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Understanding Cloud Storage

One of the primary uses of cloud computing is for offsite data storage. With cloud storage, data is stored on multiple third-party servers, rather than on the dedicated servers used in traditional networked data storage.

When storing data, the user sees a virtual server—that is, it appears as if the data is stored in a particular place with a specific name. But that place doesn't exist in reality; it's just a pseudonym used to reference virtual space carved out of the cloud. In reality, the user's data could be stored on any one or more of the computers used to create the cloud. The actual storage location may differ from day to day or even minute to minute, as the cloud dynamically manages available storage space. But even though the location is virtual, the user sees a "static" location for his data—and can actually manage his storage space as if it were connected to his own PC.

Cloud storage has both financial and security advantages over traditional storage models. Financially, the cloud's virtual resources are typically cheaper than dedicated physical resources connected to a personal computer or network. As for security, data stored in the cloud is secure from accidental erasure or hardware crashes, because it is duplicated across multiple physical machines; because multiple copies of the data are kept continually, the cloud continues to function as normal even if one or more machines go offline. If one machine crashes, the data is duplicated on other machines in the cloud.

That said, the ultimate reliability and security of cloud storage is yet to be determined. While companies offering cloud services tout their security features, there are many stages in the process where security could be breached, just as with a traditional network. And access to your data could be compromised if the cloud storage provider has a service outage or goes out of business—both of which have happened in recent months. It may be too early in the adoption process to recommend that a company store its data exclusively in the cloud, without some sort of traditional physical backup.

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