We hear about it all the time, but what is cloud storage exactly? Moreover, what is the cloud, and why is everyone talking about it? Throughout this article we’ll explain what is the cloud and how cloud storage differs from other cloud services.
What Is The Cloud
The first thing that you should know about the cloud is that it basically represents a network of servers. Now, each server in the cloud has its own separate function: some deliver services, some run applications, while other servers just store data. Overall, the cloud is a collection of resources that can be accessed by users over the Internet.
The entire principle of cloud computing resembles that of mainframe computers. Back in the ’50s, computers were just too expensive (not to mention huge) to be placed in each room where they were needed. To overcome this disadvantage, a central computer was set up with numerous terminals that could access its resources. In principle, the cloud is a mainframe computer (or supercomputer) that you access over the Internet.
One of the advantages of the cloud is that any user with Internet connectivity can access the cloud from any place in the world, and make use of the cloud’s resources in such a way that complements or almost replaces the resources of your primary machine.
Since users are basically tapping into the resources of a network of servers, the cloud services also have a huge advantage in terms of scalability. The cloud service provider can easily scale up (or down) resources to match the needs of a certain user. All this is done in a way that is invisible to the user, much like electricity companies adjust their power output to match the specific needs of each consumer.
Now that you know what the cloud is, it is time to understand how cloud apps work. Much like the way computers can run applications locally, some cloud servers can run applications as well.
When an application runs on the cloud, it is constantly sending data back and forwards with a client. For instance, when you open a Google Drive Document in your browser, the server runs an applications that is similar to Word, and your input data (typing, setting fonts) is sent to the server over the web, and the end result (the way your text actually looks) is streamed back to your computer.
To better understand how cloud apps work, let’s analyze the example of cloud-based gaming. Companies such as Playcast Media Systems, Gaikai and OnLive (more companies are apparently preparing to enter the market as well) allow users to run games on the cloud and stream the video to the user’s computer.
For people that don’t have the ultra high-end computers required to play the latest graphical-intensive games, cloud gaming can be the only solution for them to play the hottest games without braking the bank. With services such as OnLive, the game runs on a computer in the cloud, while the controls are sent from the user’s computer, and the cloud streams back the video.
Obviously, to be able to use cloud services at their intended functionality, you’re going to need a speedy Internet connection. Limited bandwidth is the only thing that stops services such as OnLive to completely replace desktop computers. At the moment, all cloud gaming services have a certain degree of lag, but as global Internet speeds are on the rise, chances are that this limitation will disappear in a decade or so.
What Is Cloud Storage
Ok, now that we know what the cloud is and what cloud apps mean, it is time to properly explain what is cloud storage. From a broad perspective, cloud storage services basically allow users to drop files onto the server. Check out our list of the top 10 cloud storage providers!
However, given that cloud storage companies are inclined to impose limitations on how exactly the server manages your files, a distinction is starting to arise between pure cloud storage and online backup. We’ll start explaining the latter first.
Although online backup providers are cloud storage providers from a technical perspective, there are certain limitations that you should be aware of:
The first limitation that most online backup providers impose is that once you delete a file from your computer, it will also be deleted from the server after a certain time period. Basically, with online backup services, the cloud server aims to mimic the contents of your hard drive, and is not intended to complement it.
Most online backup providers don’t let you upload files to the cloud from remote locations. If you upload a file, it should be done from your main computer.
A large number of online backup providers impose limitations when it comes to downloading files from remote locations. As a side note, JustCloud is one of the best online backup providers since it allows for unlimited direct downloads of any number of files of any size.
Online Backup Pros & Cons:
- Automated backups
- Lots of storage space
- Cheap even for unlimited
- Remote uploads usually not supported or limited
- Remote downloads sometimes not supported or limited
- Per machine subscriptions
From a modern perspective, a cloud storage service should allow for unlimited communication with the data server from any location. This means that cloud storage providers allow for unlimited remote uploads, as well as unlimited remote downloads. You’re not limited to just one computer, but can tap into the cloud resource (with no restrictions) from any corner of the world, and any machine in the world.
You can think of cloud storage services as a virtual external drive that you access over the web. Most cloud storage providers have native apps that can be used to sync files and folders, but they also offer advanced web-based interfaces that can be used to preview images, play music and videos, or even edit documents and presentations.
Cloud Storage Pros & Cons:
- Remote downloads
- Remote uploads
- Can be used on multiple machines
- No automated backup
- Pricier than online backup
Some of the top cloud storage providers include but are not limited to: Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, Box, and pCloud.
Did we answer the question? Did this article help you better understand what cloud storage is? If you have any questions that you’d like us to answer, drop us a comment in the section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!