The key feature shared by storage in the cloud and on physical drives or memory sticks is the portability of the data they contain. A file saved in the cloud, or copied onto a USB drive, can be accessed through any computer. It is not tied to any physical location or device. Aside from this shared accessibility, there is little in common between these two methods of storage. It is these differences that make it difficult to imagine either form entirely eradicating the need for the other, although in individual cases it is possible to rely on one without ever feeling the need to use the other.
Switching Back from the Cloud
Cloud computing has become a popular option, for both individuals and companies looking for an efficient and affordable place to store their data, but there have been indications that some people are having second thoughts about relying on the cloud, at least in certain circumstances. Many businesses, including ones that are at the forefront of technological development, have opted to shift back out of the cloud to use physical storage on hard drives and other devices, once they have reached a certain size. The most well known example of such a shift out of the cloud is probably Zynga, but it is happening with some regularity. Even small businesses are choosing to leave the cloud once they are able to house their computing power and storage in house. At that point, physical systems simply become the more affordable option, particularly if elasticity is no longer so important. The cloud is useful when you don’t know how much power you are going to need, or when needs are expected to change on a day-to-day basis. You can just pay for what you use, and know that more will be available as required. Once you have an established business, you may know exactly how much power and storage you need, so the availability of more on the cloud is no longer much of an attraction. These occasions, when it makes sense to switch back from the cloud to physical storage, suggest that the choice between the two is not as obvious as some of the early news stories extolling the virtues of the cloud made it seem.
The problem for businesses is that the financial decision is not always obvious. Although a technology company that requires a large amount of server space could appear to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by using their own in-house servers rather than working with a cloud service like Amazon, they will also have to take into account the running costs of their servers. Paying for electricity and maintenance could raise the cost to the point where cloud computing begins to look more competitive again. There are also other considerations when choosing data storage, which are the same whether you are a large corporation looking for more power, a small business unable to afford its own server, or an individual needing a secure place to back up your files. The choice between the cloud and physical storage is often most dependent on how the technology itself fits in with your needs.
Portable Drives and Memory Sticks
Portable hard drives and memory sticks provide a means of backing up or transferring files on a physical drive that can be connected to any compatible device. USB flash drives are particularly useful for transferring files, since they are the fastest form of storage to access, particularly when compared to the uploading and downloading time required when using the cloud or transferring files by email. Portable hard drives are a little slower, but they can still be used for file transfers and offer much more storage space, sufficient even to back up an entire hard drive, although the capacity will still be limited. Memory sticks and portable drives can also carry programs or operating systems, allowing you to bring the tools you need with you, which can be particularly useful when you need to run recovery tools or scans on a device that is causing problems.
Any type of portable or flash drive will need to be physically present when you want to use them, which means you have to remember to carry them with you. This makes them a very secure option for storage, since no one can access your data without getting hold of the physical object. However, it does mean that data can be vulnerable if the drive is lost or stolen, although password protection can be used to restrict access. Portable drives and memory sticks can also cause problems by picking up viruses if they are attached to an infected device, and like any drive, they will eventually fail.
Storage in the Cloud
Data that is stored in the cloud can be accessed from anywhere, without the need to carry a physical device or find a free USB port. This makes it possible to share or transfer files over a long distance. The cloud can provide as much storage as you need, although it will be limited by the amount that you are willing to pay. You can use it just to store a few files, or to back up all of your data, knowing that even if you lose everything on your own computer, your data will still be safe off-site. The data you store in the cloud will be protected by various security measures, although there is always the risk of hacking or data theft when you are working online. You are also dependent not only on the third party hosting your data, but also on your internet provider. Your connection and download speed or limits will determine how well you can access your data.
The cloud is unlikely to replace physical storage devices entirely, although it will help to make some things much easier. The cloud can be useful when you need to store data so that it can be backed up off-site, or shared with people a long way away, but this doesn’t mean that it is the perfect choice every time. It is still useful to have a flash drive on hand if you want to transfer a file between two devices that are in the same room, particularly if you have any problems with your internet connection. Physical storage devices can also offer better piece of mind if you need to store sensitive data, although the cloud offers its own form of security in the certainty than your data will still be there even if your house burns down.