How much information do you store in the cloud? With the rapid advancement of cloud services, we’re seeing many people turn away from traditional portable storage devices and instead relying on the cloud. In theory this is an ideal solution. With no physical devices to lose or break, we can access information from anywhere, transferring it between computers as easily as though we were using a 3.5-inch floppy disk.
While cloud services are popular for a reason, things aren’t universally positive. There are many kinks to iron out before cloud services become universal means of storage. There are quite a few reasons that I still keep an 8GB USB stick at the ready. While I do use cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox, when it comes to transferring or viewing files on different computers, physical media still has its place.
In the past five or so years, broadband internet has become remarkably more reliable. There were times, back in the early days of cable connections, that we’d experience day-long outages. Sometimes the problem was with the cable company’s system. Sometimes a wire fell and no one knew about it. Yet those problems are much less frequent these days. When infrequent outages do occur, they’re usually restored within an hour.
When it comes to business, not everyone has an hour to spare. Businesses have deadlines, and sometimes those deadlines mean the difference between a sale and a rejection. People have deadlines, too. As college students know, some professors don’t accept late work, no excuses accepted. If we’re relying on cloud services for storage and transfer, we are at the mercy of the network. An outage can ruin our plans.
One reason cloud services have taken off lately is the relative reliability of networks. But there are still issues that can cause hour-long outages, and during that hours we can’t access our cloud files. That’s why I always use physical media as a back-up. If it’s important enough, it goes both in the cloud and on a USB stick. You can never be too sure.
Data center outages
My biggest issue with cloud services is the non-ownership of the storage. When we upload something to the cloud we presumably still own the file and its contents. Yet it is stored on servers we don’t own, in data centers that we don’t own. Because we don’t own these, we don’t control any of the operations. So when a data center experiences an outage, we’re left helpless.
Yes, there are some data centers that are more reliable than others. I’d recently read an article on GigaOm about ABB’s energy saving data centers. After reading the article and ABB’s site, I realized that energy efficiency can lead to greater reliability. Yet it’s evident that not all data centers are powered this way. They’re less reliable. Since we don’t know which data centers hold our information, we can’t even choose those that are more efficient.
It all boils down to a lack of control. We can control what we store on USB sticks and other physical storage drives. If we treat them well — don’t drop them, step on them, etc. — they will last us. And we can transfer our files to these sticks, and then move them from computer to computer without much of a worry. That is, we’re in control. With cloud services we have little control. When something goes wrong, we have no control. It’s not a pleasant feeling.
Cellular to the rescue
While there’s absolutely nothing we can do about a data center outage, we do have a saving grace when it comes to internet outages. Our smartphones can provide a decent backup plan. That is, if our broadband internet does experience an outage when we need files, if we have a smartphone we can still access those files stored in the cloud. That makes cellular something of a lifeline.
In fact, I’d consider mobile to be the greatest use of the cloud. While I’ll experience broadband outages once a month or so, rarely, if ever, do I experience a cellular service outage. Since our smartphones are the definition of portable, when we store our files in the cloud we have them with us always. It’s almost like a USB stick with even more storage. Except, of course, for when the data center goes down.
There are so many articles out there hyping cloud services, touting them as the next big thing. I don’t doubt that. But where we current are with data centers and networks, we should temper our excitement. For the time being there is still a place for USB sticks and other physical storage drives. There will come a time when the cloud contains all of our information. We’re just not to that point yet.