Choosing a cloud service isn’t always a simple task as there are many similar services out there. This can sometimes make it difficult to decide which to go with. However, each service usually has unique characteristics that help you to make this decision.
Choosing a cloud service doesn’t mean we have to completely forget our traditional computing technologies though. In fact, they can often work in tandem very effectively and often it’s important to decide when to use each type of service and how we can make them work together.
This lesson we’ll learn about:
- How the selection of platforms & services impact on the use of cloud technologies
- How cloud and ‘traditional’ systems are used together
1. The Selection of Platforms & Services
A cloud service provider is a business that runs one or more data centres filled with cloud servers and provides access to these, usually in return for a fee.
There are lots of cloud service providers out there that offer a variety of different cloud services. Each of these service providers usually has unique characteristics that help you to choose the best for your needs.
In this section, we’ll look at some of the key things to consider that effect which cloud service you choose.
Number & Complexity of Features
Depending on what cloud service you select, it will offer different features – some of these may be more complex or simple than those on other services.
For example, if choosing between Google Docs or Microsoft Office Online, you will see there is some difference in the features. Office Online has great features for interacting with your local versions of the software, while Google Docs allows you to install add-ons that provide all kinds of extra features that allow you to really customise the software to your needs.
It isn’t just about choosing the service with the most features though. You want to choose a service that offers the features you need, without having excessive features that you won’t use and might make it confusing to use.
Paid vs Free
Free cloud services will offer a starting amount of storage or software access, meaning you will have to pay for more. The quality of the service cannot be guaranteed but this doesn’t mean all free services are bad.
For example, reputable providers, like Google, will offer fantastic features at no initial cost. Though you can then pay to extend your access, such as gaining further storage allowance.
Businesses will usually be required to use a paid cloud service which charges on a per user basis. This will usually give you more storage right away and offer increased features as compared to free services. This is because they’re tailor-made for business use, providing additional features & better customer support.
A comparison of the free and paid features for the Google One cloud service can be seen below:
The interface design of the cloud service being used is particularly important as it affects how easily it can be used. If somebody has trouble navigating their way throughout the interface, they may move to a different service. Especially where the users may not be very IT literate.
Therefore, when choose a cloud service, you would need to consider some of the following user interface design features:
- Layout – a user interface’s layout needs to be simple and intuitive to use. Can you figure out how to use the interface without extensive training and support? Often it is useful if the interface is similar to one you are experienced in using. For example, the Microsoft Office web apps are almost identical to the Office software on your computer and so would be easier to use than, for example, Google Docs.
- Accessibility – ensuring that the cloud service is accessible to those with individual needs, such as a visual impairment, is often a key consideration for a business. This includes ensuring the interface can be adapted, such as by changing colours and font sizes, as well as being compatible with screen reading software and other accessibility technologies.
- Mobile vs Desktop – most cloud services are accessed via a web browser, which means they will be available to both desktop & mobile users. But does the interface adapt to be usable on a smaller mobile screen? Often on mobile devices we’ll make use of a mobile app instead, but some may not have a mobile app which will make the cloud service less useful to mobile users.
Available devices refers to what kind of device (more specific than desktop vs mobile) the service is available on. As mentioned, most cloud services are accessed via the web which will make them available on all platforms (known as platform-independent).
However, cloud services often have apps that will provide certain features. For example, if you want to sync your computer with a cloud storage service, you’ll need to install a piece of software to do that.
However, it may be the case that a cloud service app is only usable on certain platforms, for example, Windows and not Mac OS, or only on Android and not iOS.
If the cloud service provider only offers apps on platforms that you are not using then you are likely better off choosing a different service.
Using the above points, try and find out what kind of cloud service you would benefit from the most. What features would be most important to you?
2. Using Cloud & Traditional Systems Together
Rather than relying on one system or the other, it is more efficient and advantageous to use both cloud and traditional systems together. Many cloud service providers provide apps that will allow for cloud services to work with local storage and software effectively.
There are certain features that make this particularly easy to do so. In this section, we’ll look at these features and how they help cloud & traditional systems work together.
Many cloud storage services will provide the ability to sync your devices with cloud storage. Usually, when you install a cloud services app, it will create a folder for that service on your computer.
Provided you’re connected to the Internet, when you save your files to the cloud folder on your computer this will be synced with the cloud server, and updated on any other device you have when you connect them to the service.
This way you can still store your files locally, for quick loading and saving, but still have consistent versions across your different devices. It also means that all of your files are being automatically backed up to a remote location should something happen to your local copy.
Cloud services are primarily designed for online use, therefore certain features will be disabled if used offline. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t access the cloud, provided if the files are stored locally. Once you go back online, and if you’ve made any edits, the cloud will be updated.
Both OneDrive and Google Drive have these features, but you need the files to be downloaded to your device, else it won’t be possible to view and edit them while offline. This is obviously very closely related to the device synchronisation we mentioned previously.
Some online software applications, like Google Docs also provide offline modes to their software too. This way you can continue to use your software should you lose your internet connection.
By installing the cloud services app on your computer, it will often create a icon in your system tray which will provide you with notifications when certain events occur.
For example, it might let you know whether all local files have been successfully synced with the cloud, or if upload/download is currently taking place. It can also inform you of issues where syncing as failed, as well as identifying upcoming events from your calendar.
We can see this often when using Windows 10, which will display notices from your connected email and cloud storage accounts.
Do you use cloud and traditional systems together? If you are using Windows 10, it’s likely that you have a OneDrive folder somewhere on your PC.
Try saving a file in that folder and check your Microsoft account at OneDrive.com to see if it gets uploaded to the cloud.
So to summarise what we’ve learnt in this lesson:
- The number and complexity of features may not necessarily be the best basis to select a service on however, you need to be sure the features you need are available.
- Free services tend to limit the effectiveness of certain features, forcing you to purchase if you want more storage space for example and are designed for an individual experience. Meanwhile, paid services tend to have better support, being designed for businesses.
- The design of the interface is important to look at before you purchase, as you want to make sure you’re not lost and can’t figure out how to work an application. So, you should consider several important points:
- The general layout (is it familiar & intuitive).
- The accessibility and user-friendliness.
- The platforms (specifically desktop and/or mobile) you can use it on.
- The devices the cloud service is available on will affect your decision as you want to make sure yourself or everybody in your business are able to use it in their workspace with the provided OS.
- Provided you’re connected to the Internet, it is possible to view files on the cloud on any device linked to the account, and therefore, synchronise files between all those devices connected also.
- It’s possible, with some cloud services, to download all the files you have on the cloud and edit them while offline, then have them instantly updated once you go back online.
- Cloud apps can display notifications on your device(s) through calendar dates, files being uploaded/downloaded and other events stored on the cloud.