Thing 17: Cloud storage


If you’ve been using any sort of web-based service – and 23 Things has covered many of them – then you have been working in the Cloud. That is to say, you have been saving documents, images, and other files on external servers and accessing them via the internet.

Not only can you store documents online, but you can share them with others and even collaborate (live and simultaneously!).

The Cloud

Our present approach to saving and storing files and working with other people is a product of decades-old technology setups.

We’ve been forced to store our files locally, on hard drives, and emailing them to other people when collaborating or sharing. This approach is problematic:

  • Keeping track of multiple versions of the same document when working with other people is difficult and frustrating

  • Emailing round updated copies every time even a minor edit is made is a waste of what could otherwise have been productive time.

  • Losing all of our data whenever a computer or device is lost, stolen, or damaged is a genuine risk.

  • Moving between different devices means that you have to transfer your own work manually (by USB drive, emailing them to yourself, etc.).

In response to these problems, many of the tools we have already covered in 23 Things store your files in dedicated computers (servers) owned by the creators of the tools: the “Cloud.”

For example, RefWorks from Thing 15 saves your work to their server. Your blog is stored on the servers of WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr. In addition, the Cloud doesn’t just refer to the files you create – the programmes themselves are often not installed on your device. Instead, you access the programme through a web browser.

Save and Sync

A number of services are available that let you store documents online and access them from any other internet-connected device. Here’s a comparison of these services:

Size Cost (accurate at time of publishing) Mobile?
Google Drive (Google) 15GB free. $100GB for $1.99 or 1TB for $9.99. You already have unlimited free storage on Google Drive using your under the University’s ‘Google Apps for Education’ programme. Yes. Remember you need to install the individual apps if you intend to do any editing on your mobile device. e.g Google Docs, Google Slides etc.
OneDrive (Microsoft) 15GB free 100GB for $1.99 per month, 200GB for $3.99 or $6.99 for 1TB, which also includes the subscription to Office 365, Microsoft’s ‘cloud’ solution. Yes
iCloud Drive (Apple) 5GB free Choice of 4 monthly plans that range from $1.29 for 20GB to $24.99 for 1TB. Integrates very well – but only with Apple devices running iOS 8.
Dropbox 2GB free One further choice – $9.99 per month for 1TB Yes
Box 10GB free but individual files limited to 250MB Similar to Dropbox, although more of a business solution. Different plans for multiple users and a choice of admin dashboards. Yes


Personal security is a key concern when using cloud storage and collaborative cloud tools. They provide us with some wonderful affordances but these also bring extra risks that we as users need to be aware of and mitigate.

  • Always use appropriately constructed passwords and not duplicate passwords across cloud accounts. See Thing 2!
  • Do not rely solely on cloud storage. Undertake regular backups of your documents, photos, and other files to hard media such as hard drives or home network drives.
  • Do not put anything of a personal nature in the cloud, such as personal photographs you would not want viewed publicly, or private data such as bank details, passwords etc.
  • Check to ensure that your devices are not set to automatically back up data such as images that you may not want online.

Using the Cloud has the potential to create legally confusing situations where most cloud data is stored in the USA and US laws often apply. There is no institutional control over the storage and they are arguably inherently less secure because of the potential for sole reliance on one password that can be used to access data from anywhere.

The most secure and private way of preserving your data is still to purchase an external hard drive and back up your files there. These are very cheap for a huge volume of storage, but if the hard drive is lost or stolen you can still lose your data.

To get around that issue, the very best practice would be to purchase a second external hard drive and copy the contents of the first one onto it. You should then update both at the same time and keep them in different physical locations (for example, one at home and one at the office).


In the present iteration of the Human Participants Ethics Guidebook there are no hard requirements around cloud storage, although it is updated on three yearly term with the next update scheduled for 2016.

In general, given the above discussion on security, the key thing for the researcher to consider is the sensitivity of the data they are intending to work with using cloud tools. For example, if the data involved patient records for a medical trial, then it would be reasonable to expect the data to be stored in encrypted form, using secure protocols to transfer data, and local secure storage. This would rule cloud tools out.

The researcher should make clear their intentions regarding the storage and processing of participants data in their Human Ethics application. The UoA Code of Conduct discusses the issue of cloud computing and data generated from research:

“Data relating to human participants must be retained in a manner that maintains the privacy and confidentiality promised in the informed consent document. The issues and risks of retention of data in ‘the Cloud’ must be specifically considered and addressed. Data relating to individuals must be kept in secure storage, whether physical or electronic, which complies with the above requirements”

try-this-iconTry this

Once again, we are combining the activities for two Things. To see the combined activity, read on to Thing 18: Collaborative tools.

explore-further-iconExplore further

The university’s new LMS, Canvas, is itself cloud-hosted. If by some chance New Zealand were to disappear into the ocean, the university’s course material would still be online.

“the student has more opportunities for self-organized learning, by freely choosing applications and contents from the cloud suited to their learning needs and objectives. In some cases, they even become creators of their own learning environments, mashing-up tools and combining learning contents of their choice”
José A. González-Martínez, J. A., Bote-Lorenzo, M. L., Gómez-Sánchez, E., & Cano-Parra, R. (2015). Cloud computing and education: A state-of-the-art survey. Computers & Education, 80, 132-151. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.017

Search across your Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote accounts at the same time:


We didn’t adapt any other courses for this Thing.

Header image: TheaucitronFlickrCC By-SA 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Faculty logo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s