Cloud storage is a data retention technology in which a user’s information is kept at a remote location rather than on his local computer hard drives. This system provides an alternative to traditional back-up systems, by allowing data to be restored in the event of a catastrophic event at the user’s location. Online storage also allows users to access their data wherever they have Internet access. Several companies offer a limited amount of free online space to their customers, and others have set up subscription services that automatically back-up a user’s hard drive at scheduled times. Some technology experts theorize that almost all data will eventually be kept in cloud storage.
Many Internet users are already utilizing some form of cloud storage, even if they are unaware of the concept. Some email services maintain copies of correspondence on their servers so users can access saved mail from any computer or smartphone. The tiny size of these files allows the services to keep thousands of archived emails on a relatively small amount of server space.
The introduction of cloud computing has increased the value of cloud storage, because users in some areas can now create and edit documents free online without the file ever residing on the user’s hard drive. This system allows a group of users to edit a document without having to directly share data with each other or worry about updating files on their personal computers. Proposed thin client computers would operate entirely within the cloud, with all applications and data existing at a remote server.
Being able to back-up data off-site is one of the most important aspects of this technology. Traditional back-up systems require the user to copy important files to external hard drives or disk-based storage. One drawback to this system is that any event — such as fire or theft — that damages the user’s primary hard drive can also destroy any back-up drives stored on-site. Even if the back-up disks are kept at a different physical location, they can still be affected by a large-scale natural catastrophe such as an earthquake or tsunami. Cloud storage avoids this problem by keeping redundant files at secure data centers in different regions.
Cloud storage does have a few drawbacks. If a user is in a location without an Internet connection, he will be unable to access his data. Another problem is that a user may forget the login information for his account. This may cause a delay in accessing data while the user’s identity is confirmed by other means. A final concern is the vulnerability of cloud data to hackers and other cyber criminals who may exploit security holes and gain access to information stored online.