Not sure what ‘the cloud’ is? You’re not alone. It’s one of those terms that has become common place but can leave many people feeling puzzled. In its simplest form, the cloud is an online place where data is stored. It’s a great place to store your photos and files, and it has many benefits.
In this guide we give the cloud some meaning and provide tips on the things you should keep in mind when using the cloud to store your files. We also list the popular cloud services offering free storage – some of which you may already have access to on your device - as well as safety tips to help protect your information.
In this article:
What is the cloud?
The cloud is an online storage service. Somewhere you can create or store back-up copies of things like word documents, spreadsheets, photos and videos. Think of it like the external or additional storage you get in a hard drive, USB stick or CD, but online.
You can access cloud services with your web browser (like Chrome, Safari and Edge) or by using an app on your device.
You may already be using the cloud without even knowing it. For example, if you have an email service like Gmail or Outlook, your inbox is actually in the cloud. Your emails and attachments are all stored in the cloud instead of taking up storage space on your device.
Benefits of the cloud
The main benefit of using the cloud to store your files is the ease of access. You can retrieve your files from wherever you are, on any device, so long as it's connected to the internet. You simply log in with your username and password. For example, you can save a video to the cloud from your computer at home, and later watch the same video on your tablet at a friend's place.
The cloud is also a great place to store your photos, especially if you take a lot of pictures with your smartphone and you find yourself running out of storage space. The files you save in the cloud don’t take up any memory or storage space on your device.
Like any external storage, the cloud provides a safe back up for your files and photos in case you lose your smartphone or your computer crashes.
Things to consider when choosing cloud storage
All cloud apps offer somewhere for you to store your files, but there are some things to keep in mind when choosing a cloud storage app, including:
- The amount of free storage you get differs greatly between providers. For example, Google Drive currently offers 15GB of free storage, while iCloud only offers 5GB for free.
- How much storage do you need? Knowing how much storage you need comes down to what type of files you plan to store. Word documents and spreadsheets take up very little room compared to high quality images and videos. For example, 2GB of storage allows you to save hundreds, maybe thousands, of documents, but isn’t enough for a handful of high-quality photos and videos.
- It’s always a good idea to start with the free plan and see how much room you take up before considering a paid option. If you’re reluctant to pay for online storage, try deleting files from your free account, or store them elsewhere to free up space.
- Shop around to compare larger cloud storage space. Prices and storage space vary, so take the time to compare terms, conditions and prices to find best value for money. Keep in mind, depending on the terms and conditions, you can always cancel or stop using your cloud account at any time. Just remember to download your files to a hard drive or device before deleting the files and closing the account.
Free cloud storage options
If you have a Google account, you automatically get 15GB of free cloud storage on Google Drive. Most new Android devices come with Google Drive pre-installed.
Things like your Google photos, Gmail messages and attachments, even those in your spam and trash folders, count towards your 15GB allocation. As of 1 June 2021, newly created Google Docs will also count towards storage (existing files won’t count).
Dropbox is a popular online storage option that has been around for a long time. You get 2GB of free cloud storage when you sign up to Dropbox, which is quite small compared to other cloud apps offering free storage. You can access Dropbox from any device by visiting the website or downloading the app.
You get 5GB of free storage with iCloud and it automatically backs up your calendar, reminder, notes and photos if you have an Apple computer, tablet or smartphone.
iCloud automatically comes with your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. You can access it with your Apple ID from any device, even from a Windows based PC.
You can still use iCloud even if you don’t own an Apple device, although you will need to create an Apple ID and you may not have access to all the features Apple users do.
OneDrive is a Microsoft product that automatically comes with Windows 8 and 10 PCs. It’s not just for PC users though, you can still sign up to OneDrive no matter your device.
When you create a new OneDrive account, you get 5GB of cloud storage for free.
Tips to staying safe on the cloud
- Create a strong password for your cloud account. If you need tips on how to create and remember strong passwords, take a look at our Safe passwords course .
- Turn on two-factor authentication to make your account extra secure. When you do, your sign in process consists of two steps: first, you enter your username and password, followed by a code sent to your mobile.
- Always keep a back-up of your files on a physical device like an external hard drive, USB stick or DVD, for your own peace of mind.
All free cloud storage inclusions correct at time of writing, June 2021.