Sufyan bin Uzayr, Freelance Writer, Graphic Artist, Photographer, www.sufyan.co.nr
Cloud storage provides organisations an easy and reliable medium of collaboration, storage and backup. Not only does it foster easy retrieval of files, it saves a lot in terms of cost and expenditure.
Ccloud based storage referrs to the storage of data over the ‘cloud’ — hosted elsewhere on third party hardware. As users, we simply pay for the disk space on the cloud. The maintenance of the hardware is done by the cloud provider. Unlike local storage, we do not physically manage the hardware or storage medium. Cloud-based storage is applicable in a wide variety of fields — with individual users storing their documents and pictures online to businesses running collabrative programs over the cloud.
Cloud Based Storage: The Good, The Bad
For personal usage, even Google Docs and Dropbox can suffice as viable cloud-based options. However, for organizations, such free options do not essentially exist so easily.
Budget: Cloud-based storage has its own share of costs in terms of the price paid for the space on the disk in the cloud. This price, however, is much lesser than that spent on maintenance of the local storage hardware and other expenses. Cloud-based storage, thus, is cheaper.
Portability: If your enterprise works on document collaboration and team work, cloud-based storage can be ideal as it is share and co-edit documents and other files. All you need is an active Internet connection, and off you go, irrespective of the location!
No-Frills Attached: Generally, cloud-based storage requires that a third party takes care of the storage server and other related elements. As a result, the end users can simply concentrate on the task at hand rather than worrying about the background maintenance.
The ‘Right’ Pick: Picking a cloud-based server is much like betting on a horse in the race course — the most promising horse might just collapse half-way in the race and the dark horse might emerge victorious. Similarly, the storage provider itself may run into bad business and this will adversely affect its ability to deliver good service to you. While this factor can often be reduced by opting for the well known names in cloud-based storage, certain chances of error always exist — even cloud servers belonging to giants such as Microsoft have gone offline for as much as two days owing to server outages.
Privacy and Usage Issues: Ever since the inception of cloud, there have been concerns about the usage and privacy policies. Cloud-based storage is not the ideal pick for sharing or storing sensitive data such as payment info and login credentials for users, etc.
Some Strings Attached: The plans catered for your usage do come with scope for seamless collaboration and working over the cloud, at times such plans themselves become victims of logical handicaps — an internet failure brings work to a stand still, for instance. Further more, if you decide to opt for a provider from outside your country of operation, you should bear in mind that the data you store is also subject to laws of the provider’s home country.
Local storage, on the other hand, refers to storing of one’s data locally on one’s own hardware.
Pros: Your data stays with you and no one else. Unless your storage medium gives you really big issues, there isn’t much scope for anything going wrong here, such as server outage. Plus, you can keep your data as secure as you wish to. With local storage, you are the absolute master of both the data and the storage media.
Cons: Physical hardware tends to require more investments than cloud — the initial cost of setting it up, and then the recurring maintenance costs. Also, if you ever run short of space, upgrading on the cloud can be as easy as purchasing a newer plan, whereas upgrading on local media might require addition/upgrading of hardware. Local storage comes with little scope for collaboration, especially if your users are geographically diversely located. Similarly, data is rarely portable — you cannot carry the storage medium anywhere. Once deployed, it’s deployed!
How ‘Secure’ is it?
When it comes to local storage, security is pretty simple — store data on a robust hardware, protect it well, and you’re done!
Cloud security has two variants, Provider Security and End-User Security. The first one, as the name suggests, refers to the state of security at the cloud provider’s end. While most cloud service providers leave no stone unturned to ensure that their servers are fully secure, often times unfortunate things happen. However, ruling out such exceptional disasters, in general cloud-based solutions are quite secure in their own right. Not only are the storage media RAID protected, but the access to users’ data also passes through levels of permissions and encryptions.
Interestingly, most cloud-based storage solutions suffer from compromised security at the end user’s level, not the provider’s. At times, users tend to use rather weak passwords and user names, or end up storing data in vulnerable formats. As a result, the moral here is that cloud or local, a storage medium’s security lies in the user’s hands to a great degree. The belief that cloud-based solutions are ‘vulnerable’ to security threats is a myth.
Major Cloud-based Storage Options
CommVault Simpana: It is a scalable unified platform that offers backup, recovery, archiving, replication and many other features. The added benefit of Simpana’s cloud services is its de-duplication feature.
Zetta: Apart from cloud-based storage, Zetta offers offsite backup facility and data sync as well as replication. So in case the cloud storage mechanism fails, you can be sure that your data is safe offsite and will be restored in no time.
Symantec Cloud: Symantec Cloud offers a secure cloud-based storage system which, though robust and dependable, seems to be on the costlier side.
RISC Cloud: RISC Cloud offers encrypted backups and file transfer, and is one of the few cloud hosts that let you map entire networked environments over the cloud.
Amazon S3 Cloud Drive: Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) is a low cost data storage service that comes with its own web management interface and APIs.
ADrive Enterprise Cloud Storage: ADrive lets you stream and backup your data over secure VPN connections. You are provided with data mirroring and multiple connectivity protocols such as HTTP, FTP and WebDAV.
StorSimple: It offers multiple recovery points, automated backups and file-level recovery. So even if you mess something up, you can always restore your data.
Egnyte Enterprise Cloud: Egnyte is similar to Dropbox in terms of operation: your data stays on your local storage media, and any changes made to it are reflected on its copy on the cloud.
Nirvanix: Offers cloud storage with flexible features and zero maintenance costs and unlimited file transfers.
Some other option worth a look are (though these are meant for individuals and organizations alike):
Dropbox: It offers 2 GB of storage on the cloud. You store your files on the cloud as well as locally, and any changes on the latter version are reflected on the former one. Of course, you can share your files across friends.
MemoPal: It gives you 3 GB of storage for free and offers shell extensions for most known platforms. Upgrades? Well, you can have 200 GB of storage for $50 per annum.
Windows SkyDrive: Windows SkyDrive offers as much as 25 GB of disk space (with an upper cap of 50 MB on individual files). Be warned though: it works well only on Windows devices.
Box.net: It gives you 1 GB of free web storage. There are apps for iPhone, but no desktop app. Box.net offers integration with Google Docs and Zoho Office too.
Google Docs: You can upload almost any sort of file that you’re likely to use. Plus, it offers a lot of space for free, and paid upgrades are available for as little as $0.25 per GB per annum.
So if you already have a local storage mechanism in place (fully set-up, protected and well maintained), you can happily continue using it. But if you need features such as collaboration and data portability across multiple users, you should definitely move to the cloud. Plus, if the current hardware maintenance costs are something you’re worried about, you should consider migrating your data to the cloud (assuming that you require a decent plan catered to suit an organization’s need, the cost of hosting on the cloud coupled with maintaining a small amount of local storage media for occasional backups will in general be less than the total cost of storing all your data locally).