Even if you don’t read computer magazines for fun, or contribute to r/coding pages on Reddit, you’ll have heard the phrase “cloud storage” floating around.
For the uninitiated, this may seem like a confusing concept. Outside of rainwater, clouds are not known for their storage capabilities, nor for being particularly accessible.
Yet many of our online activities rely on this relatively modern method of storing data.
So what is cloud storage? How does it work, and why do we need it?
What is cloud storage made of?
There are two main places where you can store information produced by a computer or other electronic device.
The first is on the device itself – known as local storage. The other is remote, which usually means “in the cloud.”
The cloud itself is simply a term for instantly accessible data storage, saved from a local terminal or device so that it can be viewed and edited from other web machines.
Cloud storage consists of warehouses stuffed with giant hard drives called servers, operated by specialized hosting companies or premium brands like Amazon.
What is cloud storage used for?
In truth, almost anything that isn’t stored on a local device. Examples include:
Is it safe?
Each physical data server has a real-time backup stored in another location, in case something catastrophic happens to it. This is called redundancy.
In truth, it’s hard to think what could actually happen.
The servers are stored in warehouses with backup power, heating and cooling systems, as well as sprinklers and 24-hour security personnel.
These repositories are usually in obscure places, and they aren’t advertised with signs because the large amounts of data they contain could attract the wrong kind of attention.
If someone broke into a cloud storage facility, they would be immediately deterred from further progress with military-grade security.
Even professional hackers have struggled to penetrate the digital shields surrounding modern data centers, so personal or small business data will be completely safe.
Cloud storage seems very cheap. Is this a concern?
No way. Cloud storage is often provided for free as part of a larger service, or at the cost of pennies a month, as companies in this industry can exploit vast economies of scale.
The average data center spans about 100,000 square feet, with each individual server taking up less than a square foot of floor space.
In this relatively compact footprint, a server hard drive may be able to house 16 terabytes of content.
With the average website page taking up about three megabytes, you can store about five million web pages on a server disk.
Each client receives a dedicated part of a server, which no one else can access. This is called shared server space, but only the host knows who else has space on the same server.
Even if a hacker were to somehow gain access to Company A’s portion of a shared server, they would not be able to view or access files stored by Company BZ.
Larger companies sometimes acquire their own servers (known as dedicated hosting), thereby gaining full control over access, security, and maintenance.
For the rest of us, shared cloud storage will be perfectly fine.