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Cloud confusion? How to easily store photos, data and more

Nov. 3, 2013 at 7:28 AM ET

Video: Cloud storage can be used to back up data and access files in one place. But is it safe?

Want to have all your digital files available at all time from all of your devices? Keeping it all in the cloud makes that possible. 

So what exactly is the cloud?

“The cloud” means an off-site storage system for your data that is maintained by a third party.

Think of it as a storage facility you rent when you have too much stuff in your home, but you later realize you just can’t get rid of your stuff forever. This cloud is the place to store your data -- files, photos, videos, etc that so that you don’t have to clutter up your hard drive.

You connect to your cloud securely over the Internet. Once connected, you can send copies of your information to the cloud server where your data is stored. When you want to access your info later, you can do it straight from the web or a mobile device.

Why use the cloud?

Once you’ve put your files in the cloud, they’re way more flexible than the storage unit you visit once a year because you can access those files from anywhere you have an Internet connection! This includes smartphones, tablets, and Internet-connected computers anywhere in the world. So not only can you securely store those files and free up your hard drive, you get the added, huge benefit of being able to access those files anywhere, anytime!

Types of cloud services:

There can be very specific cloud services. Some clouds are specfically for your photos or email. Others are designed to store your entire documents folder, and some can hold absolutely all of your computer’s data! Personally, I try to use the best service for each file type I want to store, so I use Flickr is for photos, Google Docs for my files, and Evernote for all my notes.

Are cloud services safe:

Are clouds 100 percent safe? No. When you put your data online, you have to assume there’s at least some chance your data could become compromised. 

Dropbox reported being hacked back in 2012. As a result they started offering an option for you to use what’s called “two-factor authentication” in order to access your account.

Here are some suggestions to protect your information if you are just starting out. Number one would be backing up only your non-sensitive files until you get the hang of how cloud storage works. If you do have sensitive files that you do want to end up in the public domain, I suggest you encrypt those files on your computer before uploading those encrypted files. I know that this is a bit advanced, but it does help to add an extra layer of protection.

And always remember to use a strong password to give you extra protection! Use letters, numbers, symbols, both upper and lower case. And don’t use words you could find in the dictionary.

Examples of how I use different types of clouds:

I love to take pictures of my family. I take tons of pictures of my son, my wife, my dog, my mom and more! So how do I handle all of those photos? I don’t want them taking up precious space on my phone, so I sync them to my computer. But after a while, I have too many photos on my computer and I start to run out of space. What do I do then?

At that point I turn to a cloud-storage site for photos like Flickr. Not only does Flickr allow me to store and organize all of my photos and videos, Flickr also lets me share those precious memories with my family and friends. That way the people I love can not only see my photos, they can make comments or even organize them for me!

Another cool thing about Flickr is that I can access my photos and videos not just from my computer, but from my phone or tablet as well. Plus I get a huge amount of storage space for free with Flickr, 1 terabyte. Depending on size of the images you’re taking, this could mean you can store anywhere from say 230,000 to almost one million images in Flickr alone!

Another thing you might not know about me is that I love to bake! Or really what I love to do is to take regular recipes and turn them into vegan recipes. Instead of clipping out recipes or bookmarking them, I would use a cloud-based service like Evernote.  

Evernote is really powerful because it can store photos and images which are useful for doing research. I might see a beautiful cake in a bakery window that I want to mimic with my own recipe later. So I take my smartphone, snap a photo of the cake, and then store that photo in Evernote with a couple of quick notes about it. Later, when I am ready to try out my recipe, I can pull up the picture so I know exactly how I want it to look.

But Evernote isn’t limited to just recipes, what I store in there is limited only by my imagination for what inspires me or what I want to remember later. Instead of clipping articles and having post it notes everywhere, I can de-clutter my life and have my digital brain saved in one place.

A general cloud where I like to store everything is Apple’s iCloud. It allows me to store absolutely everything from all of my Apple devices, and I can access all of that data on any of my Apple devices, including my iPhone, iPad and Macs.

The best part is, I can share all of my content -- songs I’m making in Garageband, all of my photos and photo albums, the Socialcam videos I make, my current iWork documents and presentations -- between all of my devices.

One of the things I love most about this is that I have access to my music at all times from any of my devices. I no longer have to own a separate iPod and smartphone to hear my music.

That’s the cloud in a nutshell.

Digital Lifestyle Expert™ Mario Armstrong is an Emmy Award Winning TV Host, Media Personality and Technology Contributor to The TODAY Show. Read more from Mario at marioarmstrong.com and follow him on Twitter @marioarmstrong and on Facebook.

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