Can You Live Entirely in the Cloud?
The notion of accessing digital information from afar is nothing new. Even from the early days of computing, terminals used networks to access more powerful machines to gain access to their storage and processing power.
Fast forward to the ever-connected world of the modern internet; cloud computing has become an omnipresent force in how we get things done. End-users can now use the cloud to backup and store information, share media, publish documents, and even play games.
But given how far cloud technology has come, how versatile is the cloud really? With internet-focused devices like Chromebooks climbing in popularity, the question begs to be asked: could you live entirely in the cloud?
This is the easy part. Anyone with a Google account already has some free cloud storage in their Google Drive. Other free services like Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box offer various amounts of free space for you to stash your files with the option to pay for more. If you get creative, (and depending on the degree to which you are a digital hoarder) you may be able to get away with juggling these free options without having to shell out for subscription fees.
If you do need to cough up some cash for some extra storage space, Amazon Cloud Drive’s $60 a year for unlimited space is an incredible value.
One concern to keep in mind with cloud-based storage is what to do if you decide to switch providers or remove your content altogether. Be sure to read the terms of service carefully to know, should you opt to cancel, and how much time you have to recover your files before they are deleted from servers. Also pay attention to any bandwidth caps or file-type restrictions that may be in place.
Video in the cloud
There is no shortage of internet-based media available today. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have provided an onslaught of content forcing cable companies to scramble to maintain relevance.
The problem with these services is that the content is constantly coming and going. Your favorite movie may be available today, but next week it may not.
Digital marketplaces like iTunes and Google Play have made it possible to purchase digital video copies of your favorites and stream them to your devices whenever you want. This gives you the security of knowing you “own” the media and will theoretically have access in perpetuity.
But what about that collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays you have collected over the years? With local storage options you could rip copies and store them digitally, but their large file sizes don’t typically lend themselves well to cloud storage.
Plex Cloud Sync may be a reliable way to bring your favorites among these larger files to your cloud infrastructure in a manageable and usable way. By taking advantage of a supported cloud-based storage option (Unfortunately, Amazon Drive and its limitless storage plan didn’t survive beta testing), you could theoretically transfer your favorites from your digital media collection to their cloud service and use Plex Media Player (there are apps available for all major platforms) to stream it wherever you want to enjoy it. Plex takes care of encoding your files in ways to optimize both quality and file size, helping you to keep your virtual drives from filling up too quickly.
Be advised, this Plex feature requires a Plex Pass membership which, when combined with a storage plan, large enough to store media, could start to become a bit pricey. No one said living in the cloud would be cheap!
Also, Plex requires you to maintain local copies of the original media files on a device running the Plex Media Server software. If you are looking for a completely unfettered computing experience without the need for a home base, stick to the online marketplaces like iTunes and Google Play.
Your music collection
Music is an area that has benefitted from cloud-based options for some time now. Services like Spotify, iTunes Match, Google Play Music, and Amazon Music have become viable platforms for accessing your personal music collection via the cloud.
For those living in the Google cloud infrastructure, Google Play Music is a solid choice. By using Google Play Music, you can upload up to 50,000 songs to the cloud that do not count against your Google Drive limits (however, there is a 300MB limit per song, so that 4-hour lossless Grateful Dead concert file will have to stay offline, buddy). This option provides you with a unique way to back up your tunes and sneak some extra free storage space while doing it! Best of all, it’s free!
If your music collection is larger than the 50,000 songs Google allows for, Amazon offers a storage locker for up to 250,000 songs that will allow you to stream the music to your web-enabled devices for $25 a year.
While these are not the only ways to take your music library into the cloud, they are certainly some of the most user-friendly and feature rich options available.
Your photos in the cloud
With the advancements in digital photography have come the increase in photo file sizes. Finding a cloud-based solution for photo storage and organization is a must for any storage-conscious computer user, but it is an especially pressing need for someone looking to live in an entirely cloud-based world.
There have been no shortage of photo storage lockers and virtual albums available over the past decade. One of the best that has separated itself from the pack is Google Photos. This feature-rich photo service is much more than just a virtual photo book. What makes it especially appealing is its virtually seamless integration with your smartphone and internet connected devices, regardless of what operating system or brand you use.
If you have subscribed to a large digital storage plan as part of your migration to the cloud lifestyle, it is probably in your best interest to upload your original photos there as well. Most free photo services will impose limits on photo sizes and resolutions (especially if they are storing them as a part of a free plan).
For a more in-depth look at Google Photos and its features, check out Bradley Chambers’ in-depth review on The Sweet Setup.
Web-based and cloud-based apps
Not only can you use the cloud for storage and retrieval of your files and media, but the same concepts can unlock the potential of your web-enabled devices. Services like the Chrome Web Store provide thousands of applications that allow users to perform tasks like collaborative desktop publishing, basic photo editing, music creation, mind-mapping, maintaining cloud-based to-do lists, managing finances, recording and managing voice memos, and even coding.
Furthermore, many web-based applications (like those linked above) synchronize with the cloud-based storage you already have, keeping your files and information entirely in the cloud. This means you can not only save precious local storage space on your devices, but you can save and continue your work from any web-enabled device.
Living the cloud life
When all is said and done, most users could transfer the bulk of their digital existence into the cloud without much of a fuss.
Be aware that in most cases, the migration to the cloud will come with some subscription costs (and possibly the need for a good password manager) to keep all the relevant accounts accessible and in good standing. However, creative users may be able to balance the growing number of free services in an effort to keep costs down.
Ultimately, there will be cases where applications and tasks require more file-access speed than a web-based storage option can provide; but by taking advantage of common cloud-storage features like automatic backups, you can still ensure your files are available wherever you may need them (…assuming you can get online to access them).
Therein lies the beauty of the cloud. While there may be some hurdles to clear and problems that require some creative solutions, a truly cloud-based experience means the freedom to engage with your computing tasks based upon access to the web rather than access to a specific device. For some users this may never be the ideal choice for reasons of access, power, security, or privacy; nevertheless, it is, in fact, possible to live in the cloud.
What parts of your personal digital experiences have you moved to the cloud? Share your experiences in the comments below!