What Is Cloud Storage & How Does It Work?

Enterprises are increasingly adopting cloud storage options because they need more capacity, elastic capacity and a better way to manage storage costs over time. The growing amount of enterprise data and cloud data are proving too difficult for IT departments to manage using their data center alone.

Not surprisingly, enterprises are supplementing what they have with cloud data storage in the form of private cloud, public cloud or both. Among the benefits: the capability to leverage cloud storage pricing, which offers great budget flexibility.

What is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage is a remote platform that uses a highly virtualized, multi-tenant infrastructure to provide enterprises with scalable storage resources that can be provisioned dynamically as required by the organization. This service is offered by a wide array of cloud storage providers.

Traditionally, IT departments managing capacity-strained data centers would “throw boxes at the problem” which meant continuously adding physical storage devices, but that proved to be both expensive and difficult to manage as the amount of data continued to grow exponentially. Unlike dedicated physical devices, clouds provide:

  • Elasticity
  • Scalability
  • Multi-tenancy
  • Metered resources

The provisioning of cloud storage resources is accomplished through a web-based interface.

Cloud based storage has several unique attributes that make it attractive for enterprises attempting to compete in today’s data-intensive business environment. For example:

  • The resources are distributed to enable dynamic elasticity and availability
  • Data replication is eventually consistent to ensure availability

how cloud storage works

Cloud storage can be managed in-house, but it is remotely hosted, third party platforms that offer the most benefit to today’s businesses.

How Does Cloud Storage Work?

Cloud storage involves at least one data server that a user connects to via the internet. The user sends files manually or in an automated fashion over the Internet to the data server which forwards the information to multiple servers. The stored data is then accessible through a web-based interface.

Cloud storage systems involve vast numbers of data servers to ensure their availability. That way, if one server requires maintenance or fails, the user can rest assured that the data has been replicated elsewhere to ensure availability. For example, the Amazon AWS Cloud spans 55 availability zones in 18 geographic regions at the present time.

While the data in a public cloud is replicated in different physical locations for fault tolerance and disaster recovery purposes, the primary or local location tends to be nearer physically to the company’s facility using it so the data can be processed faster and at lower costs then, say choosing a primary location halfway around the globe.

Cloud storage management trends continue to unfold with more companies extending out to the cloud. Public clouds are managed by public cloud service providers. Their infrastructure and services include:

  • Servers
  • Storage
  • Networking
  • Data center operations

Cloud data storage resources can be provisioned in the following ways:

  • By end users using a web interface that are paying for capacity on a per-transaction basis
  • By users who specify pre-determined capacity which is prepared in advance of the service.  The customer then pays for the service monthly or pays a flat fee.
  • By the service provider which allocates resources dynamically as needed.  Payment is on a pay-per-use basis.

As noted above, pricing can vary, and it can depend on a number of factors including the service provider, capacity required, length of time required, etc.

Types of Cloud Storage

There are four general types of cloud storage: personal cloud storage, private cloud storage, public cloud storage, and hybrid cloud storage.

Personal cloud storage

Personal cloud storage is enabled by a network-attached device that allows users to store different types of personal data. Examples of cloud storage include text, graphics, photos, video, and music.  The user owns and controls the device, and can access it from anywhere via the Internet.  The device is really a personal cloud drive.

Private cloud storage

Private cloud storage uses on-premises storage servers that are under the control of the company that owns them. Like public cloud storage and data centers, private cloud storage takes advantage of virtual machines.

Private clouds tend to be used by organizations that want the flexibility and scalability of cloud storage, albeit under the direct control and management of the company which owns it. Organizations concerned about security may prefer managing their own cloud storage systems architecture as opposed to using a public cloud.

Public cloud storage

Public cloud storage is available from a third-party as a service.  Amazon AWS Cloud Storage, Microsoft Azure Cloud Storage, and Google Cloud Storage tend to be popular among enterprises. These public cloud storage options are available as a service. The infrastructure is built, owned, managed and maintained by the cloud storage providers.  Many cloud storage websites can also be found online.

Hybrid cloud storage

Hybrid cloud storage is some combination of public cloud, private cloud and data center as an organization prefers. It typically combines resources that are owned and managed by the enterprise with public cloud storage services that are managed by a third party. Enterprises combine the two approaches to balance the need for securing mission-critical assets with the elasticity, scalability and cost advantages public cloud storage provides.

Public vs. Private Cloud

Public and private clouds both take advantage of cloud computing and storage technologies. However, there are some differences worth considering:

  • Ownership and control – public cloud storage resources are owned and controlled by third-party service providers; private cloud infrastructure is owned and controlled in-house
  • Upgrades included or not – public cloud storage includes upgrades; private clouds do not
  • Shared versus dedicated resources – public cloud storage infrastructure is shared by a population of users; private cloud storage is dedicated to the company that owns it
  • Degree of security – cloud security a debatable point. Some consider public clouds less secure than private clouds.  However, organizations with limited IT resources may prefer to rely on the cloud storage service provider’s security expertise.
  • Resiliency – public cloud storage replicates data; private clouds in a single location could be destroyed by a natural disaster.

Cloud Storage vs Cloud Computing

The difference between cloud storage boils down to data storage versus application use and computation. The purpose of cloud storage is to save copies of data and files as backup.  That way, if the original data or file is corrupted, compromised, or destroyed, a backup is available on the cloud with which to recover.  In the event data is lost or destroyed, one must simply access cloud storage to get access to the duplicate files.

Cloud computing makes computing power and cloud memory available as a service. Like cloud storage, users can get access to as much or as little capacity as they need. Cloud computing may also provide access to applications via a virtual desktop or cloud PC.

IT Should Educate End Users about Cloud Storage

IT departments sometimes have to explain the cloud the end users, including its risks and benefits because non-technical personnel tend not to understand the potential impacts of cloud resources on the enterprise, such as the potential security implications or costs. Educating end users through training and policies can help them understand the risk-benefit tradeoffs better before they do something like procure their own cloud storage devices.  It isn’t uncommon for end users to as basic questions such as:

  • Where is the cloud? The cloud most commonly refers to remotely hosted storage; it may be located anywhere.
  • Where is the cloud located? Cloud platforms may be across town or across the country.
  • What is the cloud and how does it work? It’s a remote storage platform; it accepts data storage over the Internet.
  • How big is cloud space? It’s essentially unlimited.
  • Does cloud save money? It may, depending on how it’s managed.

The latter question is particularly important because cloud is touted as being a lower-cost alternative to data centers which require IT staff to manage and maintain them. The reality is that cloud computing and cloud storage costs actually depend on efficient use and management since unbridged use, poor oversight, and unnecessary instances can drive up costs.

While there’s no one right way to implement data storage in an enterprise, cloud storage helps organizations keep pace with the data-intensive nature of increasingly digital business.

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