Ahead in the Cloud
By Ken Lee
As a society, our computing habits are moving away from desktop computers and towards mobile devices which provide plenty of processing power but limited storage capacity.
Enter the cloud. Instead of picking and choosing which of my files make it onto the limited remaining space, I can upload my entire digital library to a cloud service provider and it becomes available to me anywhere I go, 24/7. With an emerging tablet market that projects to put 24 million units in our hands in 2012, cloud storage may have found a match made in heaven.
This trend is not going unnoticed. Apple recently announced its iCloud media service and joins Google, Amazon and other tech industry giants in the push towards moving our data to their cloud based services. If these tech industry giants have their way, all of our data and information will be relocated from local storage into the cloud.
Although there are several advantages to cloud storage, local storage has its own strengths, so don’t start burning your USB cables just yet.
Security and Vulnerabilities
Aside from convenience, Cloud based storage also provides several security advantages over localized storage. Data stored in the cloud is saved in a secure off-site server, protected against physical theft or damage. When you back-up your data to an external hard drive, the drive is usually located only a few feet away from your computer. In the case of a fire or robbery, your computer and backup drive are probably both gone, along with the backed-up data. The cloud gives you peace of mind knowing that your data is safe, off site and being backed up by the service provider.
However, data stored in your Cloud is still vulnerable to hackers, viruses and crashes. Large corporations that hold millions of users’ data in their servers are going to be targeted by malicious attacks more often than a personal desktop drive. In May of this year, and again in June, Sony was the target of a hack which resulted in customer data from millions of user accounts being exposed and the PlayStation network going offline for weeks. Imagine if you couldn’t access your files for weeks because your cloud’s service provider was hacked.
Although susceptible to fire or robbery, a local storage device is far less likely to be targeted in a malicious attack than a cloud based storage service.
Access to data stored in the Cloud is dependent upon a fast internet connection, usually through either a wifi or mobile broadband connection. Although wireless networks in the US continue to expand, coverage is not complete and access is not available in all areas. The cloud’s reliance on a wireless internet connection becomes painfully obvious when a wireless access point isn’t readily available, which could occur when you need it the most. With localized storage, if you can plug it in you have access to your data.
And then there’s the biggest question for most consumers: what does cloud storage cost? Cloud storage is a subscription based service that requires membership. Although many cloud services offer free storage with a basic account, there is always a cap on the storage space provided with a free account. Considering that a single DVD-quality movie file alone easily takes up 4 gigabytes and Blu-ray quality movies can be over 40 gigabytes, a free account that caps you at 5GB’s of storage space doesn’t cut it. Additional storage space usually means upgrading to a paid, premium membership that adds up over time.
External hard drives are great because they are purchased for a one-time price. As an example, let’s say you’re paying $20 a month for a premium DropBox membership that provides you with 100GB of cloud storage. For the same amount of money that you would spend to store 100GB of data for only 1-year, you could purchase literally terabytes worth of HDD storage or you could score a sweet 128GB SSD.
The concept of cloud computing is brilliant. It provides us a new platform for storing, delivering and sharing data and we’ve only seen a glimpse of what it could become. However, when deciding what storage option works best; pick and choose your spots when deciding whether to use cloud or a local drive.
In some instances, like non sensitive data, the cloud may be the way to go, in others, where security is more of an issue, go with a local storage device.