Cloud data storage has gained traction in recent years. There are dozens of companies that offer cloud data storage. Some of these companies provide the storage facility as an additional service (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.). On the other hand, other companies are exclusively data storage companies Dropbox, Box, Sync.com, pCloud, etc.
The whole idea of cloud data storage is that you don’t store your data on your local computer hard disk or SSD storage drive. Instead, you store it in a remote location on servers provided by a storage company. Doing so comes with many advantages. Of course, there are disadvantages as well.
Since this article is all about benefits, I will discuss them in great detail. However, I will talk about the disadvantages, but I will only brush through them. Still, you will get a decent idea.
The Benefits of Cloud Data Storage
1. Usability and data accessibility
Cloud storage services usually offer a web interface to upload data from your computer to the remote servers. However, some companies offer dedicated desktop clients (in addition to the web-based interface) that you can install on your computer. The client integrates nicely with your Windows or macOS interface and works seamlessly as a part of the operating system.
In general, the user interface (web-based or desktop client-based) is extremely simple, making it easy to upload and download files with only a few clicks. The person using the service doesn’t have to be an expert in cloud computing to deal with the interface. Some providers offer a simple drag-and-drop interface to make it even easier.
One of the building blocks of the cloud storage concept is accessibility. Cloud storage services allow people to access their data from anywhere in the world. As long as you have the login ID and password of the service’s web interface, you can access your files.
Another interesting aspect is that these cloud storage services offer mobile apps and let you access your data even from your mobile devices. This is what makes cloud data storage so appealing. The ability to access data from anywhere increases productivity and even fun! Imagine how great it would be if you could browse through some hilarious and memorable photos and videos during a family outing!
2. Scalability of storage space
Cloud data storage allows easy scalability of storage space. If the space allotted to you by the plan you purchased is insufficient, you can go for a higher subscription plan, thereby adding more storage space.
The advantage is that adding cloud storage is much cheaper than purchasing a new storage drive (external hard disks or external SSD drives). Moreover, such scaling takes place almost instantly. When you purchase a higher plan, storage provisioning happens instantly.
Scalability is an important factor for big businesses that need a lot of storage space for maintaining business and customer data.
3. Data security
It is needless to say that we don’t keep our computers very safe. We don’t implement data encryption. The best we do is add a password to lock the computer or the data folder. Any hacker who breaks into our computer will immediately get access to our data. The absence of encryption makes it easy for hackers to access our computers via various means like viruses, malware, spyware, etc.
Cloud storage servers have many security features in place. For instance, they have at-rest encryption, in-transit encryption, and some providers have zero-knowledge encryption.
At-rest encryption means that when the data is stored in remote servers, they remain there in an encrypted state. In-transit encryption means that when the data is transferred from your local computer to the remote server over the Internet, it is not sent as plain text. Rather, it is encrypted and sent over SSL/TLS, that is, through an encrypted tunnel.
Zero-knowledge encryption means that your computer’s data is first encrypted using AES encryption before being sent over the SSL/TLS encrypted channel. When the data reaches the destination server (the remote server), it gets another encryption (at-rest encryption) layer.
So, even if the company providing data storage wants to get access to your data, they cannot! That happens because the encryption key to decrypt that data encrypted on your computer remains with you. Unless they have the decryption key, they cannot open and access the data.
Another security measure is that the data you store at a remote server is copied multiple times and stored on various servers. So, even if the main server where your data sits is damaged or destroyed, you can get access to your data from the mirror servers.
Cloud data storage is cost-efficient, especially for big businesses. Instead of creating an in-house infrastructure for storing data, big companies and enterprises use cloud storage services. Building a whole data center (infrastructure) is extremely costly. Then comes the cost of maintenance and physical security. These costs pile up very quickly.
Using cloud data storage will help to cut down on these expenses significantly. One such cheap cloud data storage company is Wasabi. There are many others that you can use. Some of them will give lifetime storage at a very affordable price.
5. Multiple users
Many cloud storage companies offer team plans that allow multiple team members to access the same data. This allows for easy collaboration at a fraction of the total cost. Authorized users can access and edit data from any part of the world whenever they need to do so!
6. Synchronization of data
One of the greatest benefits of using cloud data storage is the synchronization of the data. These storage services will synchronize your data across different devices, making it possible to access the same data from any device. All you need are the right credentials.
The best part of the synchronization feature is that if you make changes to data from one device, the changes show up on all devices. So, you don’t have to manually update every device.
7. Easy sharing
Cloud data storage services allow easy sharing options. You can send links to specific data to people of your choice using their email IDs. There many advanced security features to such sharing options. For instance, you can share a read-only link or set a password and an expiration date.
If you set an expiration date, you can define how long the link will remain active. Once the expiration date is over, the link will be destroyed, and people will no longer have access to the data. Some cloud storage providers even allow for social sharing options.
While social sharing might not be ideal for business users, it can be a great option for individuals who may want to share photos and videos directly on social media platforms from their cloud storage accounts.
8. Productivity features
Some cloud data storage companies offer productivity features for office files and documents. You can edit office documents directly on their web platform without the need for downloading the documents to your local computer.
However, for the majority of the cloud storage companies, productivity features are often absent. Services that cater primarily to large businesses usually do not offer such features. Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. are some of the many cloud data storage services that offer integrated productivity tools.
Versioning is a vital feature of cloud data storage services. Data can change over time. Such changes may be done on purpose, but they can also happen because of malware infections.
Cloud storage services store older versions of the data for a certain period so that you can recover them whenever you need them. Versioning is particularly helpful for comparative analysis of data.
Imagine the hassle of juggling around with flash drives and external storage to get access to your data across different devices! Isn’t that super-inconvenient? Now imagine the ability to browse your data from any device or download the same to any device without the need for using extra hardware! Isn’t that a convenient way of working? Yes, cloud data storage removes the inconvenience.
One of the greatest challenges that business owners face is creating secure data backup and scheduling the backup process without impacting the day-to-day operations. The cloud data storage technology takes care of this problem through automation. All you have to do is select what you want to backup and determine the time for backup. The cloud environment will then take care of the rest. You don’t have to worry.
As I said earlier, many cloud storage services have desktop clients. Installing the client will give you the ability to fine-tune the backup process as per your convenience. For instance, you can tell the client which folders to back up.
You can also set the system to back up the designated folder daily or weekly or anything that suits you. You can back up your entire computer operating system as well, depending on which cloud data storage company you are using.
12. Disaster recovery
Disaster can hit anytime without warning. In events like that, data loss is one of the biggest threats that businesses face. That’s the reason why every business needs a data backup and recovery plan. If a business is located in an area prone to natural disasters, it is always wise for them to choose a remote location for backing up their data.
In the event of a catastrophic natural event, the cloud data backup will stay safe even if the local setup is destroyed. The remotely stored data can help businesses to resume operations. This is true even for individuals. A person may have vital information stored on his or her computer. If the computer crashes or natural disaster hits, data recovery might become impossible.
The Disadvantages of Cloud Data Storage
Now that you are aware of cloud data storage benefits, it is time to take a quick look into the disadvantages the same. You need to understand that there cannot be advantages only! If that happens, everything in this world will become just perfect.
So, let’s look into the disadvantages of cloud data storage.
1. Heavy dependence on the Internet
To back up your data online in a remote location, you will need an active Internet connection. You will need the Internet even for accessing the data. In case the Internet activity is disrupted, you cannot access your data.
2. Additional costs for downloading data
Companies like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform will not only charge you for storing your data, but they will also charge you for downloading your data. Some companies have high charges for download. This can quickly increase the cost of operation. So, you need to ensure that you are choosing an option that will cost less for downloading. One of the best options is Wasabi that doesn’t charge a dime for downloading (known as egress).
3. Lack of zero-knowledge encryption
Some companies do not allow or do not have the option for zero-knowledge encryption. This can be dangerous. The absence of zero-knowledge encryption means that the storage company can access your data. If a hacker gets access to the storage server, they can get hold of your data with ease.
4. Country laws
Several countries are members of international intelligence alliances. You must have heard of 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances. Companies operating in those countries can be forced by the authorities to hand over customer data in the name of national security. The shining example of this is the Patriot Act of the United States of America.
5. Man-in-the-Middle attacks
One of the greatest security threats of cloud data storage is the Man-in-the-Middle attack. An imposter can site between your computer and the destination server, making you believe that you are sending your sensitive business information to the cloud server. In reality, you will be sending the data to the imposter server, giving full access to your data to someone else.
Things to Consider When Buying Cloud Data Storage
Despite the security concerns, people and businesses often opt for cloud data storage because of the low cost. However, your costs can increase if there are bandwidth limitations. Apart from this, there are many things that you need to consider before buying cloud data storage. Here is a complete guide for buying cloud data storage:
Country of Origin
Before you settle for a cloud data storage company, check the country of origin. If it belongs to a country where privacy laws are tossed around by the government authorities in the name of national security, you better stay away. If that company is the best option for you, ensure that they have a zero-knowledge encryption feature available. This will ensure that even if your data falls into the hands of a nosy government agent, there should not be any way of accessing the data without the decryption key on your machine (computer).
Egress and Bandwidth
As I mentioned earlier, some companies will charge you for downloading your data. If those charges are high, your operational costs will pile up. So, it is important to settle for an option that will not charge for egress or will have a nominal charge.
Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc. impose hefty charges for egress and bandwidth. Make sure that those costs are not making a dent in your business treasury!
Ideally, your chosen cloud data storage should have three types of encryption available – in-transit, at-rest, and zero-knowledge. Unfortunately, not every provider will have zero-knowledge encryption. Some of them will charge extra for that feature (for instance, pCloud). Sync.com will give that feature by default. So, choose wisely. Remember, you will be handing over your sensitive business data to a third-party vendor. You should not trust anyone with that. Business espionage is not a myth. It is as true as the Sun and the Moon!
The speed at which data transfer takes between the origin computer and the destination server is important. If data transfer is taking a lot of time, it can hamper business operations. It is better that you ask the cloud data storage provider the following questions:
- Do they use SSD storage?
- What is the IOPS for those storage drives?
IOPS is the abbreviation for Inputs and Outputs Per Second. It signifies the speed at which the data is written on the disk. That is one of the determining factors for transfer speeds.
If your business needs real-time collaboration on the data you are putting on a cloud storage server, you should choose an option that allows such features. The absence of collaboration features will hamper your business operations.
You don’t really want to settle for cloud data storage provider with an outdated and difficult-to-navigate interface. That will slow down your workflow. So, the provider must offer a polished interface that is straightforward with the least amount of complications.
Don’t ignore this aspect. Cloud data storage providers are offering an infrastructure that can run into problems every now and then. Such service disruptions are not good for your business. So, make sure that the customer support team of the provider of your choice addresses your needs promptly and resolves issues so that you can resume business as usual as soon as possible.