School of Arts and Humanities News

Emerging Media Prof David Parry contributes to article on "cloud-based personal-storage services"


Sitting on Cloud Mine

In a mobile world, cloud-based personal-storage services make it easier to manage documents across devices, and to collaborate with peers and students.

If your pockets are so stuffed with student thumb drives that they bulge like a squirrel’s cheeks…you know it’s time for a change. If the presentation on your desktop bears little resemblance to the version on your laptop…you know it’s time for a change. It sounds like the lead-in to a comedy routine, but it’s no laughing matter when you realize you’ve been working on an outdated file for hours. Fortunately, like a good punch line, the answer to the problem is short and sweet: personal cloud storage.

Personal cloud storage or–more specifically–backup and sync services give users the ability to access the latest version of their files from any device with an internet connection, and, in some cases, the ability to share specific files or folders with collaborators, so they too are always working with the most current version. No more thumb drives. No more e-mailing large files as attachments.

Faculty are finding these cloud-storage services useful not only to manage their own work, but also as a collaborative classroom tool. “There are four computer devices I use throughout the day,” says David Parry, assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas, who uses a backup and sync service provided by SpiderOak. He ticks off a list of devices that includes his cell phone, a work laptop, a home desktop machine, and a tablet. “Anytime, anywhere, as long as I have a device with me, I can get my syllabus. All the files I’m working on for the current semester are stored in the cloud and I can just get them from a device, even if I don’t have my own device.”

A multitude of cloud-based, personal-storage companies have popped up in recent years. No two are alike, but most offer some storage for free, with additional storage available for a fee. SpiderOak, for example, gives users 2 GB free. Choosing among the various cloud-storage options can be tricky, especially since it’s a rapidly changing industry sector.

Founded in 2007, Dropbox is probably the granddaddy of backup and sync services, and holds a significant market share. Users download the application for free to each of their devices. Any file stored in a user’s Dropbox folder is then accessible, online or offline, on any of those devices, as well as being stored by Dropbox on Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3). Each time a user hits “save,” Dropbox updates the versions on the Amazon servers and on all the other devices. In addition, users can share files with other contributors or team members.

AJ Ostrow, a first-year student in the computer-engineering program at McGill University in Montreal, relies on Dropbox for team- and partner-based projects. During a recent code jam–a 48-hour programming competition–Ostrow and his partner needed to program in parallel to finish their project in time.
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