Instructor: Dr. John Strauch
Illinois Central College
We are in a world that was beyond imaginable just a few decades ago. By providing access to global information, to people all around the world, and to a vast number of multimedia, the internet has gained grounds to becoming an integral part of our life. But consuming content isn’t what the internet is all about. The internet has proven to be a valuable means for us to store our own data. This is often referred to as storing data in the cloud. The cloud is basically a fancy name for the internet. As CNN puts it, “the cloud is just a fancy term for all the computers — other than your own — that are connected to the internet. Companies like Amazon and Google maintain huge networks of computers that are stored, row after row, in secret warehouses all over the world. These machines hold data that computer users don’t want to store on their own hard drives. Think about all the photos you have on Facebook; any documents you’ve stored with a service like Dropbox or Mozy; or all of your Web-based e-mail. Those files are stored somewhere out in the cloud instead of on a personal laptop.” (Sutter) As the internet becomes more prevalent in our lives, and as portability becomes more important, storing our data in the cloud becomes more convenient and reliable. As such, in a future not too far from now, our primary means of storage will be in the cloud.
Before looking at why our primary storage method will favor the cloud, it is important to take a look at where we stand, at the time of this writing, in regards to how we store data. In the 1990’s, people didn’t see the need to carry gigabytes of data in their pockets; but now, this is a common reality. We have reached a point where we want to have access to our data from anywhere, not just in a static desktop machine at our office desk. Andrew Kantor, technology writer of USA Today, notes, “being able to carry a ton of information in a two-ounce package is…a necessity. We’re not only a more mobile society, but we’re also an almost entirely information-driven one. Data are everything — names, addresses, documents, images, music, video — and we feel the need to take it with us.” So it is not surprising that having access to our personal and professional data is important, and that’s why many are carrying portable storage devices like USB flash drive and smartphones storing documents, music, and movies. However, storing data in these portable devices have its downfalls as well. The biggest headache is the scattering of data. People storing data in multiple devices, portable or not, fall in the situation of having some data in one device and some other data in another device. Sometimes, it is difficult to remember where a particular data is stored. What’s worse is that data are not easily synced across devices. For example, one may have a Word document on two devices; however, if he/she updates the document in one device, that document isn’t updated in the other device. Another problem with portable devices is that it has to be carried around. If one, for example, forgets to bring his/her USB flash drive containing essential data to work, that person does not have access to that data. Storing data in the cloud solves these issues, making it a much more convenient experience.
It is, therefore, no wonder that cloud storage has gained such popularity. Companies like Dropbox are making storing data in the cloud as seamless and convenient as possible. PC Magazine author Edward Mendelson explains what the primary purpose of Dropbox. “Dropbox stores synchronized files in the cloud so they’re available at any machine on which you’ve installed Dropbox. You can also reach your files through a Web interface from any Internet-connected system.” Essentially, Dropbox does what a portable storage device does. It gives the user access to his/her files from any computer using simply a web interface. However, unlike the portable devices, users do not have to carry anything around when using Dropbox. Another plus for Dropbox is that it syncs the same data to the devices that the user specifies, as long as the devices have an internet connection. Thus, one can have his/her data stored on his/her personal devices as well as having that data available through the internet. And when that person makes changes to a document in one device, that document is updated across all his/her devices. This clearly resolves the syncing problem that portable devices created. Mendelson also mentions that Dropbox takes the extra step to preserve earlier versions of the users’ data. This means the users does not have to do this manually, as he/she might have had to do if relying solely on portable storage devices. This makes it really easy for someone to undo errors, and all the processing for preserving these earlier versions happens in the background, in the cloud. Dropbox also lets users sync the same data on their mobile phones, as stated on their own website (“Can I access”). Dropbox is not the only service around. Other competitors, like Microsoft Skydrive, and Box.net offer similar services to the users. Services like these offer gigabytes of storage absolutely free for the users, with paid options for additional storage space.
With all the benefits of online storage, it is not hard to see where the world is heading. People are storing more of their data in the cloud, and companies are investing more on companies offering cloud storage (Kopytoff). According to The New York Times, 60 percent of adults with internet access have at least two devices that can connect to the internet. As such, services offering cloud storage is seeing a boom in the number of users. For example, Dropbox has 25 million users uploading 300 million files a day! Box.net has six million users while another service, called Mozy now has three million (Kopytoff). This increase in the number of users is not coincidence as online storage has clear benefits over just using portable storage devices. It is only logical to assume that these numbers will go higher in the near future.
With all these benefits, where does cloud storage stand when it comes to privacy? While sites can get hacked and data can be stolen, this is nothing new. One can more likely loss his/her flash drive, say, by accidentally dropping it on the street. Another possibility is that an unprotected PC may be hacked and the data stored on that PC can be stolen. Stolen data is a possible risk when storing data anywhere, not just the cloud. A possible way to secure data is to encrypt it. According to dictionary.com, encrypting data means “to cipher or encode” it. En encrypted data is essentially a scrambled data that cannot be unscrambled without a password, which the owner of the data creates. Thus, only those with the correct password can access it. Thus, encrypted data stored in the cloud, or a personal device is very unlikely to get hacked because those who steal that data can’t read it.
Cloud storage is very popular for it convenience. It can be accessed from anywhere and from any device. It also stays synced, so the user does not have to worry about what version of their document they are using. Finally, as internet connectivity improves and more people have access to the cloud, it only makes sense to store one’s primary data in the cloud for easy and efficient access. In the ever-changing world of technology, cloud storage might very well be an integral part of our lives in the near future.
“Can I access Dropbox on my mobile device?” Dropbox. Dropbox, 8 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.dropbox.com/help/32>.
Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC, 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/encryption>.
Kantor, Andrew. “Finding places to carry all your digital stuff.” Editorial. USA Today. USA Today, 3 Dec. 2004. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2004-12-03-kantor_x.htm>.
Kopytoff, Verne G. “Data Grows, and So Do Storage Sites.” Editorial. The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 5 June 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/technology/internet/06dropbox.html>.
Mendelson, Edward. “Dropbox.” Editorial. PCMagazine. PCMag.com, 25 Mar. 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2343852,00.asp#fbid=n6rgw_SyYMO>.
Sutter, John D. “Why cloud storage is the future of music.” Editorial. CNNTech. Cable News Network, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/web/03/30/cloud.music/index.html>.