The term ‘cloud storage’ might sound like it has something to do with the weather – but it doesn’t. It’s a computing term, and one which we’ll explain in this article. We’ll also tell you why you should think about cloud storage and the advantages it offers over traditional physical data storage options.
We’ll go into more detail throughout this article, but if you want it put it simply then cloud storage is a highly convenient way of storing and accessing your data (so documents, photographs, video files – or, in fact, any kind of file). In this context ‘cloud’ means ‘online’. Your data is kept ‘in the cloud’ (ie. online but private) through a cloud computing provider. That provider manages and operates online data storage as a service.
Even more basically, ‘cloud storage’ refers to computer users saving data to an off-site / online storage system which is offered and maintained by a third party. So, instead of working on your documents and data on your computer and then saving it to your computer’s hard drive or other storage device, you save it to an online database. Your internet provides the link between your computer and the database.
Examples of online cloud storage providers which may be familiar to you are: iDrive, Mega, Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox and Mediafire. But there are loads more out there which offer similar services (initially for free) up to a size point and thereafter at various prices or subscription levels. So it’s worth shopping around. But what are the advantages of cloud storage?
There are some serious advantages to storing your documents in the cloud. For example, if you store on a cloud storage system, you can theoretically then access that data from any device which has internet access. The convenience of this cannot really be overstated. It means there’s no need to carry around a physical storage device, however small that device may be. Of course, there are many physical storage options (such as USB sticks or portable hard drives), but that still puts a physical object in the chain, so there is always the potential for loss or damage.
With the right cloud storage system, you can even allow other people to access the data. This means you can (for instance) store your holiday snaps ‘in the cloud’ and grant your friends and different family members access (via a link) so that they can have a look. Professionally, the advantage of this is quite obvious. It will allow you to turn a project into a collaborative effort, as colleagues or clients will be able to access drafts of work via a link, and offer you comments.
Okay, so nobody wants to upload their data and documents and find that unauthorised people have been able to see. In personal life this could be an invasion of privacy, and in business life it would mean sensitive information could be compromised. So, one of the biggest concerns about cloud storage is the security of it. Another is reliability.
First, security. To secure data, most cloud storage systems use a combination of techniques. These include:
This means that the cloud storage provider uses a complex algorithm to encode information. To then decode the encrypted files users need an encryption key. While it is possible to ‘crack’ encrypted information, it relies heavily on processing power, and so most hackers don’t have access to the amount of processing power they would need to decrypt information.
This is a straightforward process which requires users to create a username and password. Just about every account we have online these days has some form of authentication process in place. Just think about logging in to your email, or to your bank, or to that online retail account. All have a username and password combination unique to you – and cloud storage sites often have the same protocols in place.
The cloud storage user lists email addresses which are authorised to access information stored on the cloud system. Many larger companies have multiple levels of authorisation. For example, company Directors and HR officers may have extensive authorisation and access to files and information, whereas a ‘standard’ worker might have a very limited amount of access. Again, this variance model is applicable to cloud storage services, too.
Even when protective measures have been put in place, there are worries that data stored ‘in the cloud’ is vulnerable. But cloud storage companies invest huge amounts of money in ensuring their security measures are very tight, in order to limit the possibility of data theft or corruption.
The other big concern for many people about cloud storage is reliability. It would be unthinkable to store a large amount of data in the cloud and find out you have done so on a failure-prone system. While most cloud storage systems try to address this concern through redundancy techniques (i.e. spreading or duplicating the data onto multiple devices), there’s still the possibility entire systems could crash and leave users with no way to access what they have saved. Again, like with security, cloud storage companies invest a lot of money in ensuring the reliability of their entire systems.
Different cloud providers
Earlier on we mentioned a few different cloud storage providers, and in this next section we’ll take a look at what some of the differences between them might be, and a few other types of site which allow you to store data / documents.
Google Docs is a facility offered by a familiar name. It allows users to upload documents, spreadsheets and presentations to Google. Multiple users can access the same document and edit it using a Google application.
Photography sites such as Flickr or Picasa host many millions of digital photographs on behalf of their users. Their users create online photo albums by uploading pictures directly to the servers. Flickr and Picasa are a way to publicly store your photographs.
Web-based email is an efficient and convenient type of email account which you will find is accessible from any device. So you set up an email account with a provider such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!, and then access your email from any computer or device connected to the Internet. Strictly speaking this isn’t cloud storage, but the principle is the same – it’s web-based.
So, in short, how does it work?
Okay, so we’ve run you through quite a bit of information about cloud storage – but how does it work for a day-to-day user? Well, it’s incredibly simple. As an example, let’s say you take a photograph. You would save this photograph ‘to’ your cloud. Each provider may have a slightly different method of doing this, but it’s for definite that you will have to be signed in to your cloud account before you can either upload or download. It’s as simple as that!
As we mentioned in this article, your options when considering cloud storage are multiple. Have a search on the internet for cloud storage providers which offer you the kind of free / subscription packages which suit you, and then choose one. If, however, you are still looking for physical storage options then check Ebuyer’s website.