Cloud Storage, Part 2: The Consumer Data Closet

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.

Free online photo storage services include Flickr, SnapFish and PhotoBucket.

Free online music storage services include MP3Tunes and MusicPlayer.FM.

Free multipurpose storage services include XDrive andBox.net.Of course, these are just a sampling — there are a great many more free online storage services.

As for fee-based services, SmugMug,Carbonite, Upline, and Mozy are among those that provide online storage for a monthly fee.

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.

Provider Accountability

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.”

‘Poof’ Problem

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.”

Cloud Storage, Part 1: The Business Data Warehouse

2 Comments

  • Good Morning Jim Offner,

    First, thanks for the great post. I wanted to refer to another Saas-model document storage and collab tool. It is called DocLanding, http://www.doclanding.com. I has some really cool security and annotation tools. If you want to check it, they are offering free accounts.

    Keep up the great posts,

    Will

  • …..on the one hand you talk about it being a bad idea to use Mail as a storage account and then on the other hand you talk about storage clouds being unavailable or going away.

    I don’t see a huge difference in backing up to mail or backing up to a cloud. It’s all storage. It all depends how it is implemented. I AM currently using Amazon S3 as it provides cheap reliable storage (and you did not mention S3 at all). It does concern me that all my data is one cloud so after a little bit of due diligance I found a service called SMEStorage.com that allows me to use my own Amazon account on their platform *and* allows me to backup all my Amazon files to a Google mail account.

    Now this is perfect for me. I have a cloud backup as it were. Now what is AM azing about storing files on Gmail through this service is that when you use the platform you would never know that the files were stored on GMail. You can access them via file explorer on the web, and they are integrated with a variety of web 2.0 channels, or you can access them through your iPhone, or Firefox or a Windows File Manager, or through plug-ins to MS Office or Open Office – in fact you never even need to touch Gmail, especially if you setup a GMail account purely for backup purposes rather than email like I have done.

    In my view all pretty AM azing and well worthwhile and something anyone who had cloud storage should do in my view.

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