Never Enough Data Storage Space
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Never Enough Data Storage Space

by Tom McNichol

October 2012

With all of the cheap storage capacity that's available now, you'd think that users would never have to worry about running out of digital storage space. Well, not exactly. Even as storage capacity expands, the amount of data that users are generating is increasing exponentially - including everything from relatively tiny text documents and spreadsheets to heftier audio clips, video files, photographs, animations, and data from mobile devices. As fifty years of computer history have demonstrated, there's no such thing as too much storage space.

The availability of cheap storage turns out to be a particularly good deal for attorneys, who happen to toil in one of the most data-intensive professions in the world. Fortunately, there are several ways to address storage problems, depending on your particular needs.

First, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by buying a computer with plenty of storage space on its internal hard drive, the single most important storage component in your computer. Purchasing a computer with a high-capacity hard drive means you'll be less likely to need to tack on additional storage down the road.

A 320 gigabyte hard drive (on the low end of hard-drive storage capacity these days) can store up to 5,000 hours of digital music, or up to 80 DVD-quality movies. That may sound like a lot of space, but considering all of the other files, documents, applications, and downloads you're likely to have on your hard drive, it really isn't. Most users find it far better to invest in a computer with a hard drive that has at least 500GB of storage, and attorneys who store a lot of memory-hogging multimedia (audio, high definition video, and animations) will probably want an internal hard drive with at least a terabyte of storage space.

Adding extra storage to a desktop or laptop isn't actually difficult: All you need to do is plug the cable from an external hard drive into your machine's USB or FireWire port, then run a brief set-up dialog. The manufacturers of popular hard drives include Seagate, Western Digital, Iomega, and Buffalo Technology.

For not much more than $100, you can add an extra terabyte or so of data storage to your existing PC or Mac by attaching an external hard drive - a pretty good deal for the money. And backing up your files to an external hard drive gives you added protection when (not if) something bad happens to your internal hard drive.

If your storage needs are more modest - perhaps you just want to keep the data from a few big cases in one convenient place - your best solution may be buying a thumb-size flash drive that plugs into a USB port. Flash drives are now one of the least expensive computer peripherals on the market - you can purchase a serviceable model online for less than $10.

But because they are so small, they are also distressingly easy to lose. So as long as you're investing to protect your data (and your clients' confidentiality), it's smart to spend a little more for a flash drive that offers hardware encryption, a safeguard against unauthorized use. For example, Kingston's DataTraveler Locker+ USB Flash drive, available online for a little over $90, stores the data in encrypted form, requiring a password to unlock, in case the drive is lost or stolen.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in storage, though, is cloud storage - that is, storing digital data offsite on the servers of a third-party company. Quite a number of cloud storage services have entered the market in recent years, including Dropbox, Backblaze, Mozy, and Carbonite. You can use these services both to store data that doesn't fit on your hard drive and to back up data you're storing locally.

The big technology names have joined the cloud storage game as well, with Apple offering a service called iCloud and Microsoft touting a solution called SkyDrive. And last spring Google introduced Google Drive.

These services don't just store your stuff; they're also a good way to keep your files and settings synchronized across multiple devices such as your desktop, laptop, and smartphone. Any file you place on Google Drive, for example, will automatically be updated not just on the cloud server but also on all the other devices that you have connected to Google Drive. So if you're working on, say, a brief on your laptop at a coffee shop, you can store the document on Google Drive. When you access the file later on your smartphone or office computer, it will reflect all of the changes that have been made. You also have the option of sharing or collaborating on a file with other users you specify, or keeping them private.

Most of these cloud services give you a little taste for free and then charge you to store more data. Google, for example, lets you store the first 5MB of data free on Google Drive, but after that it will cost you, depending on the amount of storage you require. For example, an extra 25MB of storage costs $2.49 a month; an additional 400GB is $19.99 a month; and 1TB costs $49.99 a month. The ongoing expense of a cloud storage service is probably worth it if you plan to share and collaborate often with other attorneys and you want to access your files from multiple devices. But if you just need a lot of extra storage space for your desktop or laptop computer, you're likely better off with the one-time cost of purchasing an external hard drive.

The world of computers still has plenty of bugs, but digital storage is one area where advances in technology have brought solutions that are convenient and relatively inexpensive. When it comes to data, at least, you can take it with you.

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