We hear about the cloud all the time, but this doesn’t mean all of us really know what it is or what cloud storage is – exactly. This remains a relatively new service, so that’s actually pretty understandable. Nevertheless, what we want to do is clarify cloud services and really dig into an explanation of what they are all about. If you’re looking for a more in-depth look then you’ve arrived at the right place and after checking out this article, we’ve got a video for you that’s worth checking out and is surely going to help clarify things even further.
You’re going to see what cloud services are, what they are made of, how people and businesses use cloud storage, and why they are so important to us today. So let’s get started learning more so you can see just what a useful yet easy to understand service this really is.
The Basic Concept of Cloud Storage
First off, cloud storage – despite how it might sound – actually has nothing to do with weather patterns or the sky or anything like that. As cool as it might be, there are no huge floating disks of data drifting across the planet and blocking out the sun from time to time. Instead, cloud storage refers to remote locations where you can store digital data. We spend tons of time downloading all kinds of things and, Jonathan Strickland of How Stuff Works explains in a recent post it’s the third party cloud storage service that stores the data we send to it, because:
Instead of storing information to your computer’s hard drive or another local storage device, you save it to a remote database. The Internet provides the connection between your computer and the database.
That’s really the meat of the service, right there. Instead of having to keep huge stacks of compact discs or DVDs, thumb drives or external hard drives, you can rely on a quality cloud storage service, to handle the heavy lifting for you.
A service like this lets you access your files right over the web so there’s no physical media you need to keep up with. You pay a small monthly fee and you can store whatever amount of data the service allows.
You no longer have to delete files or whole folders if you don’t want to just to ‘make room’ and you can arrange your storage space however you like.
It’s a pretty sweet solution to the problem so many of us have. We spend so much time accumulating great digital photos, videos, documents and other data and then we run out of room to save it. Cloud services simply and efficiently meet that need.
Here’s that video we promised, it’s worth taking a look at, too, before we go on:
The Nuts & Bolts of Cloud Storage Services
There are many different varieties of cloud storage services out there today and each of the companies that you can choose from has something slightly different to offer.
There are smaller services like SOS Online Backup that focus on providing the kind of service that smaller businesses provide and are all about backup.
Then there are the ‘big name‘ vendors of cloud storage such as Amazon’s Cloud Drive that obviously have a massive brand behind them and provide more of a hands-off approach. Different approaches work for different people and also different situations.
Some services will be focused tightly on a specific kind of cloud storage. They might be about storing your email on the web, the way that Gmail.
Hotmail and Yahoo Mail are. They might be geared to helping you store and access videos the way YouTube or Vimeo does. Perhaps they even focus on digital image storage like Picasa or Flickr are known for. We might not think of these services as ‘cloud storage‘, but at their heart, this is what they do. The difference is that they are tightly centered around a certain kind of data.
So how does this data storage stuff work?
Well, in its simplest terms cloud storage is simply a place where your data is stored and then accessible to you via the web. You can upload what you want there and then download it any time you have a device connected to the Internet.
Obviously, real cloud storage services do much more than this and they have what are called data centers.
Essentially, these are large hard drives and sometimes there is a room full, other times the service’s data storage equipment could take up an entire warehouse.
The size depends on the nature of the service, who their clients are and how much data they intend to store.
Just having data stored, however, is not good enough. Most services are going to make sure they keep multiple copies of your data stored and that the equipment they store it on has a variety of different power supplies.
That way, if one supply of power goes out, the other will likely stay on and your data will not be lost. Strickland explains the concept like this:
Cloud storage systems generally rely on hundreds of data servers. Because computers occasionally require maintenance or repair, it’s important to store the same information on multiple machines. This is called redundancy. Without redundancy, a cloud storage system couldn’t ensure clients that they could access their information at any given time.
In addition, these services have to keep their facilities safe from threats such as human intruders who might want to steal or sabotage the data they store.
They must protect it from fires by keeping these servers cooled properly and all the wiring in the facility must be carefully engineered to support the whole operation.
This is a lot of work and it’s what you pay for when you subscribe to a service.
How Your Data in Cloud Storage is Kept Secure
Naturally, people remain concerned about whether cloud storage services are as safe as they’re made out to be.
The truth is that they offer solid protection that’s stronger than many people believe, especially if you go with a security-focused service like SpiderOak.
As much as reliability is an issue, most companies realize the market is crowded so they had better prove to be reliable to their customers or they’ll lose them pretty fast to competitors.
One of the first things that people need to realize the security of cloud storage services is that while a company can guarantee your data will be secure, real life is still in effect. As Strickland explains, there’s no accounting for human behavior whether or not you store data in the cloud:
Hackers could also attempt to steal the physical machines on which data are stored. A disgruntled employee could alter or destroy data using his or her authenticated user name and password.
Cloud storage companies invest a lot of money in security measures in order to limit the possibility of data theft or corruption.
At some point, we take the best security measures we can and we hope for the best. That said, cloud storage services have quite powerful security that all starts with authentication.
This is the process where you set up a username and a password for your account. If you make a strong password and your user name isn’t too obvious, you’ve put up a barrier by doing that.
Next comes encryption which is data coded using an algorithm that can only be decoded with the proper encryption key which you will store.
Hackers would need a whole lot of computing power to actually crack even modest encryption. Finally, the last level of protection is authorization which means in cases where security appears to be in jeopardy, the company can ask you to verify your identity to a trusted member of their staff.
Usually, there are levels of authorization so that not all employees could have access to your stored data.
All of these layers of protection work to safeguard your data and make cloud services a reliable, secure alternative to keeping your data on other media.
Your Experiences with Cloud Storage Services Matter to Us
What consumers have to say about the services they use really does matter. When we share experiences, we help others learn more than any company’s marketing could ever tell us about what they really have to offer. As Strickland says:
Cloud storage companies live and die by their reputations. It’s in each company’s best interests to provide the most secure and reliable service possible. If a company can’t meet these basic client expectations, it doesn’t have much of a chance — there are too many other options available on the market.
We agree with this and that’s why we provide our own reviews here on InstPhil.org for you to benefit from, as well as maintain our best cloud storage page.
We also love to hear your personal stories about services you’ve done business with. You can feel free to comment on this post and share any experience, good or bad, that you’ve had with a cloud storage service.
Let your voice be heard because you never know who could end up benefiting from it.
About Author: Clearance – a partner for a long time of InstPhil.org
Clarence is a serial technology junkie. Having spent the previous 15 years serving as a Network Engineer for various IP enabled technologies from Cisco UM to Online Cloud Storage companies. Clearance is now an avid writer for both this site as well as CloudStorageComparisons.com.