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The storage and sharing of photos, documents and other files is crucial for home and business IT users. One modern method of achieving this? The ‘cloud’.

Despite the science fiction-sounding name, cloud-based data drives are rapidly soaring in popularity. By 2028, it’s estimated that the cloud storage market will be worth $390bn. For context, it was worth only $61bn in 2020!

So, are you slightly bemused by the cloud? Wondering how it works and how to get started with it? Our tech experts at We Are Your IT have put together a helpful introduction.

What is cloud storage?

The cloud is a method of storing files and data on a third-party server, accessed through the internet or a private network connection. These cloud storage servers are hosted, managed, secured and maintained by cloud storage providers, ensuring you can access your files and data at any time.

Whilst cloud computing has long been a key part of the IT infrastructure of many businesses, home working behaviours has rapidly accelerated the popularity of the cloud for file storage and sharing. 

You’ve probably used them before, even if you haven’t realised. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox are all cloud-based file storage and sharing services — if you use Gmail or Outlook for email, you’re using the cloud.

Cloud-based services and products have proliferated. The most popular cloud storage provider, Google Drive, recently reached over 2 billion users. By 2025, over half of the world’s storage — 100 zettabytes — is forecast to be on the cloud. For comparison, this was only 25% in 2015. 

How does cloud storage work?

When thinking of a server, you might imagine one of those big, unsightly units sitting in the corner of an office. Other popular traditional means of storage include USB sticks and, going back in time, the floppy disk — now a distant early-2000s memory.

Just like on-site storage, cloud storage uses servers to archive the data they store — except the server is at a different, off-site location. ‘Server’ is a term used to describe a computer program that provides a service to another computer, known as its client.

The cloud actually exists fundamentally as a physical server, which then hosts software-defined, virtual servers. It’s this virtual element that gives cloud storage its name; a physical server can provide a number of virtual ‘cloud’ servers.

The cloud can be accessed through an app, website or portal on any device with an internet connection — you sign in with your details and can manage your files. Most cloud-based data drives have clear interfaces that are simple to navigate and manage.

Most cloud storage solutions are accessed over the public internet, but some use a private connection, whilst others can even be a mixture of the two.

  • Public — these allow you to connect to a storage cloud that’s also used by other individuals, businesses and organisations. The most common type, these are owned and operated by third-party providers.
  • Private — these types of cloud storage are used and maintained by only one organisation. These are popular solutions for those who process sensitive, private information or have special archiving requirements — banks, finance companies and government agencies.
  • Hybrid — as the name suggests, these types of cloud solutions blend both public and private, giving an organisation the freedom to choose which data needs to be archived strictly, leaving less sensitive information to be stored in a public cloud.

The different types of cloud storage

There are a few different models for how cloud storage works.

  • Block — data is organised into ‘blocks’, each having its own hard drive, which cloud providers use to handle large amounts of data. This type works well for larger databases and can scale easily.
  • Object — data is stored as ‘objects’, which contain the data in a file, its metadata (a type of data that provides information about other data, providing a structured reference to help sort and attribute it) and an identifier arriving in repositories that can be customised for easier access and analysis. This gives a lot of flexibility and the power to optimise your storage cost effectively.
  • File — data is stored in the intuitive hierarchical folder structure. The data retains its original format, which can make it easy to navigate.

What are the advantages of cloud storage?

Whether for personal or professional life, cloud storage holds a number of benefits. As well as being easily accessible and eliminating the cost of hardware, the cloud is scalable — you only pay for what you need, and the amount needed can be dialled up or down quickly and easily. 

  • Reduced hardware — that monstrous server in the corner of the office? A thing of the past. Misplacing your USB stick? No longer a problem. A cloud storage solution doesn’t necessitate a potentially costly investment in hardware, saving you square footage as well as money.
  • Scalability — cloud storage can grow or shrink with your needs. Whether you’re just looking to store some of your favourite photographs or you’re wanting to back up your business’ entire data, cloud storage can flex, grow and shrink quickly as required — something that’s not quite as simple with an on-site server, to say the least!
  • Cost-effectiveness — the cloud allows you to only pay for what you’re consuming. Additionally, many popular cloud service providers offer a certain amount of free storage — ideal for home users or even businesses with smaller requirements.
  • Usability, accessibility & collaboration — whether a private or public connection, cloud storage drives can be easily accessed and managed remotely. They usually have intuitive, clear, user-friendly interfaces — great for convenient management of files. By centralising your data, they allow you to manage and share files with friends, family and colleagues.
  • Disaster recovery — by providing distance, the cloud can also make you less vulnerable to on-site threats — fire, theft or natural disaster.

What about the disadvantages of cloud storage?

Flexible, scalable and cost effective as it may be, the most commonly-touted concern with the cloud is security. 75% of enterprises list security as their top concern when it comes to cloud computing. Misconfiguration of the cloud and unauthorised access are particular worries.

Watertight access, clearly-defined authentication and encryption procedures are essential, with regular updates and patches. You may want additional, multi-layered protection if you’re handling sensitive information. Risks can be further minimised by choosing a private connection cloud storage solution, rather than one accessed by the public internet.

Whenever data travels, it is at risk. This may include banking details, medical records, government secrets — some types of regulated data have strict archiving requirements. With cyber criminals always innovating, your cloud provider needs a cutting-edge defence in place — absolute assurance that your data is safe from theft or damage.

Other disadvantages to the cloud can include latency — a slow connection with high traffic can cause delays. If your internet connection drops, so does your cloud storage access. There’s also the risk that the cloud provider itself could have downtime.

Some people find that third-party cloud storage providers limit their freedom to control their data, with certain industries being prevented from using the cloud as a result of strict regulation. A lack of technical support from your provider may also be a source of frustration.

To discover a cloud storage solution that works for you, get in touch with our team of IT engineers.

Which are the best cloud storage providers? 

Of course, this depends very much on your needs. Home users and smaller businesses may find that any of the popular cloud-based data drives fulfil their needs perfectly, with many even offering a certain amount of free storage.

Reputable, well-established cloud storage providers include Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, Amazon Drive and, most popularly, Google Drive, with over 2bn users. You may also have heard of MEGA, Box, IDrive and pCloud.

For enterprises with larger, complex data transfer and storage needs, we’d recommend a more bespoke approach as part of a holistic cloud-based IT infrastructure strategy — perhaps with a private connection.

As we’ve discussed in another article, taking daily data backups is a key. As well as storage, the cloud can be used for backups which, if you’ve explored our Learning Hub blog post, are a key component of any modern cybersecurity business strategy.

To discuss your home or business cloud needs, the expertise of our team is only a quick message away.

How much does cloud storage cost in the UK?

Fees can vary widely based on your needs and the cloud storage provider you choose. But, as a rule, increased capacity comes at increased cost (obviously!).

Up-to-date pricing plans of popular cloud storage data drives — such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, Amazon Drive — can be found on their websites. Most offer a range of clear pricing structures and packages for home as well as business.

Many cloud storage providers provide a limited amount of storage for free, then charging monthly per gigabyte for any extra space required; others may only charge the amount of storage used. 

Take Google Drive, for example. They allow 15GB of free storage, with an additional 100GB costing £1.49 per month, 200GB at £2.49 per month, right up to 30TB (terabytes) for £239.99 per month. Microsoft OneDrive provides 5GB of free storage, with the step up to 100GB costing £1.99 per month.

If you have smaller data storage needs and no particular security requirements, you might find the free storage offered by many popular cloud-based hard drives to be adequate.

If you have added layers of security — for example, for privacy and regulatory compliance — you’ll likely be charged more. Those with very large-scale, bespoke cloud networking requirements find that cloud computing costs thousands per month, with medium-sized businesses falling anywhere in the middle.

Some organisations may find an open source solution to be more cost effective and scalable, as long as you have the in-house capability and expertise to manage it.

Looking to start your cloud journey?

The cloud is a huge part of our modern personal and professional IT. Not only is it here to stay, but it’s growing at record speed. However large or small your cloud storage requirements, the expert team at We Are Your IT can lend a helping hand.

For over 20 years, we’ve been helping home users and businesses with any and every aspect of IT. Whether you need a dodgy device repair, a WiFi boost, some cloud consultancy or even an enterprise-level networking solution, we work on it all.

Contact our tech team today