Cloud Storage is a method of storing computer data in logical pools on remote servers. Cloud storage can be physically hosted by third party cloud providers or can be hosted on on-premises servers and made available ‘as-a-Service’ to users within an organization. Cloud Storage providers are typically responsible for maintaining the physical security and availability of the data, such as utilizing encryption schemes to ensure data is kept confidential and that exfiltration does not occur.
Cloud Storage services can be accessed through applications such as Dropbox and OneDrive, which enable users to access data in folders as if they were on local storage devices, through application program interfaces (APIs), via web gateways or through content management systems CMS).
Cloud Storage pricing models vary widely. Many providers offer a low-priced or free ‘basic’ account with limited capacity. For example, Dropbox offers 2GB of free cloud storage and Microsoft includes 1TB of Cloud Storage with each Office 365 account. Other Cloud Storage providers such as Amazon AWS and Google Cloud Platform are charged based on the amount of storage used.
Most Cloud Storage providers also offer enterprise pricing models that include virtually unlimited storage and enhanced support for employees. Users and organizations have the option of changing plans – and providers – as their needs evolve.
There are two primary reasons why Cloud Storage has gained in popularity over the past several years. First, Cloud Storage providers offer the security of knowing that data is securely backed up, so that if a local computer fails the user data is secure at the cloud provider. Many Cloud Storage providers offer the ability to retrieve files accidentally deleted by the user as well as the option of retrieving past versions of a given file.
Second, Cloud Storage offers portability and convenience. Once stored in the cloud, data is accessible from virtually any device, anywhere, at any time. Users can access their cloud storage from an airport kiosk, office desktop, or smartphone from home. All that is needed is the correct user account information.
Cloud Storage is kept on servers that are connected to the internet. User data is often written to multiple servers for redundancy and to prevent data loss in case of failure. Users of cloud storage connect via the internet and use web portals, Cloud Storage applications, or APIs to access their Cloud Storage. Thus, if there is a large volume of data being uploaded and downloaded it is important to secure enough bandwidth (and network redundancy) to support an organization’s Cloud Storage access.
It is important to note that some Cloud Storage providers subject users to egress charges when data is downloaded from the provider, so it is important to understand all the charges involved in setting up a cloud presence.
Once an account is established, users can provision Cloud Storage:
By writing to Cloud Storage folders on their device
Utilizing a web interface and paying per transaction for storage used
Via subscription services that charge a flat monthly fee
Dynamically by the Cloud provider as needed.
There are two major types of Cloud Storage
Public Cloud Storage
Public Cloud Storage is available from a broad array of third parties on an ‘as-a-Service’ model. Hyperscale cloud providers such as AWS, Google, and Microsoft Azure all offer Cloud Storage for businesses, while Google, Dropbox, Box, Apple iDrive, Microsoft OneDrive, and a host of other companies offer subscription-based Cloud Storage services for both individuals and businesses.
On-premises private Cloud Storage is provided by network-attached storage devices or servers that run storage provisioning software. These private cloud offerings work the same way as cloud providers, offering virtual storage pools that appear as folders that are accessible by connected users.
The major difference between private and public cloud is which partyt bears responsibility for maintenance and upgrading of infrastructure. With Public Cloud Storage that responsibility belongs to the cloud provider. With On-premises storage, maintenance and upgrades are the responsibility of the end-user organization. Private cloud storage is often used by organizations concerned about security or by governance or regulatory demands that their storage be kept on-premises.
Organizations utilize five different cloud services on average, and the Covid-19 pandemic has helped to accelerate Cloud Storage adoption, simplifying storage and backup for work-from-home employees. Although no platforms offer 100% uptime, Cloud Storage providers have an excellent track record in preventing data loss or exfiltration. For example, Google utilizes two-factor authentication and SSL encryption for data transfers, Dropbox adds to that by encrypting data at rest using AES-256 bit encryption as well as protection for lost or stolen devices.
Every major Cloud Storage provider ensures end-to-end encryption, and Cloud Storage provider data centers are virtually impenetrable, with security measures that far exceed most corporate data centers.
One of the advantages of using hosted Cloud Storage is that no infrastructure is required to access data from client devices. Since the Cloud Storage provider is responsible for all the infrastructure, this effectively unburdens organizations from managing storage on-premises.
However, Cloud Storage can also be implemented on-premises. Network attached storage (NAS) can be considered cloud storage, and there are software companies that provide a Cloud Storage environment for on-premises servers. NAS devices are typically self-sufficient, and only require a network connection to be accessible to users. Other on-premises Cloud Storage solutions like Egnyte require a virtual machine (VM) to execute and local storage, such as a NetApp appliance.
Any Cloud Storage solution requires sufficient network bandwidth to manage the anticipated number of users and traffic volume.