Top 15 Consumer Cloud Services

One of the many buzzwords in technology and computing today is ?cloud.? With the rise in popularity of smart phones, many consumers now deal with the cloud on a daily basis. Any Android phone requires you to set up a Google account as soon as you turn it on, granting access to Gmail, calendar and contact syncing without the consumer even realizing.

There are also various web-based services for desktop computing that provide file storage, backup and syncing. Many of these services are available for free but vary in usability and simplicity. Here are the top 15 cloud services available today.

iCloud

iCloud is a full-featured cloud service that offers a complete desktop experience through your web browser. iCloud offers you a free trial and $40 gets you 100GB of online storage and your own personal cloud computer. Logging into iCloud gives you a desktop, start menu, and everything else you would see on a desktop. There are built- in applications to view your photos, movies, and music. There are even downloadable third party applications that you can ?install? onto your iCloud. You can mount your iCloud to your computer as a virtual drive to drag and drop files back and forth. You can even mount iCloud to your mobile phone or iPad as Wi-Fi sharing device.

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Windows Live Skydrive

Skydrive is basically a solid online file storage service. You get 25GB of free storage and you can access your files from any mobile device. Skydrive allows you to drag and drop items right into the web browser for easy upload and download. Skydrive makes it easy to share large files and its user friendly interface welcomes consumers. A desktop syncing feature and larger capacities would make Skydrive even better.

Evernote

Evernote is a high quality note and memo taking application that works on all platforms. It?s free to use with a $5 per month ?premium? addition that allows for higher data transfer. Along with the web interface there is a Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and Android application. Evernote can create text notes, photos and voice memos. All notes sync to the cloud and are sent to all your mobile devices instantly. You can also share notes via email and tag them with keywords or web links.

Teamviewer

Free for consumers, Teamviewer is a great screen sharing and ?GoToMyPC? style service. If you need to share a screen and take control of a client?s (or family member?s) computer, download Teamviewer from the website, tell them your session ID and you?re up and running. The service works PC to PC, Mac to Mac, and PC to Mac as well. If used in a commercial setting, license fees are a one-time charge and range from $7,500 to $2,700 for corporate accounts.

Facebook

While not the typical cloud service, Facebook now has over 500 million active users and over 150 million users using it on their mobile device. Though is doesn?t provide file storage, members can upload photos, videos and music to the web using Facebook and access them from any computer. Many mobile phones, including Palm?s webOS and Android devices actually sync with your Facebook account and pull in the mobile numbers and email addresses of your friends. Facebook is free to use and every mobile platform has a Facebook app that is free to download.

The Rackspace Cloud

Clearly advertised to the non-enterprise audience, Rackspace is another straight-forward cloud storage and hosting service. Rackspace offers virtual servers starting at $11/month, web hosting for $149/month or unlimited file storage at 15?/gigabyte. It also offers integration with Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint as well automatic server backup. In June 2010 Rackspace made the Bloomberg top 100 technology company list for its revenue growth amidst the ?global recession.?

MobileMe

If you play in the world of Apple, using an iPhone, iPad or Mac, Apple?s MobileMe service is a great cloud option. MobileMe offers to push Contacts, Calendar and Mail to your computer or iPhone and iDisk gives you 20GB of online storage. iDisk is mountable to your desktop on both Mac and PC. MobileMe also works with Microsoft Outlook but requires a little more effort than on a Mac. A feature unique to MobileMe is the ?Find My iPhone? web app. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch that syncs with your account, you can login to me.com and track the location of your device. In addition, to seeing its location on a map, you can ?Remote Wipe? all the information on it, display a message on the device?s screen, or have it make an audible beep (even if the device is set to silent). MobileMe is $99 per year with more storage available for an extra $10.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)

Geared for the enterprise crowd, Amazon S3 offers large amounts of cloud storage through its ?Simple Storage? system. Upwards of 5000 terabytes of information, users can pay as little as .5? per gigabyte. Amazon?s services are secure and there is no minimum fee for use.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)

Much like Amazon?s ?Simple Storage Service,? its elastic offering is based on a per hour usage and storage will scale as needed. Starting at .12? per hour for small amounts to .96? for large amounts of data. As with all of Amazon?s offerings, your storage is available through web interfaces. Additionally, you can create custom environments and run multiple instances of your storage simultaneously.

Windows Azure Platform

Azure is actually a series of cloud applications that allow developers to build and program apps in the cloud, rather than on a local server. ?Azure? is a scalable hosting and storage platform that also links to SQL Azure and AppFabric. ?AppFabric? allows Azure to connect with ?on-premises? applications and those developed in the cloud. Other Microsoft programs can also integrate with Azure, such as ?Visual Studio? and third-party apps. Azure starts at .15? per gigabyte per month.

Salesforce

Customized for both small businesses and enterprise, Salesforce is a great tool for contact management, projects and proposals, sales information and team organization. Starting at just $5 a month to $250 for premium users, Salesforce will keep track of all the emails and phone calls made between you and your customers, it integrates with Lotus Notes, Google apps, Outlook and you can share projects with your teammates through the cloud. Presentations such as Powerpoints can be uploaded to the cloud and accessed by employees or clients.

IBM Storage Solutions

IBM offers three different solutions for enterprise, ?Smart Business?, ?Smart Business Cloud? and ?Smart Business Systems.? The standard ?Business? offering is cloud storage on a pay-per-use basis. ?Business Cloud? services are built behind your firewall and allow for private virtual servers and applications. ?Business Systems? allow you to move applications and collaborate in the cloud.

Skytap

With a subscription model, Skytap is a powerful demonstration and ?proof-of-concept? cloud platform. It allows businesses to instantly show its clients an application, software idea or product through a virtual machine accessible by their web browser. Custom environments can be saved and tailored to a specific client?s needs. Multiple environments can also be deployed simultaneously to various customers. While a client explores the virtual machine, the host can have an ?over the shoulder? view of everything going on. This powerful tool is perfect for developers who deal with customers across the globe.

Dropbox

Possibly one of the most popular cloud services to date, the ease of use and simplicity make Dropbox a powerful tool for any user. You get 2GB of free storage and can upgrade to 50GB for $10 a month and 100GB for $20 a month. Dropbox works with both Mac and PC and has an app available for all major mobile platforms. Installing Dropbox on your computer creates a folder in a location of your choosing. Everything placed in the folder is synced to Dropbox automatically. You can also access your files through Dropbox.com and share large files with ease. The automatic syncing is great for backing up your important files and documents.

Google Apps

From TV to smart phones to Earth, Google has its hand in just about everything. It?s one of the few companies whose name has become a verb, ?just Google it.? Free to use, Gmail alone is worth admission. Its email organization and labeling, contact and calendar syncing works with every major mobile platform and integrates with numerous other cloud services. Google docs allows you to create, edit, upload, download, and collaborate on any number of documents in the cloud. Google reader is arguable one of the best RSS aggregators available and Google maps needs no introduction. While raw file storage is absent from Google apps, the sum of its parts place it ahead of the competition.

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