Cloud Storage


Files are stored in a variety of places. On a computer, on a flash drive, at work on a server. But what if you're at home and want to access a file at work? What if you can't find your flash drive? In this module we’ll take a look at the basics of using online file storage, focusing on two major players in the field: Dropbox and Google Drive. By the end of this module, you'll have your files wherever you are. 


After completing this module, you will be able to:
  • Understand what cloud storage means
  • Take advantage of setting up online file storage
  • Add and Delete files online
  • Syncing your files wherever you have access to the Internet
  • View files from a mobile device
  • Share your files with other users

What is Cloud Storage?

Note: the video references Dropbox, but Google Drive works in essentially the same way.

Dropbox vs. Google Drive

Dropbox started in 2007, so it's developed a strong following and has refined its product over the years. Google introduced Google Drive in 2012 and can catch up because the application is essentially integrated with its Google Apps program suite, accessible by anyone with a Gmail account. 

Activity #1: Exploring Dropbox and/or Google Drive

Check out both programs and decide which is best for you. You can even choose to use both (example: one for personal, one for work) if you'd like.  At ETHS, we have Google Apps for Education, so all faculty, staff, and students already have Google Drive accounts created. This gives Drive a slight advantage, but having used Dropbox for quite some time, I haven't completed migrated over to Google just yet, and I may not have the need to do so either.  

Explore/Download Links

Setting up your Online File Storage System

Once you have created an account using either of the two services, you'll be able to access your files anywhere and anytime you have access to the Internet. Note: there's no need to install anything if you plan to use the services through their websites.  For Dropbox, this would mean logging into and you would be able to see, edit, and manage your files. For Google Drive, this would mean logging into your Gmail account and then clicking on Drive in the navigation bar. 

For those that want to be able to quickly upload and sync files from their local computer to the cloud, that's where the download/installing comes into play. 

You download a file from your email at work and you want to access it at home.

Without Dropbox/Google Drive installed:
1) Save the file somewhere on your computer (e.g. desktop, downloaded files, network drive).
2) Log into Dropbox or Google Drive.
3) Upload the file attachment to your Dropbox or Google Drive,

With Dropbox/Google Drive installed:
1) Save the file directly into a folder or home folder in your Dropbox or Google Drive.
2) Allow time for the program to sync.

Activity #2: Setting up Dropbox and/or Google Drive

Check to see if you are able to download/install Dropbox and/or Google Drive on your computer. After installing, choose which folders you wish to keep in sync (or the default will be everything) with your local computer. This is commonly found in the Preferences of the application1. Let the syncing complete and look for a green checkbox icon for dropbox or a full color Google Drive icon.

Fig. 1: Dropbox and Google Drive icons in the taskbar

Adding, Deleting, and Sharing your Files 

With the program installed, Dropbox and Google Drive work much like any file explorer (or Finder on the Mac) application you've been using for years. Look for the icons in either the taskbar (or top bar for Macs) or as folders in Explorer or Finder. 

Once you open up either Dropbox or Google Drive, you will see your folder strucuture and you can copy/paste directly into these folders to add, open any files by double-clicking them, or deleting files through drag/drop or pressing the delete button (PC). 

In both Dropbox and Google Drive, you can share specific files and folders with individuals or groups of individuals. Look for file sharing options on the web version of both applications and use email addresses to share with other users. 

Activity #3: Add, Delete and Share some files

With either an installed application or using only the web version of either Dropbox or Google Drive, try adding, deleting and possibly sharing a file or folder of files.

Checking to Make Sure Everything's in Sync

As you are first starting out, I would recommend only syncing a few folders or still carry a backup USB flash drive.  Depending on your computer environment at home or work, the ability to sync all of your files may be limited.  Thus, check to see the sync status for either Dropbox or Google Drive by hovering over the icon in the Windows taskbar (or Mac notification bar on top of screen) and look for a message like "All files are up to date" (Dropbox) or "Sync Complete" (Google Drive).

TIP: If either application seems to be "stuck" and not syncing correctly, try the following:
  1. Closing or quitting the application and restarting or worst case scenario...
  2. Uninstall and re-install the application.

Activity #4: Verify you're connected and in sync

Try opening a document in your Dropbox or Google Drive.  Make a few changes and then press save.  Keep an eye on the status icon in the notifications bar, and you should see a message stating the a the file has been successfully synced.  This means you can access the most recently edited version wherever you have access to your Dropbox.  

Accessing Your Files from a Mobile Device

What about when you're not near your computer, but you have a fancy smartphone in your pocket or purse?  Both Dropbox and Google Drive have their own native applications for both Android and iOS devices.  Simply download and install and you'll be able to access your files on your mobile device.  Dropbox is integrated with a lot of third party apps, so you may be able to import/export work done on a mobile device to/from your Dropbox.  Google Drive has fewer connections as of now, but their application does allows you to edit documents directly through the application.

Activity #5: Install a Mobile App and Log In

If you have an iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) or Android device (smartphone or tablet), install Dropbox or Google Drive from the App Store or Google Play Store and log into your account. Within seconds, you'll be looking at the same files that you have access to from the Internet and your computer...on your mobile device!

Checking For Understanding

Are you now officially in the cloud?  Can you pull up your most recently edited document or presentation on your smartphone? 

Test your knowledge.   Take a quick quiz below and see how well you do.  Click on "Start Now" and receive immediate feedback on how you do.

Not satisfied with your learning progress?  Please submit a feedback or issues support form found on the bottom of this page.


1 - Dropbox calls this Selective Sync.