Traveling With The Cloud: Do I Even Need My Computer On The Road?

the cloud

Over the last few months, I have made a valiant effort to put everything in the cloud. I had tried before and failed. It all started with Apple’s MobileMe that I really never did get to work quite right but ended with a Google Drive life full of wonder.

Now, I have spreadsheets, emails, photos and documents all in one place, safe and secure on my Google Drive – a free file storage and synchronization service by Google introduced last April.

So, when I travel, do I really need my computer? Can’t I just find an Internet cafe in Rome, Topeka or any other place I might travel that has an available signal and terminal?

We asked computer expert and certified Apple tech Christopher Rauschnot what he thought about cloud-based computing, the Internet access it would take to get to that cloud-based information and what to be on the watch for when traveling. What came of that interview are a number of tips that can make working from the cloud happen, and some reasons why that’s not always the best idea.

Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean You Should- While I probably could accomplish whatever it was I wanted to do, remotely, with the assistance of the cloud, it’s a risky proposition. “Using someone else’s Internet connection and computer, to work in the cloud, presents many issues such as security, accessibility and backup,” says Rauschnot of Las Vegas, Nevada.

One In My Hand Is Worth Two In The Cloud– If I chose to bring along a tablet or use a local Internet connection, that could work. But what about when I can’t get a connection?
“If you have a personal computer that you can take along on a trip, (you will have) the files needing to be worked on are right there in front of you, sans connection,” says Rauschnot who is fully vested with Google+, adding “But if your files are on Google’s Drive service for instance, you have to find a computer wherever you are and log in to the system.”

Big Brother Is Watching And Restricting– “Google is really good about preventing unauthorized access to people’s accounts from foreign connections, even if it is you, using the proper password,” warns Rauschnot, @24K on Twitter. So there is a chance that security protocols in place to protect you may prevent you from accessing sensitive material, safely stored in the cloud

You Don’t Know Where That Came From Or Where It Has Been– “The computers at cyber cafes around the world might have key logging software that records every keystroke,” explains Rauschnot, “or there could be screen sharing software recording what’s being visited.”

When Sharing Is Not A Desirable Social Skill– Friend or not, intercepting a photo showing where someone is in the world can open the floodgates of spam, if not identity theft. “Screen sharing software is especially sneaky because someone could be sitting at a computer thousands of miles away watching people visit social networking sites, financial institutions or anything else personal.”

B.Y.O.I. (Bring Your Own Internet) “Travelers should consider bringing along their own connection to the Internet,” suggests Rauschnot. “Companies are now selling Wi-Fi hotspots that operate worldwide.” Also suggested is something I actually do; “setup an international data plan on a cellphone and share the connection to the computer.” It takes some guesswork to get the plan just right, avoiding hefty overage fees, but it works.

Ask For Security- “If you must connect at a cyber cafe with their Internet connection, it’s best to ask for a hotspot that is secured with WPA2 level password, or use an Ethernet
cord
,” says Rauschnot. This would cut out the opportunity for thieves to grab your signal out of the air. “To protect you while using someone else’s network, only log into websites that provide an https connection.”

OMG! Sharing With Friends Could Be Risky Business- “If you connect to Facebook while on your computer without the https connection, software is out there that allows almost anyone with a web browser on the same network as you, to take over the account,” warns Rauschnot. I know a whole lot of travelers who do that all the time.

Taking a moment to consider computing needs while traveling can eliminate a bunch of potential problems. As Rauschnot suggests, portable Wi-Fi hotspot data plans are a good choice to help with security, allowing us to access our cloud-based information. But having files along for the ride on our own computer allows access without an Internet connection.

“Personal computers may be bulky while traveling, but in this case, they can be helpful to secure your information,” concludes Rauschnot. “Use the computer you know and the cloud as a backup.”

One note: Google Drive gives users 5GB of space for free. Additional storage, 25 GB up to 16 TB, can be bought via a monthly subscription plan.

That’s one kind of Google Drive. Here’s another:

The Car From Google That Drives Itself

[Photo Credit: Flickr user kelsey_lovefusionphoto]

Storing Travel Photos, Let Us Count The Ways

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Storing Travel Photos

In the olden days of storing travel photos when hard drive memory filled up, travelers turned to a variety of external storage devices to manage the shots they had take along the way. Zip Drives, Memory Sticks, DVDs and other forms of storage have all had their day. Today, a variety of storage devices, cloud storage like Google Drive and even social media oriented storage options offer more choices than ever. But which is right for you? Let’s take a look at the options available right now.

External Hard Drives
External hard drives came down in price and up in storage – going from over $500 for a few
Gigabytes (GB) down to about $100 for a Terabyte (TB) of storage – and still offer an affordable option. iPhone users can turn to Apple’s Time Capsule with continuous backup of their Macs and 2 or 3TB of storage. Western Digital, among other manufacturers, offers up to 16TB of storage. Nice to know: lots of space for storing travel photos, but not convenient to take on the road.

Flash Drives
Moving and sharing photos became easier too with flash drives like
Kingston’s 16GB model for around $20, which works for many travelers who might later move that 16GB of photos to another source when travel is complete. Eco-friendly flash drives, too, have been popular with business, replacing brochures and packets of printed information.

Storing Travel PhotosCloud Storage
Remote cloud storing travel photos from a variety of sources is where we are right now and using one or more services offers some distinct advantages.

First, if our hardware device is lost or stolen, all our digital photos are not. Safe and secure in the cloud, we can access them from anywhere in the world. Most travelers can store a huge number of photos for free from a variety of sources like Google Drive, a file and synchronization service that rolled out last April.

Google Drive gives users 5GB of storage free, with more available for a fee – 25GB runs $2.49 a month by subscription and storage can be up to 2TB in size. Google Drive is also now the home of GoogleDocs, a suite of productivity applications offering sharing and collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations too.

But is cloud storage of travel photos safe?

The short answer: yes.

“Photos are safer when stored on line,” says Suzanne Kantra from Techlicious in a USA Today article, adding “files are encrypted on most major cloud storage sites” and “unless you are a celebrity, your family photos are only valuable to you,” concluding that “most of our photos aren’t worth a hacker’s time and effort.”

Other cloud-oriented services like Flickr offer a great deal of storage for free then charge a fee for premium accounts with more storage. But using a variety of sources can eliminate the fees and provide some redundancy for critical shots, which can be stored on multiple sites for the most severe skeptics.

Social Cloudsstoring travel photos
Many travelers choose to shoot and upload on the go to social sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest that share their journey as it unfolds.
HipGeo is a convenient journaling app that enables travelers to keep track of what they saw and where they saw it. Users then share their travels and use what other people share to enhance their own travel experiences.

In a new release, HipGeo instantly transforms all those elements into virtual journals that can then be automatically shared a variety of ways. A new one, ThisLife, allows users to store 1000 photos and uses geotagging to create a timeline of all photos uploaded, making finding them easier. ThisLife wants to be the permanent home for all our photos

Regardless of what device or cloud storage service we use, there are a bunch to choose from so look for one that seems like it will be good in the future too. I used Webshots for years but compared to other options today, I find it clumsy and difficult to use. At the time it was one of the few choices available, but today there are so many to choose from that picking the right one for your needs is critical.

Facebook, for example, is limited to tagging, likes and comments. If users want to order prints or search for photos, they are out of luck. Probably of more importance, what happens when Facebook is not their primary place to go. Let’s not forget MySpace right? Thinking that way, a service that is totally photo-focused like Flickr, Snapfish or Picassa might be the best choice.

Each individual traveler’s photo storage decision might depend on the volume of photos we are talking about too. For most non-professional photographers, just regular people who travel, a good free cloud-based service will probably be just fine. For mega-users, premium cloud storage sites like SmugMug, PhotoShelter or ZenFolio might be better.

Today there are so many options to choose from when storing travel photos that travelers can surely find one that will work for them now and in the future. Check CNET’s “Google Drive is not for everyone, so try these alternatives or a variety of articles from our friends at Engadget about photo storing for more information.



[Flickr photo by Gilderic Photography]

Gadling Gear Review: ioSafe Rugged Portable hard drive

ioSafe Rugged Portable Drive

2011 may go down as (yet another) “year of the cloud”, but that doesn’t mean the cloud is the solution to everything. On my travels, I rely on Dropbox, Google Music, Amazon Music and Sugarsync to provide instant access to my files, but the “instant” part relies heavily on having access to reliable and speedy Internet access. Since speedy Internet can be just as hard to find in downtown Las Vegas as it is in downtown Tallinn, I also trust locally stored files on a good old hard drive and a variety of USB drives.

Of course, the biggest risk of carrying a hard drive is always going to be physical damage – the thing is after all designed around rotating platters with magnetic heads floating micrometers above them. To combat this, there is the rugged drive. One of the most popular names in rugged storage is ioSafe, long known for their line of fire and waterproof drives for at home, but now also the name behind a variety of portable rugged storage.IOSafe Rugged Portable Drive

For this review, we’ll take a closer look at the USB 3.0 ioSafe Go-Anywhere Rugged Portable Hard Drive. On the outside this thing is actually surprisingly slick – taking some of its design inspiration from the gorgeous single piece aluminum products from Apple. The rest of the product is pretty simple – a MicroUSB 3.0 connector (which will work on USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports), an activity LED indicator and a Kensington lock port. The included cables work on any USB port, though most computers will need two ports to power the drive – which also means you don’t need to carry around a power brick.

As soon as you pick the drive up, you’ll feel that it isn’t in the same league as your everyday portable drive – it weighs significantly more and feels like a small brick. The weight (along with some pretty smart innovations on the inside) and single piece aluminum case design are what make it possible to protect against drops up to 20′ (that is 6 meters to those of us that prefer Metric), crushes up to 5,000 lbs and full immersion in water for up to 3 days.

The drives come in a variety of flavors too – spinning platters (500GB and 1TB) and SSD (120GB, 300GB and 600GB). All varieties offer the same rugged protection. Every Rugged Portable drive from ioSafe comes with 1 year of data recovery service (up to $5,000) with options to add up to 5 years of additional coverage. To clarify – this coverage is offered on top of the warranty provided by the manufacturer.

Rugged or not?

Of course, any company can make outrageous claims about their drives, so I decided to do things to this drive that I’d never consider doing to a “normal” drive. For starters, I left the poor thing outside in a pile of snow overnight, then on my way inside, I “accidentally” dropped it on a concrete garage floor. Amazingly, I think the solid aluminum case did more damage to the floor than vice versa.

The target audience

With prices starting at $249, the ioSafe rugged drive is definitely not as affordable as a 500GB drive you’ll find on the shelf of your local Target – but once you calculate the value of your content, the initial purchase price is quite easy to justify. In my case, I use external storage to hold photos and video, as well as images of my laptop in case I need an emergency on-the-road restore. In those cases, the extra $150 for the security of a rugged drive is well worth it.

Final thoughts

There is very little inherently interesting about an external hard drive, but the ioSafe Rugged Portable Drive definitely gives you a sense of security – you can tell that this thing is designed from the ground up to travel the world and be thrown around. Performance is fantastic (especially when on a laptop with USB 3.0) and with sizes up to 1TB, you are bound to have an available option that will hold your storage needs. Prices start at $249 for the 500GB HDD version, up to a painful $1,999 for the 600GB SSD.

Still, once you go back to the whole “how much are my files worth” part, the price really isn’t hard to beat, especially when there are no reasonable alternatives on the market. When you need to store 1TB of content, the cloud just isn’t an option.

You’ll find the entire lineup of ioSafe drives at iosafe.com, along with more of their rugged products and information about their data recovery services.