringtones. With multiple ios devices, icloud will make sure your downloaded App appears on all of the devices. Mozy Stash Free: 2GB Premium: 50GB for $5.99/month; 125GB for $9.99/month Computer/Device Access: Up to 5 computers or devices File Size Limit: 100MB downloaded via website; no limit via desktop application File Expiration: 90 days of inactivity on Free account Mobile Device? iphone, Android Features: Stash is Mozy s offering in the personal data storage industry from the wellknown provider of data backup services. Mozy Stash works best with the Mozy Home product (available only as a premium product starting at 50GB of storage for $5.99 per month). The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 5

6 SkyDrive Free: 7GB; 25GB for users prior to April, 2012 Premium: 20GB for $10/year; 100GB for $50/year Computer/Device Access: unlimited File Size Limit: 2GB (Free account) File Expiration: 90 days of inactivity on Free account Mobile Device? iphone, Android Features: Windows SkyDrive allows file storage for various file types and makes the data available on a variety of computers and devices. A neat feature is its integration with OneNote (another Microsoft product) and the ability to capture all content into notebooks and automatically store them on SkyDrive. SugarSync Free: 5GB Premium: 30GB for $49.99/year; 100GB for $149.99/year Computer/Device Access: unlimited File Size Limit: none File Expiration: 30 days of inactivity on Free account Mobile Device? iphone, Android Features: While SugarSync offers many of the same features as other file hosting programs, there are some unique features including: ability to access files using a Kindle Fire as well as an Outlook plugin; the ability to set individual folder sharing permissions; and the ability to upload and sync files via . The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 6

7 Security and Privacy Issues Before uploading your data to any cloud computing service, make sure you understand the security and privacy statements outline in the Terms of Service (TOS). Who Can Access Your Data? Besides those collaborators to whom you give permission to access folders and files, who else can get to your data? Most TOS agreements give a limited license to the vendor so they can perform backups and also troubleshoot technical issues. Is Your Data Encrypted? Not all file hosting services offer this level of security. Make sure that data is encrypted in case the vendor s servers are hacked. What Can The Vendor Do With Your Data? Google Drive s TOS has the following statement which seems to allow Google to use your stored data to create its own products: Google may make and publicize derivative works of your uploaded content for the operation, promotion, or improvement of its services, and may store its own copies of your content even after you stop using its services. The general consensus is that Google will use the data to track user habits and deliver targeted advertising part of Google s business model but many feel such permission is too broad and ambiguous. Caution: Collaboration Ahead Make sure that when you give permission to others to access your folder and files that you fully understand what the user will be able to do with the data. Some file hosting programs allow folder level permissions, meaning users can view but not edit or delete data. Others basically provide full access with no ability to set specific permissions. Genealogy Cloud Best Practices Here are some basic do s and don ts you should understand and follow when using cloud computing programs. Read the Terms of Service. A good rule to follow for any website where you create an account, not just cloud computing web-based applications. Before you check that little box that says I have read and accepted... make sure you understand fully what the site says it will and won t do in terms of your data. Understand the Limits of Each Cloud Program. Some programs limit the amount of data that can be stored for free or even if you pay a monthly fee. There are also limits as to how large an individual file can be as well. And for those programs that synch to devices such as a desktop computer or smart phone, there may be limits as to the number of devices. Be Discreet. Consider whether you want to store files with personal or financial information on a cloud program. Servers get hacked and that information could be at risk. If you do want to have these types of files accessible, secure them with a password for each document. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 7

8 Offline vs. Online. There is a big difference between an online-only platform where the files are only stored on the server and one that synchronizes the files between the server and one or more of your computers and devices. Make sure you fully understand the capabilities of your program so you won t lose data. Avoid Multiple Accounts. A sure fire way to lose data is to try and game the system and get more free space by setting up multiple accounts. Most of the desktop applications are intended to work with only one account for each computer or device. How Easily Can You Import and Export Data? An important feature is being able to upload a large group of files at one time or being able to export that same group to a computer or another platform. Review any limitations imposed by the program, especially in terms of individual file sizes and file types. Avoid Collaboration Confusion. While it can greatly increase your productivity, realize that when you collaborate with others and allow them to add, edit and delete files, you may lose data. Make sure that each person who has access understands how the cloud program works and don t be shy about laying down some rules. How Are Backups and Handled? While most platforms will perform their own internal backup, always have a backup backup of your own. Stuff happens. Not every platform will let you access the backed up information. Be Careful with Genealogy Database Files. Many genealogists will place the main file for their genealogy program, like Legacy Family Tree, in a cloud program only to panic when their software can t find the file the next time the open it. Make sure you not only understand how to access the database file directly, but how to change settings on your genealogy database program to avoid file access errors. Can You Recover Deleted Files? Some programs like DropBox will retain deleted files for up to 30 days and allow you to undelete them. In addition, some programs will use versioning to save multiple sets of edits to a file, such as a Microsoft Word document. The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 8

9 Glossary File hosting service: a web-based program allowing a user to upload and manage data files for purposes of storage, backup and access. GB or gigabyte: a basic unit of file size measurement equivalent to 1,000MB (megabytes). A typical DVD holds 4.7GB of information. MB or megabyte: a basic unit of file size measurement equivalent to 1,000KB (kilobytes). A 500 page book in the English language and in plain text format is equal to 1MB of information. Synching or synchronizing: the ability to update files on one computer or one server and have the changes replicate out to other devices that share the same file hosting account. TB or terabyte: a basic unit of file size measurement equivalent to 1,000GB (gigabytes). 1TB of audio recorded at CD quality contains 2,000 hours of audio (over 83 days worth). Terms of Service: an agreement between the user and the vendor/provide of webbased services which outlines what the vendor will do with the user data and also the limitations, if any, of user s access to that data. Versioning: when making changes to a document like a genealogy report in Microsoft Word, the previous versions are retained in order to review specific changes or restore deletions within the document. Links Amazon Cloud Drive nmore Comparison of File Hosting Services of_file_hosting_services DropBox Google Drive icloud (Apple) Mozy Stash SkyDrive SugarSync The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program is Right For You Page 9

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