The cloud storage wars are heating up. Microsoft now offers 1 TB of cloud storage along with Office 365, and both Dropbox and Google are offering 1 TB at just $10 per month. Flickr even offers 1 TB for free.

But the real reason companies are offering so much storage is because they know most users will never actually use anything near 1 TB of storage. Here’s how you actually could.

Back Up to the Cloud!

Backing up all your stuff directly to cloud storage services like Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive was previously not a great idea. These services didn’t offer a lot of storage. Instead, it was better to use dedicated online backup services like CrashPlan, BackBlaze, or Carbonite. These services are designed for backups and offer more than enough storage for backups.

With cloud storage becoming so much cheaper, backing up directly to a cloud storage location is now a very decent idea. You don’t need a separate online service for your backups. Unfortunately, the backup tools integrated into Windows won’t help much — File History on Windows 8.1 can’t back up to OneDrive, for example.

Instead, you could just store all your important files inside your cloud storage folder so you’d never lose them. Or, you could use backup tools that would automatically create copies of your important files in your cloud storage folder so they’d be synced and backed up online. There are many tools that do this. For example, FreeFileSync can work well — it’s like the open-source, modern successor to Microsoft’s classic SyncToy application. Cobian Backup is another often-recommended one. Any backup tool that lets you back up to an arbitrary folder on your computer — select your cloud storage folder here — will work.

Upload High Resolution Photos

Be sure you upload the original, high-resolution copies of your photos whenever you upload them to a storage service. Smartphone apps and photo-uploading programs are often configured to shrink photos you take before uploading them to save on space. With 1 TB available — whether it’s at a generic cloud storage service or Flickr — you don’t need to shrink your photos ahead of time. Be sure they’re set to upload at their “original size.”

These services can automatically upload photos from your smartphone, whether you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or even a Windows Phone.

If you take photos with a normal digital camera and copy them to your desktop PC or laptop, you can also use a tool to automatically upload them to your cloud storage service. For example, Dropbox will offer to automatically upload photos when you plug in a camera or SD card with photos.

RELATED: What Data Does Android Back Up Automatically?

Upload Your Music Collection

The web is full of music locker services like Amazon Music and Google Play Music, but you can also use your cloud storage service as a music locker. Even if you have hundreds of gigabytes of music — hopefully all ripped from legitimately acquired CDs, of course — you can upload it all to your cloud storage service. You can then download it to all your PCs or access the individual music files and play them in a browser.

This method may not be as “slick” as a cloud storage with their nicer web interfaces and mobile apps, but it gives you an easy way to sync that music collection between all your computers. Every computer you sync it to will get a full offline copy, and your files won’t be automatically converted to a worse-sounding-but-smaller music format. If you ripped all your CDs to lossless FLAC files, you can keep all those FLAC files and access them from anywhere.

Store — But Don’t Sync — Large Files

There’s a good chance you have an archive of large files. Maybe it’s a media library, hundreds of gigabytes of old photos, massive amounts of home movies, back-up copies of your physical discs in ISO form, or whatever else. All these files can be stored online in your cloud storage service — there should be more than enough room.

To save space on your local computers — after all, you probably don’t want to sync that entire 1 TB back to each computer you use — you can tell the cloud storage service to only synchronize specific folders. You can then download the files using a browser when you need them. To upload new files to these unsynced folders, you can also just use your storage service’s browser-based uploader.

Microsoft’s OneDrive is a bit smarter about this on Windows 8.1, and it will automatically present all your cloud storage files, only downloading them when you open them or ask for them to be downloaded. Other services, like Dropbox and Google Drive, automatically download all your files by default.

Use it as a File Server

You can also use your cloud storage as a sort of file server. You can configure certain folders in your cloud storage as “Public” folders, or just share individual files and make them public. You can then give the links to people and they can access the files in their browser. This allows you to share your files with friends, or even host them as if they were on public server — no need to fiddle with typical public-photo-uploading or file-hosting services. Of course, your cloud storage service will only want to provide so much download bandwidth, so you can’t let hundreds of thousands of people download your files with this method!

You can also share files with just specific users of the same service, so you and your friends or colleagues could share folders with each other. They’d just be accessible to the user accounts you select, not everyone online with the link.

Receive Files From Anyone

RELATED: How to Send Large Files Over Email

You can also use your large amount of online file storage to receive files from other people. Simply set up a Dropbox Form with Jotform or a Google Apps Script to receive files in Google Drive. Anyone — even people without a Dropbox or Google account — can then access the web form and upload files. The files will appear in your cloud storage service where you can access them later.

This method could be useful if you’re a business dealing with clients and you want to give them a way to easily give you files, but it could also allow you to easily receive files from friends. In the past, you might have worried that these files might suck up your limited amount of cloud storage — but no more. This also allows you to bypass the file size limitations of email attachments without relying on yet-another file-hosting service.

These are just a few ideas to use all that space, so you’re not letting that cheap 1 TB of storage go to waste. Remember to obey the service’s terms of service — this means no using your cloud storage service to store pirated files, and especially not to distribute them via public links!

Image Credit: theaucitron on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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