Thursday, November 17, 2011

Storage Wars

It's that season once again - crunch time.  Everything was due yesterday, test/quiz/lab tomorrow, rinse, wash, and repeat...We've all been there.

Although there isn't much we can do to help with tests (other than to provide a quiet place to study), we can make some suggestions on how to store all of those precious papers and assignments.

As some of you may know, the library computers are configured to wipe clean any files and settings changes made after you log off or shut down a computer.  Here are some recommendations on online or physical storage services and devices:

1. Flash/thumb drives are the most popular way to store files.  These are relatively cheap and can be purchased at the bookstore.  Get a big enough drive and you can travel with your music (instead of carrying a separate MP3 player) as well.  The problem with flash drives is also one of the reasons they are popular: their size.  They can get lost easily (we recover 2-3 flash drives, on average, a week), can be forgotten in pockets and run through the washing machine (I've done this, sadly), and they tend to break from time to time.  It's my suggestion not to rely on flash drives alone.

2. External hard drives are essentially large flash drives, and most computer users should own one anyway for MP3/audio, video, and photo file backup storage.  Like most things tech, these drives are getting smaller and smaller, and thus more portable.  Unfortunately, the prices for these drives will skyrocket because of severe flooding in Thailand, where most of the world's hard drives are assembled.  Before the flooding, a 2 TB drive could be found on sale for $100 - an incredible deal.  I remembered my father's office buying a massive 20 MB (yes megabyte) drive 20 years ago for several thousand dollars.

3. Cloud storage refers to a service that provides online networked data storage. Services such as,, and provide some level of free document and file service, with options for larger storage amounts for a small monthly fee.  Dropbox and SugarSync offer a referral service where you storage amounts will grow for every friend that becomes a new user.  These services all have mobile apps and are accessible on any PC or Mac.

4. Google Documents are an online office productivity suite from the people who brought you...uh, Google.  You can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online and are saved in Google Docs' cloud storage.  You can also upload (and convert) existing Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files for storage.  These files will be converted to Google's proprietary format, however, and you might lose some formatting (but not content).  Users can also download the files in a format of their choice.  Google Docs are a great way to work on a group project, because the common document is available online (and can be password protected).  The presentation software will also work remotely, as you could launch a presentation that can be viewed in multiple locations.  As with most Google products, it's free.

5. E-mailing the file to yourself is probably the easiest way to back up files and documents, as most of us use e-mail daily (ahem, students: you should be checking your Coker e-mail at least once a day).  I wouldn't recommend doing this with your Coker e-mail, as the storage space is fairly small (as of this writing, but that will change later this year), but it will work well with small documents.  Most free e-mail services (Gmail,  Yahoo!, Hotmail) offer huge storage space, from 5 GB to 7+ GB, and plenty of methods for organizing these files.  Simply login in to your e-mail account, create a new e-mail message with a memorable subject line, attach the file, and send it to that same account...and bam!  You've got your own cloud storage!

I would actually combine one or two of these options for redundancy - the more places you have a document stored, the smaller the chance of catastrophic file loss.  Combining one physical storage medium with an online or cloud storage is probably your best bet for keeping those files safe and for having access to them when you need to.

Photo courtesy of the Daily Trojan.  A student newspaper from the University of Southern California.

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