Cloud services are becoming ubiquitous. We've found ourselves constantly wondering, "how does cloud storage work?" We wanted to understand better, so we did some research to find out all about this method of data storage. If you've ever wondered, "how does cloud storage work?" than you've come to the right place.
How Does Cloud Storage Work?
Stripped down to its most basic components, cloud storage is like asking your friend to hold on to your data. Except, in this case, your friend has the resources to store large amounts of data (photos, emails, music, videos, etc.) because their computer is far bigger than yours! When asking "how does cloud storage work," the answer is far more complicated than this; however, a direct explanation is simply that we transfer our files over the internet through a web-browser to a server located far away.
How cloud storage functions is a much more complicated phenomenon than simply giving your friend a file or two. There are many intricacies that allow for incredibly large amounts of data to not only be stored in a remote location, but allows for constant access to and security of said data. We dug deeper to figure out just how and why cloud computing has become such a large trend.
What Is The Cloud?
Let's clear up the cloudy part of this process. The cloud is a nice analogy, and great imagery, but it is not a grounded way to understand the question "how does cloud storage work?" Before the internet could handle large amounts of data transferring, companies and consumers alike would store all of their data on a physical hard drive connected to their own computer. As we began to collect more and more data over the years however, storing all that data became difficult. Now cloud computing and storage has become such a widespread phenomenon we often don't even realise when we are using it.
The cloud is simply data storage done the same way as your computer stores data. The difference is that there's much more room on the cloud-connected computers than on personal computers, that users have constant access to what they've put in the cloud, and there are serious protections in place to ensure that no one else has access to that data.
When Am I Using The Cloud?
Whenever you access an email or upload a photo to a social media site, you are using a cloud-based service. The text of an email (usually) isn't stored directly on your computer, at least at first. You download that information through the internet and access it briefly from a computer server far away from your own screen. When you log in to check your bank account information online, that information isn't stored on your phone or computer; it is being accessed securely through the internet for a brief moment in time.
Why Am I Using This Cloud?
This is not an easy or compact answer. There are multiple reasons why processes are 'outsourced' to another computer/server. One of the more obvious answers is simply data threshold. It is much easier for a corporation to buy several server computers with a large amount of hard drive space than it is for a typical consumer to purchase enough storage space for themselves. The tendency to data horde is a fairly common practice. Rather than deleting data that we may need one day, we have outsourced the responsibility of data storage to these larger data centers.
Cloud Computing VS Cloud Storage?
We often refer to both of these services as 'the cloud' even though they act differently behind the scenes. Cloud storage is holding on to our data in a remote but physical location or computer which can we access from any device through a web-browser. By sending files to this data server instead of storing it on our own hard drives we can access it from any device (phone, work-computer, tablet, etc.).
Cloud computing involves clients connecting to a remote infrastructure via the internet. Everyone connected is using these shared servers to utilize the cloud's processing power, software, and system resources. This allows users to avoid constant updates to maintain their own software/systems while allowing them to use the power of a vast computer network. Examples of these functions are Facebook, Gmail, and any online banking application.
Types Of Cloud Storage
There are four types of cloud storage. Each of which offers their own strengths and specializations. Depending on what you need to achieve, the type of cloud storage should be fairly straight forward.
Personal Cloud Storage
Like most services, this type of cloud usage requires an internet capable device that allows the user to store personal data (such as text documents, images, video, and music). The user solely owns this data and can access it from anywhere in the world via the internet. The device acts as a personal cloud drive.
Private Cloud Storage
Private server cloud storage uses storage servers on location that are under the direct control of the company that owns them. Similarly to public cloud storage, private cloud storage utilizes virtual machines (in essence, computer operating systems that run multiple instances of computer software). Private clouds are typically used by organizations that demand the flexibility and scalability of cloud storage while maintaining direct control and management of the system. When security is a priority, organizations may prefer managing their own cloud storage system architecture as opposed to using a public cloud.
Public Cloud Storage
Public cloud storage is typically available as a service from third-parties. One such example would be the Amazon AWS Cloud storage (https://calculator.s3.amazonaws.com/index.html). The infrastructure is built, owned, and maintained by Amazon and anyone may buy space to store their data on it. There are many of these storage websites online. Ultimately, public cloud storage is a service designed as an alternative to starting your own 'cloud'.
Hybrid Cloud Storage
Lastly, hybrid cloud storage is a combination between public and private data centers. Typically this combines resources managed by the client enterprise with the public services that are managed by a third party. This combination ideally balances the needs for securing critical assets with the flexibility and cost advantages of public cloud solutions.
When we give away our data freely, security often becomes an understandable concern. How can something sent across the internet remain just ours? What measures are taken when we entrust our data to these third parties? The two main hurdles of trusting the cloud are reliability and security.
Consistently Available Data
When we trust our data on a server far from home, we want to know that it is always available to us. The way the cloud achieves this is through redundancy. By relying on hundreds of data servers, clients can access their data even if a single system/network fails. This redundancy is essentially several backups of the data. If something happens to one server, the data survives elsewhere.
Through a process called Public-key encryption (this is one of several types of cloud security), your computer and the cloud servers communicate through a unique language. Your computer has two mathematically related 'keys', one of which is public, and another private. By sending out your public key, you enable others to send you encrypted files, a process that 'translates' the data of a file into a secret language.
Encrypted files cannot be opened or read by computers without your private key, even if they are intercepted on route to you through the internet. After receiving an encrypted file, your computer uses its private key to unlock and retranslate the file into a language that the computer can understand and relay to you, the user. This is obviously a simple analogy to explain a very complicated technological process, but hopefully we have shined some light on the manner in which files can be transferred with low risk through the open internet.
Hold Your Cards Close
No matter how unique or advanced the technology is, there is always a risk of your data getting out of the proper hands. Cloud storage companies live and die by their reputation, so your security is their priority as well. That being said, we live in an age where any organization can be compromised. It would be wise to keep truly sensitive information off the public cloud.
If the cloud wasn't so ubiquitous in our every day lives, maybe we wouldn't need to ask ourselves "how does cloud storage work?" The constant presence of these services, however has led many of us to look deeper into how and why the cloud has such an important role in our lives. The natural tendency to share has led to the evolution of Google Docs (a hybrid cloud-storage and cloud-computing example), YouTube (videos hosted on Google's servers), and Facebook (Pictures, stories, and private information all housed on their servers): all services focused on creating shared experiences and storing them in the cloud.
When It Rains
To conclude, by using redundancy, vast data centers, power backups, and expensive cooling systems (to prevent the mass computational hardware from overheating), cloud service providers ensure that the analogy of the cloud remains uninterrupted. Wherever you go in the world, your data can now go with you.