Monday, December 10, 2012

In the Clouds: What Information Storage is All About

Eric Weinberg, PhD., Academic Tecnology Coordinator 

Five years ago, when someone began talking about clouds we assumed they were talking about the weather. This is no longer the case. Often, when people talk about clouds today they are referring to the practice of storing information off-site on a distant computer. Whether it is pictures, email, documents or music, our personal files increasingly exist somewhere else.   It may seem like an abstract concept, but many of use the cloud whether we know it or not. Some of the most ubiquities cloud storage services are Apple’s iCloud, Google Documents and Dropbox, but others exist. Both Amazon and Facebook are integrating cloud storage into their services. Simply upload a photo or email an attachment and you are in the cloud. In all cases, we are storing personal information on computers that are owned by these companies.

What does this mean?  First, our documents are not being stored in some mythical land in the sky. They reside in giant data-centers located in temperate climates, and many are run by self-sustaining power systems.  Inside these centers, there are thousands of racks of computers and giant fans that are constantly recycling the air.  These centers are tremendously efficient, and help reduce global energy usage. Most of these places are extremely secure, and have disaster contingency plans.  These are all positives. Another benefit is that we can access our information no matter where we are.  This means I can get my photos on my phone, tablet, or on my friends laptop. Another advantage is that backing up to the cloud is often seamless. Once you setup the cloud, your documents are automatically uploaded when you have an internet connection.

Besides these positives, there are also drawbacks to storing our lives in locations far away. First, our data is subject to seizure request by federal authorities, and companies can be forced to comply with requests.  Second, we are constantly using network bandwidth when viewing and editing documents.  Although this is not a major problem for most of us, as we use the internet for more and more services, cloud storage may affect such things as TV and telephone.   It is also forcing cell phone companies to increase their bandwidth and costs of cell phone contracts.  Moreover, large video files are still too large for cloud storage.

Consumers’ most significant worry is security.   Data security has always been a concern of consumers.   This is the reason why many of us have passwords on our computers.  We have, however, usually been comforted by the physical security of our front doors.    Cloud computing complicates this.   Although data-centers are secure, they rely on passwords and encryption for access and our information travels across the internet quite frequently.

The drawbacks of this system were made very public a few months back when technology blogger Matt Honan’s personal files were erased from Apple’s iCloud by hackers. Gone were a year of his personal photos and many other files.  Most disturbingly, the hack was accomplished through simple deduction. The hackers used the users’ personal information to reset account passwords and then logged in and deleted the blogger’s accounts.  This is no longer possible.   The applicable companies have since tightened their security and there have been no such incidents since. Still, hackers are always searching for a way to circumvent security.

What does this mean for us? Most importantly, do not use cloud storage as the only location you store important personal files. Back up documents occasionally to a home computer or external hard drive.  If you are really paranoid, you can also put this hard drive in a fireproof safe. Secondly, do not use easy-to-guess passwords.  Hackers have programs that are good guessers so do not give them an easy way in. Also use different passwords for your accounts. Don’t let someone into all of your accounts by guessing one password. In short, use the cloud, but stay grounded.


  1. I am agree with you. They need to provide a cameras to check all happenings in their store. You know what?? If i were the manager of this company  previously i provided a cameras to monitor all the happenings in my company. But this just a comment. Thank you!

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  2. Thanks a lot with this information, It do helps me a lot to understand more about storage information...

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  3. Wow! I didn't know cloud does mean also storage to the remote servers. Thanks for the useful info.

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