What is Cloud Storage?

Cloud Storage is an offering that allows users to back up data to a server; hosted by a cloud service provider. This data is then available through any Internet-connected device via a user interface that is provided by the cloud vendor. Physical data storage, such as an external hard drive, can be lost or damaged. The physical data is at constant risk. Data in the cloud however, exists somewhat abstractly and cannot be fractured. Most service providers also offer redundant storage; in the unlikely chance one of their datacenters is hit by a natural disaster or power outage, the data will still be safe and available to the user through an identical storage in a separate datacenter. The result is a fast storage system that exists in at least three spaces at any given time. Most datacenters allow (at least) two highly secure physical spaces, along with the cloud/internet environment where users access their data.

Storage service providers will purchase all the necessary hardware to store and transfer all incoming and outgoing data. The cloud provider must efficiently share this hardware across thousands of customers. Cloud storage providers are able to load multiple customers to their servers while still achieving high efficiency, mainly by ensuring that the extra resources are dedicated to a specific customer that best fits the available resources.

There are two types of storage technologies available through cloud storage. These technologies are available for traditional storage systems, also:

  1. File Storage: file storage is the most common type of storage, due to its ease of configuration. Raw files can be stored easily, but there is a lack of customization. File storage is all-encompassing.
  2. Block Storage: block storage creates storage volumes. Each volume can be formatted separately and thus mimic an individual hard drive. Block storage is good for high levels of storage performance because it’s highly customizable, though it requires an attached OS to operate. While block storage is known to offer better performance than file storage, Internet-relative factors such as latency may limit the performance of the storage technology.

There are five main deployment methods of cloud storage: public clouds, private clouds, hybrid clouds, community clouds, and cooperative clouds. Public clouds are commercially available via the Internet. Private clouds use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to restrict data to a single corporation. The exclusivity of the private cloud is highly attractive to enterprises because the security can be better controlled than in a public cloud. Hybrid clouds use a combination of onsite hardware and outsourced cloud storage. Hybrid clouds are useful to firms who want to keep highly sensitive data in-house but are willing to use public cloud storage for less sensitive material. Community clouds are accessible by individuals within similar organizations or groups with common interests. These are popular amongst government agencies or workers in the medical field that need to share information. Finally, cooperative clouds share unused local storage in the cloud that other organizations can utilize. Members generally contribute disk space equivalent to the amount they expend.

There are several reasons why cloud storage is an increasingly attractive option. Key benefits include monetary savings, convenience, flexibility, and scalability. The costs associated with keeping the storage local are capital intensive; therefore, many firms look to the cloud to cut costs. This is especially true given the pay-as-you-go business model often employed by cloud storage providers. Cloud storage also provides convenience and flexibility because it is accessible via the Internet and allows data access from multiple locations, as well as multiple users. Customers can typically manage their storage service using a management console. The internet is a portable interface, such that data can be accessed at all times from a range of devices.

History & Trending

Cloud storage surfaced as a way for businesses to store more and more data as inexpensively as possible. Enterprises were gaining and storing data at a rapid rate, while the cost of the infrastructure and utilities necessary to store the data was growing at a costly rate. Massive amounts of data required expensive storage hardware. Enter the cloud storage model, where a third party provider stores all of data. This minimizes the investment in storage infrastructure, power, and dedicated management expenses.

In 2010, the EU invested €15.7 million ($20.7 million) into a 3 year program run by IBM researchers called Vision Cloud. This program will research cloud storage technologies and processes, while discovering new ways to store data as smart objects, among other goals. It makes sense that big companies with the most data are adopting cloud storage at the fastest rate, but this isn’t always the case according to research. A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group in 2011 found that mid-sized companies were the largest group to adopt the cloud for data storage at 48% of the cloud users surveyed. This was followed by small companies at 38%, and, finally, large companies were the smallest group at only 26% of the respondents. The top reason for cloud adoption was disaster recovery or backup, followed by the need to manage or reduce their increasing IT costs.