What is Cloud Storage? A Complete Guide

Cloud Storage is a Simple and Scalable Solution for Storing Data

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What is cloud storage and why is it so popular in today’s digital age? One of the most valuable cloud computing models around, cloud storage empowers users to store valuable documents and data in a hosted environment, available through an internet connection.

The concept of cloud storage is based on a “virtualized” storage infrastructure, empowering users to upload and download information from the cloud wherever they are. As the amount of data we collect and create every day continues to accelerate, cloud storage solutions offer infinite levels of flexibility and scalability. The solutions are particularly valuable for businesses, looking for secure ways to keep their data safe, without managing internal hosting and data centers.

Currently, the cloud storage market is going through a period of rapid growth, rising to a projected value of $376.37 billion in 2029. The demand for this technology is being driven by a multitude of factors, including the rise of hybrid and remote work, and the growing universe of connected devices making up the “Internet of Things”.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about cloud storage.

Defining Cloud Storage: The Basics of Cloud Storage

A cloud storage solution is essential a “storage as a service” solution offered by a cloud hosting provider. A computing specialist manages and operates data access as a service, delivered on a subscription basis to users around the globe. You purchase the storage facilities and bandwidth you need on an on-demand basis.

The flexible and scalable nature of cloud storage is part of what makes the solution so compelling. Instead of buying and managing your own data storage infrastructure, you can outsource the strategy to another provider. This gives businesses and everyday users more scale, agility, and durability, with “anywhere” data access.

Cloud-based data is placed in pools across a variety of disparate storage services, often located in a data center or on-premises environment.

Cloud storage service providers are responsible for managing and maintaining data transferred to the cloud and capacity offerings can increase and decrease as needed. Cloud storage has even fundamentally driven down the gigabyte cost of storage, but extra operating expenses can sometimes make the service more expensive.

How Does Cloud Storage Work?

Cloud storage service providers operate on an “as a service” business model. Maintaining large data centers in locations across the globe, these operators can essentially hire out bandwidth to different users for a range of versatile needs. When you purchase storage options from a cloud storage provider, you don’t just get space (or capacity) for your data, you also get:

  • Storage servers for managing content
  • Security features for backup, disaster recovery and encryption
  • Data availability and delivery services
  • Computing resources
  • Value-added services and tools

To ensure you always have access the files stored in the cloud, providers create applications for accessing the data cloud through APIs or traditional storage protocols. The exact functionality of a cloud storage solution will depend on the type of storage used. Common options include:

  • Block storage: A method which divides larger volumes into small units called blocks, each associated with unique identifiers. This is a fast and efficient way to manage databases with high-performance workloads.
  • File storage: More common among consumer applications, file storage organizes your data into a hierarchy of files and folders. Directories and subdirectories make it easy to manage and locate files. This makes data access and sharing easier.
  • Object storage: This method of cloud storage stores data as objects, such as data stored in a file, metadata, and unique identifiers. REST APIs allow the storage of files and associated meta data as a single object. These systems also allow metadata to be more customizable, which can streamline data analysis.

As cloud storage solutions have gained more popularity, many vendors have begun adding new functions to their solutions. For instance, cloud storage providers offering object storage can now use a file emulation system on the front end to make data easier to access.

Most commercial services for cloud storage use huge numbers of hard drive storage systems, connected via a mesh-like network. Service providers also have performance layers to enhance their storage offerings, usually consisting of solid-state drives and other tools.

What are the Types of Cloud Storage?

There are various forms of cloud storage options available in today’s versatile digital landscapes. Most commonly, you’ll find services aligned into three distinct models:

Public cloud

Public cloud storage services are one of the most common options today. They provide multi-tenant storage environments for unstructured data delivered on a subscription basis. You’ll store data in a service provider’s data center, spreading information across multiple regions, and pay on a per-use basis. There are sometimes transaction charges depending on the data being accessed.

Common examples of public cloud storage solutions include Google Cloud Storage or Nearline for cold data, Amazon Simple Storage or Amazon Glacier, and Microsoft Azure.

Private cloud

With private cloud storage the service offering is a little different. This is an in-house storage resource deployed as a dedicated environment with enhanced enterprise-level protections, like firewalls. Private storage solutions generally emulate the ease-of-use of public cloud services, but come with more support for customization and control over data. These solutions are particularly popular with businesses managing stringent regulatory requirements.

Hybrid cloud storage

In the cloud storage environment, the “hybrid cloud” model refers to a mixture of private and third-party public storage services. Usually, there’s also an orchestration layer for integrating the two platforms. This model offers greater flexibility and a wider range of deployment options. You can store some structured data and secure documents in a private cloud, and place unstructured data in the public cloud.

Hybrid environments can sometimes make it easier to handle unanticipated bursts in data creation and access. In recent years, adoption of hybrid storage solutions has increased significantly. More companies are dealing with higher levels of versatile data which need different storage modes.

The Benefits of Cloud Storage

Cloud storage solutions offer a range of powerful benefits for individual users and businesses alike. This form of storage solution is generally intended to empower cost-savings and greater levels of convenience for users. Compared with more traditional networks, cloud storage is also more versatile and flexible, to suit a growing data-driven landscape.

While there are various benefits associated with cloud storage, there are also shortcomings to consider. Here are some of the most significant advantages you can consider when looking into cloud storage solutions:

  • Pay as you go: With a cloud storage service, customers pay exclusively for the storage they use, which reduces the need for major initial investments. While cloud storage costs are something you’ll need to handle every month, subscriptions are very affordable.
  • Utility billing: Because you’re only paying for what you use, the pricing will decrease as your usage drop. This means if you’re not storing as much cloud data, you can save some extra money on your storage apps.
  • Availability: People are using cloud storage solutions like AWS and Dropbox all over the world. Generally, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a company capable of supporting your region.
  • Ese of use: Cloud storage is easy to use and access. Most cloud storage systems are built with fantastic user interfaces, so you don’t have to worry about earning any certifications or developing technical knowledge to get started.
  • Security: There are various authentication methods and encryption options offered by cloud data storage providers. You also get an excellent solution for backing up any essential data, so you don’t have to worry about losing storage devices held in person.

The Disadvantages of Cloud Storage

While a cloud storage solution definitely offers a lot of benefits in today’s SaaS focused world, there are some issues too. Cloud storage solutions offer a significant amount of flexibility and scalability, but you may find it difficult to get the security and redundancy you need without spending a lot. Some of the major disadvantages of cloud storage include:

  • Security: Data security issues are one of the main reasons why people don’t always rely exclusively on the cloud for their storage capacity. The concern is once your data leaves your company premises, you’ll no longer have control over how it’s handled. Storing regulated data can also be a concern. While some service providers will offer real-time encryption and other security services, it’s difficult to find the perfect cloud security.
  • Data access: Due to the nature of the cloud infrastructure available today, maintaining access to information stored in the cloud can increase the cost of cloud storage. You may need to upgrade your connection to the cloud to handle a larger volume of data, or access multiple virtual machines for data transfer.
  • Performance: While most cloud storage solutions are designed to be as reliable as possible, it’s worth remembering that there can always be issues with software. You might struggle to access your file system due to a problem with an app. There’s also a risk the tools you use to automate data storage will stop working as they’re supposed to. Cloud storage solutions can also have downtime in the case of a natural disaster.
  • Cost: Getting all the tools you need to optimize your cloud storage and manage permissions can cost more than expected. Although it’s usually still cheaper to use cloud storage than build your own AWS or Kubernetes operating system, the costs will go up the more complicated the workflows become.

Choosing a Cloud Storage Provider

The best way to ensure you get the best results from cloud storage is to ensure you choose the right software provider and vendor. There are a number of cloud storage solutions out there, ideal for companies investing in the retention and protection of essential data. Many even come with mobile app access on iOS and Android, so you can track your data backup on the go with a mobile device.

The right cloud storage solution will depend on a number of factors. The kind of data protection and services you need as part of a Devops team will be very different to the support you need as an individual user. It’s worth checking all of the features offered by major vendors like Amazon Web Services and Dropbox to get a sense of how they differ.

When choosing your storage solution:

  • Compare one-time and recurring costs of purchasing and manage your storing capacity in house compared to the costs of ongoing storing and data access in the cloud.
  • Determine if further expenses are necessary for accessing your service provider’s features.
  • Decide if you have the right level of security and governance from your data storage provider for the specific needs of your industry.
  • Ensure you have policies in place for managing access to your storage space and keeping your data secure.
  • Look for ease of use to ensure you can leverage all the features of the cloud storage solution as effectively as possible.

Looking to the Future of Cloud Storage

The evolving digital landscape and the nature of data creation is having a significant impact on the way we use cloud storage. More than ever before, we’re relying on cloud storage solutions to keep data safe, offer long-term data backup and ensure teams can stay as productive as possible.

In the past, cloud storage solutions used to seem like an option reserved almost specifically for the larger companies in the world. Now, countless brands are using cloud storage on a regular basis.

If you’re looking for a flexible way to ensure you can keep track of your information in the cloud as efficiently as possible, cloud storage solutions could be the perfect option for you. The key is making sure you choose the right vendor.