(This blog was written by my wonderful wife, Jennifer, and I asked if I could post it under her byline. These two products, DropBox and CrashPlan, are cool apps for church IT. Check them out)
I'm no expert on IT issues, but I've done some independent research lately on electronic file backup and storage options for homes and small businesses. It seems to me that these solutions might also be helpful to churches. There are a number of options out there, and many bloggers and tech review sites offer opinions/reviews. When I research things online, I prefer to consider a combination of review types because I like to look for consistencies among them. Bloggers tend to be individuals who offer advice based on personal experience; tech sites usually offer composite reviews either from other users' experiences or from their own tests. I'm careful not to pay attention to those sites that are sponsored by software companies or related online services, as they likely present biased opinions depending upon their sponsors.
That said, I've discovered there are two really amazing online services offering extremely affordable solutions for storage and file sharing (I say they're amazing because to some degree they are free, and they offer a lot of helpful features even at no cost to the user). The two I find most interesting and promising are Dropbox and CrashPlan. At first, I thought I'd want to choose between one or the other; what I discovered, though, is that they are two different animals.
This isn't a tech blog, so I won't list specific plans and options. You can check those out by doing an online search of your own (try entering "CrashPlan vs. Dropbox" or some similar text, and you'll find all that). Dropbox is a free, online service that allows you to store up to 2GB of files in their cloud (you can purchase more space if you need it) and access those files from any of your devices--and it syncs them automatically in real time. You can also share folders with other Dropbox users--a huge plus for people working on a project together. I use Dropbox on my iPad, iPhone, iMac, and PC laptop. There's an Android app for it too, and all their software and apps are free. Because I work both from home and an office, I am able to keep folders with all my work files in Dropbox and work on them no matter where I am, and they sync automatically to all my devices. I use Word and Excel files almost exclusively, though I do put some some photo files there, and after about a year I'm still using only 3% of my available free space. If you use multiple devices for your work and haven't tried Dropbox, you simply must take a look at it. It also allows you to access your files using your password via their website, and you can do that from any computer when you're online at any location.
CrashPlan is an efficient and inexpensive way to back up all the files on your computer. They offer a free plan that allows you to back up from one computer to another (if you want to back up, say, from your home to your office computer), but if you want to use their online (off-site) storage cloud, you have to subscribe. Their top plan for users who have up to 10 computers--with unlimited file storage--is only $72 per year. You can set the backups to occur as often as you want (they recommend nightly, but you can do it more often if you choose). CrashPlan is more secure than Dropbox, as everything is encrypted.
Many reviewers recommend using both of these services together. The one caution is about Dropbox and its security; if you are dealing with highly sensitive, confidential information, you probably won't want those files on Dropbox. Even though they are accessible only to your devices on which you've loaded the software, anyone who uses your devices can access them. I plan to check out CrashPlan's free trial soon and potentially use it to back up all my computers. With these great options available, I seriously wonder about the need for organizations to maintain local servers and whether we'll see a change in that practice in the future. But as I said, I'm not an IT expert. I just enjoy finding and using new options in technology that make my work more efficient, secure, and simple.