The Cloud: A Place For Your Stuff
Comedian George Carlin was not far off the mark when he dismissed the modern home as “a place for your stuff”. A place to keep your stuff, your personal files and data, is an important part of day to day personal computing.
For those of us who do not work with IT professionals on a daily basis, our first introduction to Cloud Computing is often taking advantage of free or cheap on-line storage of our data, our “stuff”. Cloud storage presents a number of advantages as well as a few pitfalls for the casual or non-professional computer user. Before we explore how and why home computer users can take advantage of cloud storage, let’s review previous storage options and why they became popular.
Computer storage is usually expressed terms of bytes. A single byte is approximately the amount of data required to form a single character on this page, so it is easy to see how kilobytes and megabytes begin to add up. It was not very long ago that a megabyte was considered a lot of data. Today home and office computers are commonly sold with 500 gigabyte hard drives, and it’s not unheard of for a family to fill the drive with files, pictures, music, videos and other “stuff”.
Beyond the need to store lots of data, it is often necessary to carry your data from one computer to another. This is common for workers or students. One of the earliest popular forms of portable data storage was the 3 ½ inch floppy disk. Floppies had been around for almost as long as there had been personal computers; many of the original operating systems and programs were installed from 8 inch and 5 ½ inch floppies. With the 3 ½ in disks, not only was the media significantly smaller, the drive itself was smaller and faster than other formats. A student could save a report or paper onto a floppy, drop the disk into a pocket, and quickly access it at the school’s computer lab. A very good system, as long as the student did not want to load pictures or videos into his presentation.
The next big thing in portable media was recordable optical disks. Compact discs were a familiar media for music, and it was not uncommon for computer programs and data to be shipped in the format. The real revolution came when CD-R drives became popular a CD could hold ten times the data of a floppy, and was generally faster and more durable. The biggest advantage of floppies over CDs and DVDs was their ability to be rewritten (floppies were magnetic). Rewritable optical discs are available, but because of a disc’s low cost, they were never widely adopted.
Optical media remains popular, but for transporting data, solid state of Flash Storage is becoming increasingly popular. Various forms of flash cards are used for storing data in devices like cameras and music players. USB flash drives are a very durable and fast method of carrying data between computers and their capacity is beginning to rival installed hard drives.
Cloud storage eliminates most of the disadvantages of physical portable storage. The biggest advantage is that there is no need to carry a physical media between work stations. The files are available on any device that is connected to the Internet. Cloud storage is secure enough that the military is turning to it.
By Peter Knight