Cloud Storage, Part 2: The Consumer Data Closet
Consumers who want to store their photos, music and other files on the Internet now have a wide variety of choices, including many free services. Fee-based services may offer more security, accountability and options, but all cloud storage systems have one thing in common: They can go poof. When it comes to data management, redundancy is the word.
Part 1 of this two-part series discusses the benefits and risks of storing corporate data in the cloud.
Cloud storage opportunities for consumers are increasing rapidly. Those looking to store photos, music libraries and other personal data online have a number of choices, including both free and fee-based services.
E-Mail as Storage?
Large-capacity free e-mail services such as Gmail have attracted some users to turn them into personal storage vaults.
However, storing data on an e-mail account probably isn't a shrewd move for anyone who has security in mind, said Terrance Bush, spokesperson for Chicago-based FastServers.net.
"You really wouldn't classify Gmail as a 'true' storage solution unless you plan on sending e-mails to yourself with very large attachments to house within a mail account -- bad idea," Bush told TechNewsWorld.
"For consumers who wish to store photos, important documents, and those MP3 files that they don't wish to download again from iTunes, Carbonite and Mozy are very well-designed product offerings for the home user," suggested Bush.
Fee-based online storage solutions start at roughly US$5 a month. "This would be a very small footprint but can scale to fit your needs," he added.
What to Store?
What data consumers designate for Web storage can challenge the imagination, Bush remarked. "You'd be amazed at what some customers will store within their backup infrastructure. We know of one customer who stores their Internet Explorer favorites, as he has been utilizing these for the past five years and couldn't conduct business without them."
Businesses tend to store financial data, production documents, and other inventory matters within their backups, Bush said. "For consumers it's mostly photos, video and music. Newer computers come with restore DVDs that allow you to reinstall your computer to the point in time when you first unpacked it."
In addition, Microsoft Windows has restore points that allow the user to fall back to a particular date in time, for data-recovery purposes, and Mac's Leopard OS has Time Machine built in to recover photos, music, movies, TV shows and documents, he noted.
There are some potential legal ramifications to storing data online, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group.
"Music is always iffy, particularly if the site allows sharing, because it violates licenses," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "Most photo sites allow sharing ... though more and more people are using social networking sites for this."
It's also important to consider the accountability of storage providers.
"The responsibilities of a provider who sells backup storage can vary, and this is where consumers need to be cautious," Bush advised. "Read the fine print. Some in the industry are just providing the service, but your data is your responsibility. Ensure that you are partnering with a host that takes additional measures to secure your data [and is] not just offering the service with an empty guarantee. Providers should have recovery plans, replicated solutions, and multiple points of storage online operating in the event of a hardware failure or catastrophic event."
The problem with cloud storage is that clouds can disappear, Haff said.
"It's somewhat a matter of faith that your backup won't go 'poof' if the company has a technical glitch or goes out of business," Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor for Illuminata, told TechNewsWorld. "But it's worth noting that many of these services are associated with large companies that also supply enterprises. In addition, this is a backup -- not pimary storage, which is a bigger issue. Presumably, you still have your own copy."
Consumers should maintain their own data backups on a USB drive or other storage medium, Haff recommended.
"The best recourse is multiple redundant systems: local and off-site backup; sync and archive," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told TechNewsWorld. "In addition, many services offer automatic archiving, which takes live data from disk arrays and duplicates it periodically to tape."
Storage companies typically don't allow users to sue them for lost data, Kay said, "but, obviously, losing customer data would be fatal for their business."