The saying often goes, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." You can, however, find some free and relatively affordable storage on the Internet and around your own area if you know where to look. When you have worked in technology as long as I have it becomes a natural tendency to want to back things up and in multiple places. The way a squirrel stashes nuts, I need a place to store data.
There are places that offer accounts with free storage. If you keep your eye out for promotions, you can sometimes get a respectable amount. And when you have run out of free options, there are some providers that offer storage at very inexpensive prices.
Some of the obvious free options include Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive and Microsoft. Keep an eye out for promotions that these services might offer. Sometimes they ask that you download their new app, or try a service for two years. Other vendors ask that you help them expand their user base by inviting your friends. You will sometimes get additional storage for each person that you have referred creates an account.
Most free storage is ad based. That means you will see targeted ads usually in the web interface where you access your files. Other free services might throttle uploads, bandwidth, the amount of data you can store or the number of files per month you can upload. You will want to take these limitations into consideration if you want to use these in your long-term planning.
Paid storage options can offer more flexibility. The pricing can be all over the map and there's no industry standard. Some places have a fixed amount broken up in tiers such as 20GB, 80GB, 1TB, and so on. Sometimes those tiers are the cap. That means that is all the storage you can use.
Other models are the pay-per-GB model. The more you use the more you pay. Some services include storage with their offerings. These prices are just as varied. In the early days, we used to compare prices in the $1.00USD per GB range. Now some storage can be found around $0.10USD per GB. Some providers are offering one annual price for unlimited storage.
Once you have a solution in place you will want to track it. This is especially true if you are keeping multiple copies in different locations. (I'll talk more on this later.)
There aren't many tools that I have seen out there that really function as one interface for all platforms. One that I have used in the past, and includes 5GB of free storage, is Storage Made Easy. You are able connect multiple accounts from popular vendors such as Box.com, Rackspace, Amazon. This will allow you to manage files all from one location.
There are some local utilities that allow cross vendor functionality such as Cloudberry, Cyberduck and ExpanDrive. Each of these has their own features so you will need to research which one works best for your needs.
There are some overlooked options people may not have considered. I will list them below and as you read through them, think about other accounts that may have storage available that you are not using.
With Facebook you have the ability to upload videos and photos. There's a limit to the size of videos you can upload. I have been able to upload images of just about any size.
Naturally you can upload videos to YouTube. You can store videos as private in YouTube and watch it anytime. Getting the original file back down might prove challenging.
With every hosting service you get some cloud storage. Some providers usually provide 10GB, 50GB, 100GB or more of storage. A simple website might only consume 4-5GB of storage leaving the rest unused. Since you already have a transfer mechanism (usually FTP) moving content to this location should be easy.
I have a 3-2-1 rule which I mention in the next section. Local storage is part of a good backup strategy. Most people typically think of those portable USB-powered drives or thumb drives. Those are good, don't get me wrong. But there may be some overlooked options as well.
Camera storage is often overlooked. Just because the camera you had doesn't work anymore, the data cards still could be useful. Get yourself an adapter and use those cards to store photos and files. 8GB here or 4GB there can go a long way to make a backup copy of files.
Old computer hard drives
I recommend that when you retire an old computer you take out the hard drives. If you have not found a need for those drives in over a year, you can put them to good use as local storage. It's possible to get an adapter to plug into those drives that can then mounted to USB. Wipe them clean with a good utility and they are ready to go.
It's important to know exactly what you are getting before just uploading your content. It's would be easy to say only used national brands as they can be trusted. However, that isn't always the case.
Some providers will decide they want to get out of the "storage business" and announce that you have a year to go find other places to put your data. In the past, both Apple and Ubuntu offered a storage solution with their services. Then later they announced that they were not going to offer that service anymore and you needed to find another location for your data.
More often than not a 60, 30 or 15 day notice that the service will be discontinuing is about all you get. Sometimes, you get no notice at all. You will go to login and find that the service you have uploaded all of your precious photos has been closed or seized. A good example of this is the 2006 raid of a site called The Pirate Bay where, "Police officers shut down the website and confiscated its servers, as well as all other servers hosted by The Pirate Bay's Internet service provider, PRQ." Source
It is possible to have more data stored than you can download in the time remaining to retrieve it. At that point you almost need to be downloading from different locations to increase throughput.
This is why, as I stated earlier, it's important to backup your data in more than one location. The best rule, I find, is a simple 3-2-1 rule.
2 In the cloud
1 Local copy
This way, should something happen to your data or the Internet is just slow in general, you can still access your information.
As we put more of our digital "stuff" into the cloud, we have to make sure we can get it back. The best way to mitigate against that risk is to store copies in multiple locations. Although it is not in one big convenient area, free and affordable storage can be found all around.
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So, what do you think? Did I miss anything? Is any part unclear?