May 5, 2015

Unlimited Amazon Storage Is Often Anything But

By Tunio Zafer

Amazon Cloud Storage

The promise of unlimited Amazon cloud storage technology has always enamored consumers. From unlimited texts to unlimited data, users want more, they want better and they want it now.

This obsession with unlimited is influencing the cloud computing field. Many cloud storage providers now offer affordable, unlimited storage systems to house the growing volume of data. Yet, for most providers, the notion of unlimited is a theoretical one. These providers claim to meet the demands of more, better and now, but let’s take a closer look at Amazon’s Cloud Drive to see why this claim is not always accurate.

The Everything Package

Just over a month ago, Amazon unveiled its unlimited cloud storage solution. Amazon Cloud Drive comes at two levels. The first is an $11.99 per year unlimited ‘photo’ storage version. The second is a $59.99 per year unlimited ‘everything’ storage version. The e-commerce company’s unlimited Cloud Drive would sit unrivaled as the market’s cheapest yet largest cloud storage solution.

It would, if it were actually unlimited.

The misnomer here is not unique to Amazon. Rather, it plagues many of the storage’s biggest players such as Dropbox and Box. The problem is this—while Amazon ensures that its unlimited ‘photo’ storage version does not take up space on a user’s hard drive, the same guarantees are absent from Amazon’s ‘everything’ package. Of course, ‘everything’ is more useful, but its limitations are severe.

Such limitations are common when cloud storage providers engineer their cloud solutions around synchronization. With synchronization, when a user uploads a file to the cloud, it’s first stored on a user’s hard drive. Platforms may offer users unlimited cloud storage space, but personal hard drives cripple this boundlessness.

Reliance on a user’s own hard drive is increasingly problematic considering how over-utilized a hard drive can be. From documents to games to music, hard drives get stuffed. It’s as if providers have given users an endless supply of paper, and only a single, stubby golf pencil to write with. Or, it’s like these storage providers have laid out a digital buffet—and provided all of the plates to eat from—without recognizing how little users’ stomachs can expand. Unlimited storage space can exist, but not using the synchronization method.

Considering the sensitive nature of information stored on the cloud, transparency is concerning. And, for billion dollar companies like Amazon and Microsoft, clear communication is particularly important. As such, recent cloud storage advertisements beg this question: why do providers offer ‘unlimited’ storage when their synchronization storage method prevents users from optimizing the space?

The answer—it’s easier. Utilizing personal hard drives through synchronization is, by design, simpler than building out the cloud as a separate storage space. It’s also less time consuming. However, synchronization is a lazy choice, and it signals a possible lack of confidence in a cloud storage provider’s protection capabilities. With the slew of high-profile hacks, cloud storage providers should not utilize systems with proven flaws if they can create better versions themselves. It’s safe to assume that cloud storage leaders can.

If generating separate cloud storage space is a more secure option, why don’t more cloud storage provides take the time to do so? Unlimited cloud storage offers leaves many questions with few answers. What happens when users run out of space on their own hard drives? How will users track their storage usage? When will providers come up with a better, more honest solution? Will cloud storage providers be able to compete with market trends as others start to produce truly unlimited solutions?

Storage & Encryption

The question we do have an answer to is what users should look for when Choosing a Cloud storage provider. Two things: cloud exclusive storage and client-side encryption.

  • Cloud Exclusive Storage: Some cloud storage providers offer platforms where storage happens only on the cloud. This ensures that a user’s hard drive is not impacted by storage. The creation of an independent cloud storage system also indicates a provider’s confidence in their security features. With the synchronization storage method, two copies of every file exist. However, with pure cloud storage, only a single copy is accessible. In reducing the number of files saved, storage providers demonstrate conviction in their ability to protect user data.
  • Client-Side Encryption: Cloud storage providers need to properly encrypt files, especially when just one copy of a file exists. The best way to do this is through client-side encryption. Traditional end-to-end secures files in transfer but leaves them vulnerable on both the user and provider ends. Client-side encryption improves security by giving users complete control over the encryption process.

Amazon’s flaws do not suggest that the company is moving in the wrong direction. Like many leading cloud storage providers, Amazon recognized an industry need and is working to find an effective storage solution. However, providers can overreach when they maximize space and security. Solutions like Amazon’s are certainly attractive, but unlimited storage at such an affordable rate sounds too good to be true.

And when something sounds too good to be true, most of the time, that’s because it is.

By Tunio Zafer

Tunio Zafer

Tunio Zafer is the CEO of cloud storage platform pCloud. As a leader and manager in the cloud storage space, Tunio promotes innovation in areas such as security measures and cost to end users. Tunio encourages forward-thinking throughout his team, working toward making a significant impact on the rapidly growing IT market, for individuals and business alike.
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