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The IPad data dilemma: Where cloud storage can help

Mel Beckman | Feb. 22, 2011
Tablets and cloud storage seem like a marriage made in heaven, but it takes third-party apps to bring them together

The cloud storage service providers include big guns such as Amazon.com's Simple Storage Service (S3), Apple's MobileMe, Google's Google Docs, Microsoft's Live Mesh/SkyDrive, and Rackspace's Cloud Files. Users generally don't interact directly with these providers from their tablets, but instead work with an intermediate provider such as Box.net, Dropbox, JungleDisk, Soonr, and Spot Documents. Some intermediaries also offer their own apps for iOS and Android devices, and there are several cross-cloud storage apps, such as CloudConnect Pro and SMEStorage. Plus, there are third-party apps that give tablet users access to SharePoint document collections.

Most apps are free, but you must pay a subscription to get access to the best cloud services. Although there are free teaser subscriptions available, tablet users seeking to make cloud storage their tablets' "hard drives" will need an intermediate plan that costs $5 to $20 per month for its larger storage capacity and file transfer budgets, advanced sharing capabilities, plug-in applications, and business-friendly features.

All the cloud services apps let you perform essential cloud functions from a tablet: download files from the cloud or -- in the iPad's case -- open files from the cloud directly into compatible applications (such as Quickoffice and Documents to Go), and push files back to the cloud when necessary. Thus, you'll want to use apps that all work with the same cloud storage service; Apple's iWork suite only works with its own MobileMe service, for example. You can also access the cloud file system from Mac, Linux, and Windows desktops, or via a Web portal. Some also have apps for specific smartphone platforms, such as Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone.

Advanced capabilities vary by vendor. One trend is to support plug-in "cloud apps" to augment a provider's services by connecting it to other platforms or data sources. For example, a LinkedIn cloud app might streamline file sharing with specified LinkedIn associates. Another trend is the use of data compression and deduplication to reduce the volume of synchronized data, speeding the file-transfer process (key on relatively slow 3G networks). Compression ratios of 10:1 or better can be obtained on many data types.

The best tablet cloud services for business Tablet cloud storage addresses one key requirement businesses crave: control over their data. Cloud storage can be backed up en masse, preserving valuable business information no matter what platform it originates from.

Beyond backup and security, the most requested features by business users -- according to cloud storage vendors' own "vote for features" pages -- are collaboration capabilities: multiple accounts, user groups, fine-grained permission controls, file locking, and version control.

 

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