Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cloud Based Solutions

When I bought my first computer back in 1986, I splurged for the 10 MB hard drive option. It cost nearly $800 and was incredibly slow by today's standards, but compared to the rest of my data storage (a handful of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks) it was a huge leap forward. That hard drive and my floppies together totaled less than 20 MB and comprised my entire data storage capacity.

As time went on, I replaced each of my storage devices with larger capacity and faster units. Sometime when I bought a new device, it became a completely separate storage system instead of just replacing an existing one. Today, I have over 20 different storage devices (hard drives, flash drives and cards, NAS boxes, SSDs, and cloud buckets) each with a set of files stored on it. Total capacity is somewhere around 12 TB and I have a lot of data stored on them.

Having lots of separate storage devices is both good and bad. I have storage directly attached to many of the devices I am working on so I can access information even when the Internet is not accessible - good. I try to spread my data around and keep redundant copies or backups of important data in case any individual storage device fails or is lost or stolen - better. If I have the right procedures in place, I ultimately control all the data that I have stored - best of all.

But it can be difficult to figure out which of my many devices has a piece of data that I am looking for - bad. I have to remember to backup or replicate data that might be unique to any given device - worse. I might be on a trip and remember that the data I need is on a flash drive in a drawer at home - also worse. I might have multiple copies of a given piece of data and if I update one copy, I need to remember to update all the copies, otherwise I have multiple working sets of data that are not synchronized - worst of all.

Recent offering by Cloud Storage providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, SugarSync, or Amazon S3 have attempted to solve some of these problems and a few others. Unfortunately, they also introduce a number of problems or challenges as well.

Keeping your data in the "Cloud" can be beneficial in many instances. Redundant copies or backups are handled automatically by the storage provider. The data can be accessed by nearly any device with an Internet connection. Storage capacity can be very flexible and grow to meet your storage needs without having to purchase new units and migrate your data. It is easy to share your data with others. All these features offer compelling reasons to put data in the cloud.

But cloud storage is currently much more expensive than just buying a new hard drive. If you have many terabytes of data, it can be incredibly expensive to store all that data in the cloud. Data transfer speeds can also be very slow when compared to local storage. Sometimes users experience extremely slow speeds when performing a backup or restore operation. Slow performance and costs make it critical to be able to eliminate large quantities of unimportant data from cloud backup or synchronization functions. Finding stuff stored in the cloud can also be a slow and difficult process. If you have a few million pieces of data stored in one of those cloud buckets, it might take quite awhile to find it if you have forgotten its unique key name. Likewise, finding all pieces of data that meet some kind of specific criteria can also take a very long time.

The most troubling part of cloud storage seems to be a lack of control over your own data. If your only copy of a valuable piece of data is out in the cloud, you are completely dependent upon the cloud provider to make sure you have unimpeded access; that the data is free from corruption; and that it is secure from unauthorized access. Recently, even Steve Wozniak expressed great concern about the recent trend for individuals and businesses to store large amounts of their important data on a system controlled by someone else.

Personally, I think all the current cloud offerings represent a half-way solution. Universal access, flexible storage capacity, and automatic redundancy are great features. But I think the real, full solution is to have just a copy of important data (and only important data) stored in the cloud that is easily synchronized with other copies of that same data on local systems where the user has complete control.

This is one of the compelling features of the Didget Management System.

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