Google recently slashed the prices of it's Drive cloud storage solution. I don't use the word 'slashed' lightly, but since 1TB of cloud storage used to cost you $50 and now only costs $9.99 I think it's usage is deserved! I'm forever trying to simplify my backup routines and in my office I think I've got things pretty sorted by using a combination of Drobos and G-Tech drives mirrored with Carbon Copy Cloner.
There's two reasons why you might want to be looking at cloud storage of some sort. Now you absolutely should have an off site copy of your images to protect yourself from fire, theft, flood and other nasty insidances. You can do this manually as I currently do, by shuttling a collection of external drives back and forth to an offsite location every few weeks. Whenever you have to do something manual like that though there will always be compliance issues. I'm guilty of it myself all the time, sometimes I wait far too long before sending a new drive to my backup location. So you might look at a cloud solution to automate that process. The second reason that a cloud solution might be useful is if you find yourself needing access to images while you are away from your office. Most photographers have had that e-mail from a client while we are away somewhere; “Hey can i get that image you showed me last year, I need the RAW file by tomorrow morning”. Yep that's happened, and I've lost money a bunch of times because of it! I've experimented with using VPN software to log into my office computer remotely to get files for situations like that, but whilst I've had success with it, I've also had failures. Predominantly when trying to use slow connections in cafes or hotels. A cloud based version of my archive would be great….. In fact a cloud based storage option kills two birds with one stone becuase it means you don't need your typical onsite backup either. Traditional physical offsite backup still requires an onsite backup as well for most people, but cloud systems like Drive are backup up by Google anyway.
Let's do a little math:
I looked on B&H Photo and searched for “1TB Drive”. A Seagate drive came up for $75 which wasn't the cheapest or the most expensive, a good average. It's hard to estimate the life of a drive, I've had some last mere months and some last 5 years. I'd say a good average is about two years though so let's call that about $40/year for that 1TB USB drive Vs. the 120/year for the Google Drive equivalent. The thing is though that if you just had 1x1TB USB drive you'd lose it all if the drive failed so in reality you need two. So that's now roughly $80/year Vs. the Google Drive equivalent. Yes it's still cheaper to buy your own drives and mirror them using something like Carbon Copy Cloner, but for a mere $40 differnce the Google price has got to be looking pretty tempting for a lot of people who need that sort of storage amount. Especially as it syncs with all your devices, whereas the extrnal drives have to be carried around and plugged into whatever computer you are using at the time. I've had a lot of drives fail over the years and I hate that rush to go and buy another one as soon as one fails. Fine if you live in a city, but frustrating if you don't. For me these things are worth the extra cost and we haven't even considered collaboration yet. Files on Google Drive can be shared with other people remotely whereas external drive solutions would require uploading to someone using services like WeTransfer.com.
Of course everyone knows about Dropbox which is currently the most used cloud storage service. I've found far more third-party integrations with Dropbox but Google Drive seems to be gaining popularity and this price decrease will surely increase that. Currently Dropbox is charging $9.99/month for 100GB though so Google is offering fully 10X the storage space for the same price or 5X less price for the same capacity. A 500GB account on Dropbox will cost you $49.99/month. Surely Dropbox will now need to lower their prices, along with Microsoft and Amazon who have all been equally outdone by Google's price drop.
Another alternative is something I'm currently testing called File Transporter by Drobo. Transporter allows you to create your own cloud storage solution with your own hard drive. The Transporter Sync product that I'm testing is a one-off $99 purchase that you connect to a USB hard drive. Place that Transporter wherever you want (in your office or off site) and after that it works exactly like Dropbox. Drag and drop files to it in your operating systems finder window and they are synced across all your devices and available through your mobile device. Unfortunately I'm having issues with my Transporter so I'm unwilling to make any conclusions right now until I hear more from Drobo's support team (who seem to be taking their time). If it worked as advertised it would be a compelling solution as the cost for a 1TB cloud would be $99 for the Transporter and $80 for a drive with no monthly fees at all. After 18 months of use you'd be in the green Vs. Google Drive. Though with Drive's previous pricing you'd have been ahead after only 3.5 months so this price drop might even effect Trnsporter adotion rate until they actually get around to incorporating it into Drobo products.
The issue for many people these days isn't doenload speed but upload speed. I could download a terrabyte of data in about 4 hours on my current internet connection, which isn't even an enterprise product. To upload a terrabyte would take me 9.25 DAYS by my calculations! I'll be honest and say that I don't know why that is. Why do internet service providers (ISPs) throttle upload speed so much? Now a terrabyte of data is a heck of a lot, I don't think I've ever shot that much on one job before but I do know I've shot 250GB and so we are still measuring upload time in days.
What's the takeaway from all of this then? For me it definitely brings paid cloud storage into the realms of affordability for many of the tasks I carry out with my photography business. My overall image archive is too large to host entirely on a cloud platform but this does make it a viable solution for client delivery and other situations where I need to deliver a bundle of files that might be in the range of tens of gigabytes. In terms of giving me access to important files while I'm away, I think it could definitely work for many of my business files but I still struggle to see a way for it to hold important images unless I'm dedicated to exporting all my A-Grade images to it from my Lightroom Archive. Something like that would be an extra step in my workflow though and unless I can automate it, I'm loathe to rely on it. Prices will only continue to fall though and I'll most certainly be using the $1.99/month plan to get 100GB of storage from Google just to have all my documents synced across my devices. Personally I keep everything I've shot just because the time to sort and delete some of the files isn't worth the cost of the additional storage for me. A lot of people are far more careful though and many people do have less than 1TB of photos to store. Certainly if I were to take only my A-Grade shots as RAW files I'm sure it would total less than 1TB. In that case I think $9.99/month is well worth it!
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