What is Cloud Storage?
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.
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What are the Benefits of Cloud Storage?
- Enhanced Collaboration. Files and data shared in a Cloud Storage folder provide instant sharing between team members. Many Cloud Storage providers support simultaneous file updates by multiple users, for real-time editing and collaboration. Cloud Storage provides an excellent alternative to sending large files – only a link needs to be shared for instant access to even the largest files and folders.
- Ubiquitous Access. Cloud Storage typically is simple to use, with drag-and-drop uploads and downloads performed via intuitive user interfaces. Users gain access to their cloud-based data from any device, anywhere there is a broadband connection to the internet.
- Security. Cloud Storage providers offer multiple layers of data security. First, data is typically replicated to multiple availability zones to guard against failures. Second, data is typically encrypted to prevent unauthorized access of data, even if the cloud provider’s servers are compromised.
- Savings. Cloud Storage eliminates the need to maintain servers, storage, and network devices on-premises, and outsources storage management to the Cloud provider. Enterprises need not use manpower and resources to manage the infrastructure lifecycle, nor to be concerned with OS updates for these devices. Users and enterprises can enjoy a predictable monthly expense without the management headaches.
- Automated Backups. By utilizing Cloud Storage folders for all data storage, users and organizations benefit from automatically backing up all their data. Although many Cloud Storage providers create folders on a local physical drive for off-line access, data written to a Cloud Storage folder is automatically uploaded to the cloud provider’s servers, protecting data from user device failure.
- Multi-Device Synchronization. Files created on one device can be synchronized with other devices that utilize the same Cloud Storage account when that device is powered up and connected to the internet. For example, a user need only power up his laptop before leaving on a business trip to automatically synchronize chosen folders with his files created on his desktop machine. Any changes made on the laptop will automatically be synchronized back to the desktop.
- Scalability. As user or organizational needs change Cloud Storage can accommodate with virtual instantaneous provisioning of required storage as needed. No need to buy new storage devices or servers.
Why is Cloud Storage important?
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.
How does Cloud Storage work?
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.
How safe is Cloud Storage?
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.
What is the infrastructure needed for Cloud Storage?
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.