Cloud Storage

DEFINITION of 'Cloud Storage'

A way for businesses and consumers to save data securely online so it can be accessed anytime from any location and easily shared with those who are granted permission. Cloud storage also offers a way to back up data to facilitate recovery; for example, a laptop computer owner might store personal photos both on her hard drive and in the cloud in case the laptop is stolen. Further, cloud storage offers a simple way to move data—think about buying a new computer and needing a fast and secure way to transfer all your files. Cloud storage can also be used to archive data that requires long-term storage but doesn’t need to be accessed frequently, such as certain financial records.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cloud Storage'

Cloud storage works by allowing a client computer, tablet or smartphone to send and retrieve files online to and from a remote data server. The same data is usually stored on more than one server so that clients can always access their data even if one server is down or loses data. A cloud storage system can specialize in storing a particular type of data such as digital photos, or can provide for general storage of many types of data such as photos, audio files, text documents and spreadsheets. Some of the most popular cloud storage providers as of early 2017 are Apple (iCloud), Amazon (Amazon Web Services - AWS) and Dropbox, as well as Google Docs and Gmail.

Cloud storage helps businesses with major data storage needs to save a significant amount of space and money by eliminating the need for storage infrastructure on the business premises. The cloud storage provider owns and maintains all the necessary hardware and software so the cloud users don’t have to. Purchasing ongoing cloud storage may cost more in the long run, but it can be significantly less expensive up front. Further, businesses can almost instantly scale up or down how much cloud storage they have access to as their storage needs change. The cloud also enables employees to work remotely and outside of regular business hours while facilitating smooth document collaboration by allowing authorized employees easy access to the most updated version of a file.

There is so much attention on cloud storage today in the digital era because so much of our sensitive personal data is stored in the cloud whether we voluntarily store it there or whether a company we do business with decides to store it there. As a result, cloud security is a major concern. Users wonder whether their information is safe, and increasing data breaches have demonstrated that sometimes it isn’t. Users are also concerned about whether the data they have stored on the cloud will be accessible when they need it.

While cloud storage may seem vulnerable due to the prevalence of hacking, the alternatives, such as onsite storage, have security vulnerabilities, too. Company-provided cloud storage can actually improve security by giving employees an alternative to using their personal accounts to back up and transfer files that they need to access outside the office.

A good cloud storage provider will save data in multiple places so that it survives any human errors, equipment failures or natural disasters. A reputable provider will also store and transmit data securely so that no one can access it without permission. Some users might also require that data be stored in such a way that it can only be read but not changed; this feature, too, is available through cloud storage.