What is “Cloud Storage?” You’ve probably heard of DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud. These are all systems for Cloud Storage of your files, any kind of computer files. There are also cloud storage systems like Flickr and Google Photos that are specifically designed for storing your photo files.
Cloud storage means using the Internet (aka the “web”, aka the “cloud”) to store your files rather than a computer’s hard drive. Sometimes it means using the Internet AND your computer’s hard drive – they synchronize with each other so that the cloud copy and the computer copy stay the same. Make revisions on one, and the system revises the other. The beauty of that type of system is that, when you don’t have an Internet connection, you still have your files on your computer; and when you don’t have your computer, you can get to your files on the Internet. Systems like DropBox take care of keeping the files in sync automatically.
Do you know your Account ID?
So, let’s say you don’t have your computer – you’re at a friend’s house, or a colleague’s office – and you need one of your files. How do you get it?
- You need to know which system is storing it: DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, etc. Go to that system’s website, e.g. DropBox.com
- You need to know your account information. These systems store files for millions of people, they know which files are yours by your account information. An account is usually identified by an email address and a password.
Think of Cloud Storage Accounts like Bank Accounts
It’s like keeping your money in a bank. To get your money, you need to know which bank it’s in. You also need to know your account number. If you walk into a Wells Fargo bank and give them the account number from Bank of America, you’re not going to get your money!
Now, imagine that you know your bank is Chase, and you walk into a Chase bank. In the lobby there are colorful balloons, and a sign that says you could win a free trip to Fiji with an account and a $200 minimum balance. You say why not?! You fill out the form and hand over $200 – not realizing that you have just opened a second account. You start writing checks with the new checkbook you got and wonder why they soon start bouncing when you know you have thousands of dollars at Chase Bank. Yes, but that money is in a different account!
I’ll bet you’re saying, I would never do that! Ah … but this ‘multiple accounts’ issue happens all the time in the world of technology and Cloud storage accounts – probably because it’s all invisible. You don’t get a checkbook with the bank’s name and the account number written on it.
It’s up to you to remember what service you signed up for, what email address you provided as your account identifier, and what files you are storing there.
Google Accounts = One Account, All of Google
Let’s say you’ve been keeping your photos online in a Google account (starting with Picasa Web Albums, now Google Photos) for years. Your username (email address) and password are stored on your computer so you never need to remember it. You just know that when you want to see your pictures, you click on a certain button. But I know that the key is your Google Account email address and password. Now, it’s time for you to buy a new phone. You get an Android phone and the conversation with the salesperson goes something like this:
Salesperson, “To finish setting up your phone, we need to enter your Google account username and password.”
You, “I don’t know my Google account username and password.”
Salesperson, “No problem, we’ll just make a new one for you – it’s free.”
Next time you want to look at your pictures, they’re not there! Why? Because it’s all part of one Google Account, your email, calendar, Google Drive files and your photos. They’re all stored on Google’s servers under an account. If you’re signed in to the wrong account, you won’t see the files you expect.
Microsoft Account Controls OneDrive
The same is true for your Microsoft account. If you buy a new Windows 10 computer you will be prompted for your Microsoft account when you set it up. Many people don’t know they have a Microsoft account so they follow the prompts to create a new one. When they try to view their files on OneDrive, they’re in for a shock when the OneDrive folder is empty! That’s because OneDrive is a Microsoft cloud storage service where your files are stored under your account!
Keeping your Accounts Straight
I think it is unfortunate that these systems allow you to set up an account with any email address. That means you can set up a Microsoft account by giving them a Gmail (Google mail) email address. Personally, I find that confusing. I’ve made sure to set up my Microsoft account using a Microsoft email address – that means @outlook.com or previously @hotmail.com. My Apple iCloud account uses an @icloud.com email address. Actually, I wish that online accounts followed the same procedures as banks and issue you an account ID number. Then, you could change your email as often as you like – your account ID would not change.
With systems like DropBox that do not offer their own email system, I have my default personal email @gmail.com or my work email @GeeksOnTour.com. Be especially careful using a work email address on any system where you may want to continue having access to those files even after you no longer work there. I have a friend who is an entrepreneur and she decided she didn’t like the website name she had chosen. Let’s say that she had a business with a web address of ITrainCats.com. She used that for her email address as well, Beverly@ITrainCats.com. When she decided to change to ITrainDogs.com she also changed her email address, not realizing it, she lost access to several cloud storage services which were using her old email address as her account ID.
Keep it Straight! Write it Down!