What Is Cloud Computing?

The 'cloud' is a real buzzword these days, but what exactly is the cloud, how does it impact what you do, and is it anything really new?

·      "What's the cloud?" "Where is the cloud?" "Are we in the cloud now?!" These are all questions you've probably heard or even asked yourself. The term "cloud computing" is everywhere. In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulonimbus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.

What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive. When you store data on--or run programs from the hard drive, that's called local storage and computing. Everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy (for that one computer, or others on the local network). Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades and some argue it's still superior to cloud computing, for reasons I'll explain shortly.

The cloud is also not about having a dedicated hardware server in residence. Storing data on a home or office network does not count as utilizing the cloud.

For it to be considered "cloud computing," you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synchronized with other information over the Net. In a big business, you may know all there is to know about what's on the other side of the connection; as an individual user, you may never have any idea what kind of massive data-processing is happening on the other end. The end result is the same: with an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.

Consumer vs. Business
Let's be clear here. We're talking about cloud computing as it impacts individual consumers—those of us who sit back at home or in small-to-medium offices and use the Internet on a regular basis.

There is an entirely different "cloud" when it comes to business. Some businesses choose to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. (Think Salesforce.com.) There's also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don't forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Amazon, Google, and Rackspace provide a backbone that can be "rented out" by other companies.

Of course, cloud computing is big business: McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, claims that 80 percent of the large companies in North America that it's surveyed are either looking at using cloud services—or already have. The market is on its way to generating $100 billion a year.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing metaphor: For a user, the network elements representing the provider-rendered services are invisible, as if obscured by a cloud.

Another representation of the cloud computing model. Here, the emphasis is on the delivery of a service.

Cloud computing is computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked to allow centralized data storage and online access to computer services or resources. Clouds can be classified as public, private or hybrid

Overview

Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services.

Cloud computing, or in simpler shorthand just "the cloud", also focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also dynamically reallocated per demand. This can work for allocating resources to users. For example, a cloud computer facility that serves European users during European business hours with a specific application (e.g., email) may reallocate the same resources to serve North American users during North America's business hours with a different application (e.g., a web server). This approach should maximize the use of computing power thus reducing environmental damage as well since less power, air conditioning, rackspace, etc. are required for a variety of functions. With cloud computing, multiple users can access a single server to retrieve and update their data without purchasing licenses for different applications.

The term "moving to cloud" also refers to an organization moving away from a traditional CAPEX model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the OPEX model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as one uses it).

Proponents claim that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of on infrastructure. Proponents also claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand. Cloud providers typically use a "pay as you go" model. This can lead to unexpectedly high charges if administrators do not adapt to the cloud pricing model.

The present availability of high-capacity networks, low-cost computers and storage devices as well as the widespread adoption of hardware virtualizationservice-oriented architecture, and autonomic and utility computing have led to a growth in cloud computing.

Cloud vendors are experiencing growth rates of 50% per annum.

History

Origin of the term

The origin of the term cloud computing is unclear. The expression cloud is commonly used in science to describe a large agglomeration of objects that visually appear from a distance as a cloud and describes any set of things whose details are not inspected further in a given context.

In analogy to above usage the word cloud was used as a metaphor for the Internet and a standardized cloud-like shape was used to denote a network on telephony schematics and later to depict the Internet in computer network diagrams. With this simplification, the implication is that the specifics of how the end points of a network are connected are not relevant for the purposes of understanding the diagram. The cloud symbol was used to represent the Internet as early as 1994, in which servers were then shown connected to, but external to, the cloud.

References to cloud computing in its modern sense appeared early as 1996, with the earliest known mention in a Compaq internal document.

The popularization of the term can be traced to 2006 when Amazon.com introduced the Elastic Compute Cloud.

Since 2000

In early 2008, Eucalyptus became the first open-source, AWS API-compatible platform for deploying private clouds. In early 2008, OpenNebula, enhanced in the RESERVOIR European Commission-funded project, became the first open-source software for deploying private and hybrid clouds, and for the federation of clouds. In the same year, efforts were focused on providing quality of service guarantees (as required by real-time interactive applications) to cloud-based infrastructures, in the framework of the IRMOS European Commission-funded project, resulting in a real-time cloud environment. By mid-2008, Gartner saw an opportunity for cloud computing "to shape the relationship among consumers of IT services, those who use IT services and those who sell them" and observed that "organizations are switching from company-owned hardware and software assets to per-use service-based models" so that the "projected shift to computing ... will result in dramatic growth in IT products in some areas and significant reductions in other areas."

In July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as OpenStack. The OpenStack project intended to help organizations offer cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. The early code came from NASA's Nebula platform as well as from Rackspace's Cloud Files platform.

On March 1, 2011, IBM announced the IBM SmartCloud framework to support Smarter Planet. Among the various components of the Smarter Computing foundation, cloud computing is a critical piece.

On June 7, 2012, Oracle announced the Oracle Cloud. While aspects of the Oracle Cloud are still in development, this cloud offering is posed to be the first to provide users with access to an integrated set of IT solutions, including the Applications (SaaS), Platform (PaaS), and Infrastructure (IaaS) layers.

Similar concepts

Cloud computing is the result of evolution and adoption of existing technologies and paradigms. The goal of cloud computing is to allow users to take benefit from all of these technologies, without the need for deep knowledge about or expertise with each one of them. The cloud aims to cut costs, and help the users focus on their core business instead of being impeded by IT obstacles.

The main enabling technology for cloud computing is virtualization. Virtualization software separates a physical computing device into one or more "virtual" devices, each of which can be easily used and managed to perform computing tasks. With operating system–level virtualization essentially creating a scalable system of multiple independent computing devices, idle computing resources can be allocated and used more efficiently. Virtualization provides the agility required to speed up IT operations, and reduces cost by increasing infrastructure utilization. Autonomic computing automates the process through which the user can provision resources on-demand. By minimizing user involvement, automation speeds up the process, reduces labor costs and reduces the possibility of human errors.

Users routinely face difficult business problems. Cloud computing adopts concepts from Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) that can help the user break these problems intoservices that can be integrated to provide a solution. Cloud computing provides all of its resources as services, and makes use of the well-established standards and best practices gained in the domain of SOA to allow global and easy access to cloud services in a standardized way.

Cloud computing also leverages concepts from utility computing to provide metrics for the services used. Such metrics are at the core of the public cloud pay-per-use models. In addition, measured services are an essential part of the feedback loop in autonomic computing, allowing services to scale on-demand and to perform automatic failure recovery.

Cloud computing is a kind of grid computing; it has evolved by addressing the QoS (quality of service) and reliability problems. Cloud computing provides the tools and technologies to build data/compute intensive parallel applications with much more affordable prices compared to traditional parallel computing techniques.

·         Grid computing — "A form of distributed and parallel computing, whereby a 'super and virtual computer' is composed of a cluster of networked, loosely coupled computers acting in concert to perform very large tasks."

·         Mainframe computer — Powerful computers used mainly by large organizations for critical applications, typically bulk data processing such as: census; industry and consumer statistics; police and secret intelligence services; enterprise resource planning; and financial transaction processing.

·         Utility computing — The "packaging of computing resources, such as computation and storage, as a metered service similar to a traditional public utility, such as electricity."

·         Peer-to-peer — A distributed architecture without the need for central coordination. Participants are both suppliers and consumers of resources (in contrast to the traditional client–server model).

Software as a service (SaaS)

In the business model using software as a service (SaaS), users are provided access to application software and databases. Cloud providers manage the infrastructure and platforms that run the applications. SaaS is sometimes referred to as "on-demand software" and is usually priced on a pay-per-use basis. SaaS providers generally price applications using a subscription fee.

In the SaaS model, cloud providers install and operate application software in the cloud and cloud users access the software from cloud clients. Cloud users do not manage the cloud infrastructure and platform where the application runs. This eliminates the need to install and run the application on the cloud user's own computers, which simplifies maintenance and support. Cloud applications are different from other applications in their scalability—which can be achieved by cloning tasks onto multiple virtual machines at run-time to meet changing work demand. Load balancers distribute the work over the set of virtual machines. This process is transparent to the cloud user, who sees only a single access point. To accommodate a large number of cloud users, cloud applications can be multitenant, that is, any machine serves more than one cloud user organization.

The pricing model for SaaS applications is typically a monthly or yearly flat fee per user,] so price is scalable and adjustable if users are added or removed at any point.

Proponents claim SaaS allows a business the potential to reduce IT operational costs by outsourcing hardware and software maintenance and support to the cloud provider. This enables the business to reallocate IT operations costs away from hardware/software spending and personnel expenses, towards meeting other goals. In addition, with applications hosted centrally, updates can be released without the need for users to install new software. One drawback of SaaS is that the users' data are stored on the cloud provider's server. As a result, there could be unauthorized access to the data. For this reason, users are increasingly adopting intelligent third-party key management systems to help secure their data.

Cloud clients

Users access cloud computing using networked client devices, such as desktop computerslaptopstablets and smartphones. Some of these devices – cloud clients – rely on cloud computing for all or a majority of their applications so as to be essentially useless without it. Examples are thin clients and the browser-based Chromebook. Many cloud applications do not require specific software on the client and instead use a web browser to interact with the cloud application. With Ajax and HTML5 these Web user interfacescan achieve a similar, or even better, look and feel to native applications. Some cloud applications, however, support specific client software dedicated to these applications (e.g.,virtual desktop clients and most email clients). Some legacy applications (line of business applications that until now have been prevalent in thin client computing) are delivered via a screen-sharing technology.

Deployment models

Cloud computing types

Private cloud

Private cloud is cloud infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether managed internally or by a third-party, and hosted either internally or externally. Undertaking a private cloud project requires a significant level and degree of engagement to virtualize the business environment, and requires the organization to reevaluate decisions about existing resources. When done right, it can improve business, but every step in the project raises security issues that must be addressed to prevent serious vulnerabilities. Self-run data centers are generally capital intensive. They have a significant physical footprint, requiring allocations of space, hardware, and environmental controls. These assets have to be refreshed periodically, resulting in additional capital expenditures. They have attracted criticism because users "still have to buy, build, and manage them" and thus do not benefit from less hands-on management, essentially "[lacking] the economic model that makes cloud computing such an intriguing concept".

Public cloud

A cloud is called a "public cloud" when the services are rendered over a network that is open for public use. Public cloud services may be free or offered on a pay-per-usage model. Technically there may be little or no difference between public and private cloud architecture, however, security consideration may be substantially different for services (applications, storage, and other resources) that are made available by a service provider for a public audience and when communication is effected over a non-trusted network. Generally, public cloud service providers like Amazon AWS, Microsoft and Google own and operate the infrastructure at their data center and access is generally via the Internet. AWS and Microsoft also offer direct connect services called "AWS Direct Connect" and "Azure ExpressRoute" respectively, such connections require customers to purchase or lease a private connection to a peering point offered by the cloud provider.

Hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community or public) that remain distinct entities but are bound together, offering the benefits of multiple deployment models. Hybrid cloud can also mean the ability to connect collocation, managed and/or dedicated services with cloud resources.

Gartner, Inc. defines a hybrid cloud service as a cloud computing service that is composed of some combination of private, public and community cloud services, from different service providers. A hybrid cloud service crosses isolation and provider boundaries so that it can’t be simply put in one category of private, public, or community cloud service. It allows one to extend either the capacity or the capability of a cloud service, by aggregation, integration or customization with another cloud service.

Varied use cases for hybrid cloud composition exist. For example, an organization may store sensitive client data in house on a private cloud application, but interconnect that application to a business intelligence application provided on a public cloud as a software service. This example of hybrid cloud extends the capabilities of the enterprise to deliver a specific business service through the addition of externally available public cloud services.

Another example of hybrid cloud is one where IT organizations use public cloud computing resources to meet temporary capacity needs that can not be met by the private cloud. This capability enables hybrid clouds to employ cloud bursting for scaling across clouds. Cloud bursting is an application deployment model in which an application runs in a private cloud or data center and "bursts" to a public cloud when the demand for computing capacity increases. A primary advantage of cloud bursting and a hybrid cloud model is that an organization only pays for extra compute resources when they are needed. Cloud bursting enables data centers to create an in-house IT infrastructure that supports average workloads, and use cloud resources from public or private clouds, during spikes in processing demands.

Architecture

Cloud computing sample architecture

Cloud architecture, the systems architecture of the software systems involved in the delivery of cloud computing, typically involves multiple cloud components communicating with each other over a loose coupling mechanism such as a messaging queue. Elastic provision implies intelligence in the use of tight or loose coupling as applied to mechanisms such as these and others.

Cloud engineering

Cloud engineering is the application of engineering disciplines to cloud computing. It brings a systematic approach to the high-level concerns of commercialization, standardization, and governance in conceiving, developing, operating and maintaining cloud computing systems. It is a multidisciplinary method encompassing contributions from diverse areas such as systemssoftwarewebperformanceinformationsecurityplatformrisk, and quality engineering.

Security, privacy and trust

Across all forms of deployment, architecture and service models the basic concept of cloud computing remains to be the abstraction of computation over the used hardware/resources. If considering various groups of stakeholders, a three-tier setup can be considered: i) users of virtual services ii) tenants who provide services iii) providers who provide the infrastructure. The key to gaining trust in cloud computing is assuring the user or tenant of security being applied and maintained in all components contributing to his virtual service. Assuring security properties of the overall system to the service-user at the top level and considering the abstraction of computation over used hardware between all the levels makes assurance of security properties for a virtual service a very complex task. As privacy must not be comprised by revealing too much information between layers some inter level/stakeholder interfaces are required. A list of existing approaches can be found here. Fundamentally private cloud is seen as more secure with higher levels of control for the owner, however public cloud is seen to be more flexible and requires less time and money investment from the user. 

The future

According to Gartner's Hype cycle, cloud computing has reached a maturity that leads it into a productive phase. This means that most of the main issues with cloud computing have been addressed to a degree that clouds have become interesting for full commercial exploitation. This however does not mean that all the problems listed above have actually been solved, only that the according risks can be tolerated to a certain degree. Cloud computing is therefore still as much a research topic, as it is a market offering. What is clear through the evolution of Cloud Computing services is that the CTO is a major driving force behind Cloud adoption. The major Cloud technology developers continue to invest billions a year in Cloud R&D, in 2011 Microsoft for example committed 90% of its $9.6bn R&D budget to Cloud.

Google Glass

Google Glass is a type of wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). It was developed by Google[9] with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format. Wearers communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands. Google started selling Google Glass to qualified "Glass Explorers" in the US on April 15, 2013, for a limited period for $1,500, before it became available to the public on May 15, 2014for the same price.

Google provides four prescription frame choices for $225.00 U.S and free with the purchase of any new Glass unit. It is necessary to remove a small screw in order to move the Google Glass from one frame to another. Google entered in a partnership with the Italian eyewear company Luxottica, owners of the Ray-Ban, Oakley, and other brands, to offer additional frame designs.

Google Glass (2013) and Steve Mann's Digital Eye Glass (1980) on exhibit at the "History of AR Vision" exhibit at the 2013 Augmented World Expo. Both are shown recording video with each device lit up accordingly.

Google Glass was developed by Google X, the facility within Google devoted to technological advancements such as driverless cars. Google Glass is smaller and slimmer than previous head-mounted display designs.The Google Glass prototype resembled standard eyeglasses with the lens replaced by a head-up display. In mid-2011, Google engineered a prototype that weighed 8 pounds (3,600 g); it is now lighter than the average pair of sunglasses.

In April 2013, the Explorer Edition was made available to Google I/O developers in the United States for $1,500.In June 2014, Nepal Government adopted Google Glass for tackling poachers of wild animals and herbs of Chitwan International Park and other parks listed under World heritage sites. Gurkha Military currently uses Google Glass to track the animals and birds in the jungle. This operation led to the latest development in military operation. Google Glass was used in military for the first time in the world by Nepal.

Features:

  • Touchpad: A touchpad is located on the side of Google Glass, allowing users to control the device by swiping through a timeline-like interface displayed on the screen. Sliding backward shows current events, such as weather, and sliding forward shows past events, such as phone calls, photos, circle updates, etc.
  • Camera: Google Glass has the ability to take photos and record 720p HD video.
  • Display: The Explorer version of Google Glass uses a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS), field-sequential color, LED illuminated display. The display's LED illumination is first P-polarized and then shines through the in-coupling polarizing beam splitter (PBS) to the LCoS panel. The panel reflects the light and alters it to S-polarization at active pixel sites. The in-coupling PBS then reflects the S-polarized areas of light at 45° through the out-coupling beam splitter to a collimating reflector at the other end. Finally, the out-coupling beam splitter (which is a partially reflecting mirror, not a polarizing beam splitter) reflects the collimated light another 45° and into the wearer's eye.

Google Cloud Print

Print anywhere, from any device.

Google Cloud Print is a new technology that connects your printers to the web. Using Google Cloud Print, you can make your home and work printers available to you and anyone you choose, from the applications you use every day. Google Cloud Print works on your phone, tablet, Chromebook, PC, and any other web-connected device you want to print from.

How Does Google Cloud Print Work?

In the world of Google Cloud Print, you can print anything, from any device, to any cloud-connected printer.

When you print through Google Cloud Print, your file is securely sent to your printer over the web. Because it’s the web, Google Cloud Print works whether you’re in the same room as your printer, or on another continent. It also doesn’t matter whether you’re on a phone, a traditional desktop, or anything in between (like a tablet).

Why Google Cloud Print?

As we’ve moved towards ever more powerful cloud-based applications and web-connected mobile devices, we’ve come to expect the same capabilities from them that we’ve taken for granted on our PCs. For many, printing is near the top of that list.

Convenient

With Cloud Ready printers, the Google Cloud Print experience is ready right out of the box. Cloud Ready printers register themselves directly with the Google Cloud Print service over your home or office’s wireless network, so they’re always available. And because they’re always connected to the web, they can keep their drivers and firmware up to date without requiring your intervention. Google Cloud Print also works with conventional non-cloud printers, so you can get started today with any printer you already own.

Safe

Google Cloud Print takes the security of your files very seriously. Documents are transferred over a secure HTTPS web connection. After a job is completed, the associated document is deleted from our servers. In addition, you can delete jobs and their history at any time through the Google Cloud print.

For Friends Too

Google Cloud Print allows you to share printers with friends, family, or coworkers as easily as you would share a Google Doc file - perfect for visiting guests looking to print a flight boarding pass. From the Google Cloud Print management page, it only takes a single click to share printers that you own with trusted individuals. You can also track print jobs on your shared printers, and modify or revoke sharing rights at any time. T

Chromebook Ready

Google Cloud Print is the standard printing technology used by ChromeOS on Chromebooks. Your Chromebook and the web live hand in hand and, for that reason, it didn’t feel right tying you down with local printer software. If you own a Chromebook, you can print any web page directly by hitting Ctrl P, or you can print from within your web apps by looking for the “Print with Google Cloud Print” button - just make sure you’ve set up a printer first.

Enterprise Ready

Google Cloud Print is used internally by Google on over a thousand printers. It can scale to meet your organization’s needs, and can either complement or replace your existing printing infrastructure. Google Cloud Print makes life easier for both system administrators and users.

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is a file hosting service developed by Microsoft that allows you to upload files to a cloud storage and then access them from a web browser or client software. Files uploaded to your account are available only to you, unless you decide to share it with anyone else. Also you can grant permission to modify your file to any other OneDrive user, which allows you to effectively collaborate online on any type of documents.

OneDrive offers free 15GB of storage to all users. Additional storage is available for purchase. The maximum size of a single file is 10GB.

There are two ways to access the files: via a web browser or a desktop application (client software).


Working with OneDrive through Web Browser

Here is how OneDrive looks if you open it in a web browser:

Within a web browser you can:

·         Upload and download files

·         Rename, delete, or move the files as you wish

·         View and edit office documents right in the browser

·         Browse photos and videos

·         Share on social networks

·         ...and perform many other actions


Working with OneDrive through Desktop Application

The desktop application, syncDriver for OneDrive, allows you to modify uploaded files just by accessing your local folders. Whenever you create, edit, or delete something in the synchronization folder, the changes are uploaded to OneDrive cloud in the background, so you do not have to care about updating them manually. Even if you do not have an Internet connection as you work, the changes will be synchronized once the connection is restored.

Using syncDriver for OneDrive can be similar to using a USB Flash drive that is always connected to several computers, with automated data transfer.

syncDriver for OneDrive grants you the following benefits:

·         Access your files, the most recent version of them, as soon as possible - without the need to sign in and download manually

·         Create, edit, or delete files with the confidence that these actions will be reflected in your OneDrive account

·         Edit your documents with the editor of your choice instead of web-based limited version

·         Transfer data with SSL encryption, so that no one can intercept it


syncDriver for OneDrive Advantages

In addition to what was mentioned above, here are some advantages of syncDriver for OneDrive that the standard client software does not have:

·         Support for all Windows versions starting from Windows XP

·         Lightweight installation package - you can have it up in running in 2 minutes

·         Optimized change detection algorithms

·         High performance of data transfer

·         Support for operating system symlinks

·         Ability to map OneDrive as a separate disk that works even if you are offline!

Dropbox

Dropbox is a favorite in the cloud storage world because it's reliable, easy to use, and a breeze to set up. Your files live in the cloud and you can get to them at any time from Dropbox's Web site, desktop applications for Mac, Windows, and Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, or compile your own), or the iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Kindle Fire mobile apps.

You can store any kind of file in Dropbox, by either uploading to the Web site or adding it with the desktop apps. Those apps live in your file system so that you can easily move files from your computer to the cloud and vice versa by dragging and dropping them into your Dropbox folder. The service automatically and quickly syncs your files across all of your devices, so you can access everything, everywhere. There is no size limit on files you upload to Dropbox with the desktop or mobile apps, but larger files can take several hours to upload, depending on your connection speed.

Dropbox gets a lot of praise for its clean design, and rightfully so. Though I am not a fan of Dropbox's Web site because the design is very basic and it doesn't give you many options to view and organize your files, its mobile apps and desktop apps are beautiful and easy to navigate.

Dropbox gives its users plenty of opportunities to get extra storage to beef up the paltry 2GB you get when you sign up. If you participate in the quick Getting Started tutorial, you get 250MB. Turn on the automatic photo upload feature on any of the mobile apps to get 3GB of extra space (you can get only 3GB total, not per device). You can earn 500MB for each friend you refer to Dropbox who actually signs up for the service, up to 16 GB total, or 32 referrals. If you have a brand-new HTC or Samsung phone on select mobile carriers (T-Mobile and Sprint, to name a few) with the Dropbox app pre-installed, you can earn up to 48GB of additional storage for up to two years, depending on the device.

Dropbox's greatest strength is that it works equally well on PCs and Macs, Android and iOS. The service is so simple and elegantly designed, that it's easy for anyone to master. Its desktop applications seamlessly blend with your computer's file system.

Where it falls flat

In my experience, Dropbox's Web site design is one of the weakest of the cloud storage services. It's simple and clean, but you can't control the way your files are displayed. However, you do get many more sharing options on the Dropbox Web site, which almost makes up for the bare bones design.

Best for: Simple sharing when you use tons of different kinds of devices.


Google Drive

What started as just a handful of helpful online office tools called Google Docs, has transformed into Google Drive, a complete office suite with cloud storage. You get a little bit of everything with this service, including a word processor, spreadsheet application, and presentation builder, plus 15GB of free storage space.

If you already have a Google account, you can already access Google Drive. You just have to head todrive.google.com and enable the service. You get 15GB of storage for anything you upload to Drive, including photos, videos, documents, Photoshop files and more. However, you have to share that 15GB with your Gmail account, photos you upload to Google , and any documents you create in Google Drive.

While you can access any of your files from the Drive Web site, you can also download the Drive desktop app for Mac and PC to manage your files from your computer. You can organize all of your files in the desktop app, and they'll sync with the cloud so you can get to them anywhere.

Drive is built into Google's Web-based operating system Chromium, so if you have a Chromebook, Google Drive is your best cloud storage option. Like other cloud storage services, Drive has apps for iOS and Android, so you can manage your files from your phone.

Google Drive has the benefit of a built-in office suite, where you can edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, even if you created the document in another program. The service also a large collection of extras, such as third-party apps that can send faxes or sign documents.

What I like most about Google Drive is that you can drag and drop files into the Drive Web site and they'll be uploaded automatically. You can also preview attachments from Gmail in Google Drive, and save those files to your cloud.

Where it excels

Google Drive requires very little setup if you already have a Google account. What's more, if you use Gmail, it's easy to save attachments from your e-mail directly to Drive with just a few clicks.

Where it falls flat

While you can organize your files and photos in Google Drive, there's no way to automatically upload photos from your phone directly to the service. Instead, Google has an Auto Backup feature in the Google mobile apps, which sends your photos to your Google profile. I'd like for Google to create a central space where I can store and upload all of my files that combines the best of Google 's photo editing features and Google Drive's document editing tools.

Best for: Google diehards, or anyone who wants a few office tools with their cloud storage.

Box's Web interface. Click to enlargeScreenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Box

Anyone can sign up for a free individual account on Box, but the service's endless list of sharing and privacy features were built specifically for business and IT users. Beyond the basic cloud storage setup, where you can store just about any kind of file, Box lets you share files with colleagues, assign tasks, leave comments on someone's work, and get notifications when a file changes.

You can preview files from Box's Web site and even create basic text documents in Box. Like other cloud storage services, you can download a desktop app and sync your files between your hard drive and the cloud.

Box also gives you a lot of control over the privacy of your files. For example, you can decide who in your business can view and open specific folders and files, as well as who can edit and upload documents. You can even password-protect individual files and set expiration dates for shared folders.

Business users can also connect other apps, such as Salesforce and NetSuite, so that you can easily save documents to Box. There are also plug-ins for Microsoft Office and Adobe Lightroom that let you open and edit files saved to Box from those applications.

For business customers, Box is a great choice because it comes with so many tools for collaboration and file privacy control.

Where it falls flat

While anyone can sign up for a free individual account on Box, the service's endless list of sharing and privacy features can be lost on someone who's just using the service for personal storage. Because of all those features, it can feel overwhelming to navigate the Box Web site if you're only trying to manage a few files and folders.

Best for: Teams of employees working together on projects, and large companies that need a place to securely share documents with everyone.


Copy's Android app.Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Copy hails from corporate IT company Barracuda Networks, but it's just as great for regular individuals as it is for teams and businesses. You get 15GB of storage for free, which is on par with Google Drive and OneDrive.

One of the best features of Copy is how it handles shared folders--you split the space with the people you share a folder with. For example, if you have a 20GB folder that's shared between four people, that folder only takes up 5GB of space in each person's Copy account. That's different from Dropbox, where the entire size of a shared folder counts against your storage limit.

Like other cloud storage services, Copy has desktop software for Windows and Mac (Linux too), plus mobile apps for iOS and Android. You can also use Copy's website to manage your files.

If you need more storage space than 15GB, you can pay $10 per month for 250GB. Copy also has business plans that are priced based on the number of users. There's a free plan for up to 5 users, and the paid plans start at $79 per month, or $890 per year, for 1TB and access for up to 10 users. There's also a referral program where you can earn 5GB of free storage when you get someone else to sign up.

Where it excels

Copy is a simple, fast, and solid cloud storage option. You get 15GB for free, and the paid plans are inexpensive.

Where it falls flat

There's hardly anything negative I can say about Copy, but I will say that, like Dropbox, Copy's website is its weakest point. It's just not as easy to navigate as the desktop and mobile apps.

Best for: Anyone would wants an impressive alternative to the more mainstream cloud storage options.


Lesser-known cloud options

Of course, OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box aren't your only options for cloud storage. First, there's