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QUESTION: moving to cloud-based storage
In response to this question:
I would be interested in your experience, if you have made the switch, in moving to the ”clouds” for data storage.
I can’t quite get my head wrapped around this concept, but am willing to try.
First of all, let's get some terminology out of the way, just to be sure we are all on the same page.
1. Cloud computing (from wikipedia) :
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a somewhat more objective and specific definition:
"Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction." Ref: here
I think of cloud-based storage as "file-storage service located on a remote cluster of high-availability servers, designed to be accessed anywhere, anytime, from anywhere with secure collaborative capabilities."
2. Data Storage:
Purpose-built file storage, as opposed email-as-storage or google-docs as storage. This distinction is important because I know many people who use gmail as storage. I think you are asking about substituting an in-house file-server with cloud-based file server.
My experience in cloud-based storage has been overwhelmingly positive. We are slowly moving our students to dropbox. Starting in the 8th grade, our middle school integrator is testing dropbox. So far, it has been great.
The cool thing about most cloud-based file servers is how they keep files available even when there is no network access. Unlike traditional file servers, cloud-based file servers sync excellently. Let's say you have three computers called Home, Laptop, and Work. If you are using local file storage (your hard disk) you will not be able to access the files from another computer (e.g. if you create a file on Home, you will not be able to access a file from Work).
Most organizations have a file server that securely stores your files. Some organizations set up systems where you can access your Work files from your Home or Laptop computers, but this requires no small amount of careful configuration. If you are working on a file on your Laptop, there is no way for that file to be automatically added or synced to your Work or Home machines. Enter cloud-based storage.
I use dropbox (watch the video on the front page) as my cloud based storage solution. The neat thing about dropbox (and their ilk) is how they synchronize files across several different computers. Let's say you are on your Work computer and you create a file called Budget. You save this file to your dropbox folder. every computer that is linked to your dropbox account then synchronizes that file. So your budget file is automatically added to your Home and Laptop computers. If you work on Budget at Home, it will be automatically saved to your Work and Laptop. If you a smartphone, and you've setup dropbox, it can be automatically updated there as well.
So basically, anywhere you save, the file is updated on all the other computers that are connected to dropbox. Cool, huh? even if you lose network access you will still have access to your files. Files aren't so much STORED on the cloud as they are SYNCED on the cloud, and with approved devices.
But wait, there's more. You can share folders with friends and colleagues. So you might have a folder in your dropbox folder called "for friends". You can control who has access to this folder, and anytime you add or remove something to this folder, your friends will have access to the files. Very handy, you don't even need to email files and folders.
When I moved from New York City to Poland, I purchased the 50 gig option, and put EVERYTHING (music, files and photos) in dropbox. I could safely ship my desktop computer knowing everything was backed up. In the even you DO lose a file, you can simply restore it within dropbox by clicking "show deleted files".
Keep in mind, you are only paying for what you use. You aren't paying for a server, and spending a bunch of time managing this server. It's really nice. It's not all roses, of course. In no particular, here are the issues with dropbox you should be aware of:
1. data ownership. If an employee saves their stuff in their dropbox it may be hard to keep the data when they leave (not only a problem for dropbox - think USB drives).
2. data security. By default, dropbox stays on a computer. If a laptop is stolen, a malicious person might be able to access the data on your dropbox folders (you can turn off syncing though, so this really isn't THAT big of a deal).
3. no network access. If you lose network for a LONG time (a week or so)
4. the first sync. When you first setup dropbox, it can take a very long time to synchronize your files (upload). Our director waited 3 or 4 days until all his files were uploaded. By now that they are online, he doesn't need to worry about what is where, even on his iphone, he has access to all his files.
Hope this helps!