Fishing for Solutions in the CloudOur November 2010 issue featured an article, NFN Techie Brainstorming: Online Data Storage and Distribution, which cast a wide net for online file distribution.

This time around, let's narrow our focus to hook you up with the right catch for sharable, web-based data storage. In other words, we'll cast aside ideas for one-off emails of large files, pass over traditional webhosting, and get our head in the cloud to focus on web-based storage with collaboration capabilities.

There are comprehensive content/project management solutions like SharePoint, Basecamp, or the open-source ProjectPier-but those enterprise pieces require significant IT knowledge to install and maintain-on a server which your chapter controls. Those traits would lead most chapter leaders to cut bait just to cast again.

Without too much nerd-speak (ignoring the long line of fishing analogies), cloud computing maintains files in a remote location which are accessible by users with software programs providing appropriate credentials via the Internet. The cloud allows teams to easily share, collaborate, and store files: overcoming obstacles of the past such as wide geography, multiple operating systems, and divergent computing networks.

Compared to folks trading printed copies, jump drives, or back-and-forth emails-cloud computing can improve the efficacy and efficiency of conducting chapter business because files aren't kept on someone's home or work computer, they are stored in the cloud where any team member with an Internet connection can access them.

When trolling for cloud-based solutions, remember:

  • Seek security for your files
    • Find a vendor that offers varying levels from public to private
    • Protected logins and file encryption options are a plus for storage of sensitive information
  • Vendors may cancel free accounts at any time
    • Usually as a result of inactivity, but may be without cause or without notice
    • For long-term solutions, be open to paying a fee to attain contractual assurances
    • In other words, don't build your dream home on borrowed land  
  • Find the right product to meet your chapter's needs, just as good fishermen use the proper lure to make their catch! Match your chapter's needs, constraints, and timelines to the right product.

So let's reel in and measure some of the prized species swimming in the cloud: web-based folders like Dropbox or Dropbox for Teams; storage and collaboration interfaces like Windows Live SkyDrive, Google Apps, or Google Apps for Business; or à la carte storage services like Google Docs, Google Cloud Connect, and Google Sites. See a comparison of cloud storage product characteristics

Bear in mind, no file system is 100% failsafe-so it's not a bad idea to maintain an archival copy of your most prized files. However, advancements in technology and increased vendor offerings are making cloud solutions a valuable catch!

Disclosure: At the time of publication, the author owned stock in Google Inc.

Publication Date: Thursday, September 29, 2011