In the last five years, cloud storage providers like Box, Dropbox and Google Drive have burst onto the scene as the latest and greatest technology for backing up and storing data. Even though it’s increasing popularity, there’s still a distrust of this mysterious, recent technology. What is it? How does it work? And most important, is it safe?
Everything old is new again
First, it’s good to know that cloud storage is neither new nor mysterious. The conception of cloud storage actually started in the 1960s with the development of the data center; huge rooms with mainframe computers and row after row of data storage devices that people accessed through terminals and programs running on the mainframe.
Then the PC arrived on the scene with its own storage capability (though the first PCs had as little as 16KB of internal storage and two 160KB disk drives—laughable to think of this now!). As we all know, the PC took the world by storm, storage capacities became huge, and enterprises invested millions in their own data centers and IT teams.
This model eventually became too expensive and complicated to manage, and with the introduction of faster and lower cost networks and mobile devices, cloud storage emerged. Technologically, it’s the advanced concept of the old data centers; the servers are now remote and shared, and the means of access is the public Internet.
Today, it’s a system that lets you access your data from anywhere, anytime
The phrase sounds great, but what does it mean? In plain words, the elevator pitch is: Cloud storage (e.g., Box, Dropbox, Google Drive) lets you save your files onto a remote database server where you can then access, manage, and share them from both your mobile devices and your PC over the Internet, either through native applications or a Web interface.
The longer description includes different levels of cloud storage, which accommodate everything from mobile or personal use to business application accessibility to large enterprise storage systems across multiple servers in multiple data centers around the world (think Amazon, Google, world financial systems, and large military industrial complexes).
Our focus, however, is on how cloud storage can integrate both your personal and business needs together on a mobile device like an iPad. With all of your cloud storage services connected together in one spot, it makes it easier to work on documents while you are mobile. This kind of centralization also make it easier to create and edit files in Office applications from your mobile device and provides you with the flexibility to share those documents from anywhere.
Is cloud storage easy to use?
In a word, yes. There are hundreds of services to choose from—many of them free—that offer a variety of features to suit your needs. Once you set up an account and download the app on your mobile devices, you can start storing (uploading) your files either through an app on your computer or device, or via the service’s Web interface. Automatic synching among all your devices and your computer keeps your files up-to-date and consistent.
Is my stuff secure?
This is probably the most important and often-asked question about cloud storage. When you upload your files and data into the cloud, it starts to get crowded “up there” in terms of who owns and controls what. On your own personal computer, you own and control everything on it. Once you put your files into a public space, however, the game changes.
For personal use of cloud storage, it’s up to each individual to secure their own files. Cloud storage services provide encryption and decryption of data while it’s in their data centers. But, what happens to the protection when you sync, share, and store files? For that added bit of security, the best advice is to password-protect or encrypt your files before you upload (actually fairly easy to do on both Mac and Windows!).
For businesses that allow mobile users to bring their own devices into work and upload files to their personal cloud, company strategies and IT regulations are essential to avoid security breaches. Encryption and password-protection technology, and the ability to remotely wipe the device should be basic security practice these days. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the cloud security offered by the vendor matches what your business expects.
In a word, yes, your stuff is secure. Cloud storage vendor success depends on protecting everyone’s data. But your stuff is even more secure with your own protection efforts. The combination of precise company policies for securing data, password-protecting or encrypting your files, and securing your mobile devices are the surest ways to keep your stuff safe.
There is, finally, one benefit we haven’t mentioned yet
Tablets and mobile devices have become smaller and more convenient and allow users to be more productive from anywhere. With cloud storage, you don’t have to worry about filling up hard drives with your backed up data or worse, losing valuable information if your external hard drive or flash disk are lost or stolen. Everything you need is at your fingertips in your own cloud storage and can be simply accessed from mobile devices like an iPad.