Everybody talks about using cloud storage, but I would be willing to bet that very few know exactly how cloud storage works. We put things into our cloud storage and we have great faith that the information stored in the cloud cannot be lost, but are we sure? And do we truly understand why we are so sure that our data is safe?
Cloud storage is a relatively new concept. It was first conceived in the 1960’s, when MIT developed a way to allow two people to use a computer at the same time, but it didn’t develop into its present form until 2006, when Amazon first offered Amazon Web Services. This was the beginning of cloud-based computing as we understand it today. The beginning of cloud-based computing offered data storage to businesses, but has developed quite quickly into cloud-based applications like Dropbox, Pinterest, and Amazon Web Services, as well as thousands of others.
Cloud-based computing works by having banks of servers in different areas, all connected to the internet. This allows the servers to work together to give users – who are also connected to the internet – the ability to use the power of a huge number of computers, instead of just the one they have access to. Businesses develop software that runs on the internet, and their customers connect to the web-based businesses and use their programs, either free, or for a fee. The result of all this is a gigantic virtual marketplace for consumers, where they can do everything from storing their photographs and important documents, to buying their groceries and shopping for clothes.
The interesting thing about cloud computing is that, because it uses many servers from widely different locations, it is highly unlikely that data stored using all these different servers can be lost off all the servers simultaneously, so even if one batch of servers was destroyed by a fire or a natural disaster, your data would still be stored on multiple other servers, so you would still be able to retrieve it.
The downside to storing your data on multiple banks of servers is that each bank of servers has people who have physical access to the servers for installations, repairs, maintenance, and even security. This means that, while your data is not easily lost, it may be somewhat more vulnerable to unauthorized access than if you stored your backup files yourself. If you don’t use the cloud for storage, you can store data on CDs, flash drives, or external hard drives and ensure that few, if any, unauthorized people have access to them. Even if that happens, you can password-protect everything so that even if your storage device was stolen, the thief would still have to get past the password to access your data. This system is less vulnerable, but not as convenient as the cloud, and possibly not as safe, since most people keep their data storage devices in one, or at most two, locations, both of which could easily be affected by the same natural disaster. The cloud is more vulnerable to hackers, sabotage, and crime than it is to physical threats.
There can be some unexpected drawbacks to using cloud computing and storage, and that is that the company providing the cloud-hosting service may not own the banks of servers that they are storing data on – they may simply lease space on the servers of other, larger companies. This is very common, and has a lot of advantages, since the more servers there are that are connected, the faster and more efficiently they function, but businesses based on the web can be short-lived. If their platform doesn’t prove to be a viable business, there is a possibility that your data could be lost when the company loses its storage space on the servers. This tends to lead to a catch-22 situation, where smaller companies have trouble growing because people are less willing to trust them with their data in case they go out of business, but they are more likely to go out of business because they lack customers. In most cases, though, customers would have enough notice of a business closure to move their data elsewhere so it would not be lost.
The big companies that own the huge cloud-based applications are ones like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba, and IBM. These companies owe a large part of their success to their early adoption of cloud-based computing ideas and concepts, and they all appear to have every intention of improving their platforms and increasing the number of ways that cloud-based computing can be used. They have taken the concept of cloud computing and made it into an integral part of how we live our daily lives, and I am willing to bet that that won’t change any time soon.