Backup your Essays with Cloud Storage

Using cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive to backup your work.

Protecting Your Work with the aid of Free Cloud Storage Services

Something like this happens every year:

It's 3 hours to the coursework deadline. You just need to make one or two final edits when... (choose one)

  • Nothing happens, nothing works – computer dead
  • Horrible grinding noises come from the hard disk inside the computer
  • Windows refuses to start properly telling you there are loads of problems with the system which can't be solved unless it's re-installed
  • The magic smoke escapes!
  • You drop your laptop on the floor – result (select one of the above)
  • Those of you who prefer to work with your files on a USB stick can look forward to a whole cornucopia of destructive forces: you lose the stick; put it in with the laundry; step on it; drop it in the toilet/sink/cider; the dog chews it... In fact USB sticks can provide some of the most brilliant and inventive ways of destroying data know to human civilization.

Or your computer works fine but when you open your essay:

  • Word says the file is corrupt. You try to open it but get nothing but strange characters
  • You open the file only to find that half the essay is missing – did you accidentally delete something last time out?

You now have three hours in which to recreate your essay from scratch – good luck with that!

Of course you already know that the way to take the grade damage out of the above scenarios is to make sure that you always keep a backup copy of your work somewhere other than your main working device and physically separated from it but we all know that this takes a little time and thought and when you are finishing an essay writing session just in time to run to a lecture or a bus or the bar, things like this can easily be forgotten. This is where cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Apple iCloud can come in handy.

The Essential Characteristics of Cloud Storage Services

Automatic Copy To Remote Storage

When you sign up for a cloud storage service you install an application on your computer and designate a folder to use as your storage folder. Any file you put in that folder will be automatically copied to remote storage provided the computer is connected to the net. If not, it will be synchronised the next time the computer is connected. You can use that folder for your work in progress then all you have to do at the end of any session is to save and close.

Automatic synchronisation to other devices

If you install the cloud storage application on other computers, pads or smartphones; any files you store in your synchronised storage folder will automatically be copied to your other devices. Edits made on one device will automatically be synchronised across your other devices whenever they are connected to the internet.

Access via Web Browser

When you are working on a computer on which you don't have the cloud service application installed you can access your files via a web page. This will allow you to download files to your computer, edit them locally and re-upload them or to create and upload new files to your storage area. The important thing to remember is to upload the files again when you have finished working on them since this is how you will most likely be accessing the files when working on a UCP Marjon lab computer. Don't get home to find you have forgotten to upload your work.

Free of Charge

Most cloud storage services offer free accounts for a limited amount of data. At the time of writing those limits vary from 2 to 7 Gigabytes. Here's a rough guide to how much data can be stored on 1 Gigabyte.

On one gigabyte you can store:

  • 1 feature film (actually not always practical as services have limits on size of individual files which can be stored and this may well be above those limits)
  • 200 songs in mp3 format
  • 200 to 1,000 photographs depending on the camera
  • 10,000 essays (no photos or diagrams)

The amount of free storage available on any of these services should more than cover the academic needs of most students.

Which Service is Best To Use?

That's one question I am not going to answer, nor am I going to describe the individual services in any great detail. There are two reasons for this:

  • These services are currently in hot competition with one another and the specifics of what they provide are changing and being added to all the time. Any advice I give you now based on the capabilities of each service will probably be out of date by the time you read this.
  • The best service for you will depend on what you want out of the service and which devices you need the service to support.

What about the N: Drive

As students who regularly log onto campus computers know, the University provides a network storage space for each student. This area is commonly referred to as the N: drive. You can access it in two ways:

When you login to a University computer on campus you will find your storage area in N:\MyWork This is where you should create and store documents while you are working on the computer.

If you are away from the University Campus you can locate the N: drive by logging in to our VPN (Virtual Private Network) through your web browser at This provides you with a secure encrypted connection into the University Network and you can then copy files between your local computer and your N: drive.

Some students will regularly work on University Campus computers either because they are required to use specialist programs which are installed on those computers or because they just prefer it. Those students will find the N: drive convenient as their primary storage and working area and we recommend that they make copies of important files either by uploading to cloud storage via the web browser or taking copies of the files onto USB drives or sticks. Those who do not regularly work on Campus computers might consider using the N: drive as a useful storage space for their academic work which is NOT automatically synchronised and thus relatively immune to accidental corruption or deletion.

Students should NOT attempt to install a Cloud Storage application on University computers. At best this will fail to work when the service refuses to accept a folder on a 'network' drive. At worst... well, things could get pretty horrible in all sorts of ways due to the way our computers are set up so only install a cloud storage software on your own equipment. On University equipment just access your storage via the web.

What can go wrong with cloud storage?

Two major issues come to mind:

You accidentally delete some important files

Most services keep deleted files for a while so if you pick up the problem reasonably quickly you just need to know how to display and retrieve them. On Dropbox for example if you go to your Dropbox web page there is a dustbin icon which you can click to toggle between showing and hiding deleted files.

You accidentally delete some text within a file or the file becomes corrupted and will not load properly.

This can be a more serious problem. If the service you are using keeps a version history of your files you may be able to retrieve a previous working version but to minimise the impact of this problem you should change the name of the file in every editing session. Like this:

  • Start work on your essay – open a blank document and save it as myessay-v1
  • At the START of every editing session open the last version and SAVE AS to save it with a new filename so you might go through myessay-v2, myessay-v3, myessay-v4 etc.
  • Get in the habit of doing this regularly. If you have written enough text to really hate it if you loose the new work then it's time to SAVE AS a new version.

Using such a system is a good idea whether you are using a cloud storage service or not. Just remember to always reopen the latest version, which is why using a numerical version system is a better idea than calling your files by more random names.

Remember that 1 gigabyte of storage can hold a lot of essays so it doesn't really matter how many versions of your essay or dissertation you keep. Unless you are putting large photographs into your essays or have your cloud storage space full of non-academic photos and videos then you are unlikely to run out of space. There are other software specific and more automatic means of making sure different versions are stored but unless you are completely confident with them nothing gives the reassurance of doing it yourself.

Last modified: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 12:35 PM