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What to consider before signing up for Google Drive

By Lucas Mearian

Think about where your data lives now and the apps you use

Just as with an Apple product launch, Google has had to do next to nothing to create buzz around its long-awaited Google Drive cloud storage service. The latest: Google Drive will launch next week.

Of course, prognosticators have predicted much the same thing numerous times in the past, predictions that turned out to be wrong.

“Frankly, Google has been out to lunch on this,” said Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research. “The real question is: What took you guys so long? And have to got anything original or is this a ‘me too’ play.”

Regardless of whether Google Drive does indeed launch soon, would-be users need to ask themselves a number of questions about their needs before choosing a cloud storage service.

Google Drive will likely have many of the same features of other cloud storage and file synchronization services, such as data encryption and the ability to edit a file on one device and have those changes automatically appear on every other device you own.

Details matter

There are nuances, however, to each service. For example, are you the only keeper of a password, or will the service you choose also have a password — and thus, access to your data if the government requests it?

It’s also important to know where your applications and data live now; That could point you in the direction of the service best suited to your needs.

“Rather than running out and signing up for Google Drive, ask yourself where you already have your email and content. You may already have a relationship with a company that does what you need,” Gillett said.

For example, if you’re already using Apple’s iLife suite of apps, then you can take advantage of iCloud. While iCloud doesn’t offer synchronization of arbitrary files, it does support the iWorks suite.

“If you’re deep into Microsoft and use the Windows Live Essentials or SkyDrive, that already does a chunk of those services,” Gillett said. “If you’re way into Google, then Google Drive will make sense.”

Liz Conner, an analyst with market research firm IDC, said cloud storage and synchronization service users should know exactly what the service is doing with their data. For example, does it replicate your files to their cloud, or actually migrate the data?

Where’s your stuff?

“Be aware of the location of the file. When you put stuff into DropBox, it’s no longer on your computer; it’s been uploaded,” she said. “Many people are unaware of that. Once they realize…it’s no longer on their computer, but in a third-party data center, some people don’t necessarily like that.”

Conner also advises users to find out how a cloud storage provider might use their data. “I don’t want someone data mining by information for purposes I didn’t intend it to be used for,” she said.

You may want to know whether the cloud storage service runs its own infrastructure, or if it uses another cloud storage provider’s data center? Do you care?

DropBox is thought to be on Amazon Web Services and SugarSync is rumored to run its own infrastructure, Gillett said. “Do you feel better that they’re using an established third party that a lot in the industry have vetted…or would you rather not see them on Amazon?,” he said.

If you’re outside of the U.S. and want to make sure your data is not subject to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, you may want to make sure your files are not within the country’s borders.

Many devices, one service?

Today, many consumers have more than one device running on different OSes, such as a Windows laptops, an Apple iOS device or maybe an Android phone. Make sure the vendor supports the devices you currently have — or may want in the future.

“My whole house Mac, so the Apple iCloud makes more sense for us,” Conner said. “If your house is more of a mix, Android and iPhones, maybe a more OS-agnostic service would be better suited to your needs.”

Leading cloud storage providers such as DropBox, Box, SugarSync and YouSendIt, support multiple OSes, both mobile and desktop.

It’s also good to find out who the service is targeting. While Box still offers consumer-class services, it has gone after corporate users with features an IT administrator would want, such as the ability to remote wipe documents from mobile devices and manage access to corporate servers.

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