What is Cloud Storage?

A cloud file storage service is an Internet-based storage service that is paid on a pay-per-use basis and has a structure based on standard file-level protocols, such as the Common Internet File System (CIFS), the Network File System (NFS), and the Server Message Block (SMB).

CFS and cloud block storage are two of the major types of cloud storage services which are connected to the two networked storage types NAS or server, and SAN or server node. Cloud storage utilities include cloud backup services, also use a file storage architecture.

Cloud file storage is best used for managing unstructured or semi-structured data in cloud computing. Examples of this type of data are documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other data that are file-based. For applications that may have massive files, such as databases, a block storage architecture is best suited to provide satisfactory performance. However, there are only a few cloud storage services that offer block storage because the required bandwidth for cloud travel may not be sufficient to maintain acceptable database performance without being temporarily deferred.

What is Cloud Storage SLA?

The cloud storage SLA, or service-level agreement, is a customer-to-cloud storage service provider contract that outlines the system specifications, typically in tangible terms.

The normal cloud storage SLA sets out the exact level of service as well as the alternatives and compensation that the user is entitled to in the event that the cloud storage provider fails to provide the service as described in the agreement. Another typical example of cloud storage is service availability, which sets the maximum amount of time a read request can take, the number of retirees allowed, and much more. The SLA should also consider whether compensation users will be granted in the event that the specifications are not met. Cloud storage service providers offer users a tiered service credit scheme most of the time. As such, it provides customers with credits that are based on the differences between the actual level of service provided and the SLA specifications.

Most public cloud storage services provide details of the level of service that users can expect from their websites. However, an enterprise setting up a service that uses a private cloud storage, provider may be able to negotiate a more customized deal. As such, the SLA may include retention policy specifications, number of copies to be retained, storage locations, and so on.

The implications of an SLA must be read carefully and discussed first. For example, a common stipulation, 99.9 per cent uptime, translates to nine hours of downtime per year, and so on. This may not be enough for mission critical data. Remember to check how the terms are defined.

It’s important to read an SLA closely and examine the ramifications. For example, 99.9% uptime, a common stipulation, translates to nine hours of outage per year. For some mission critical data, that may not be adequate. You should also check to see how terms are defined.

How to choose a better Cloud Storage provider?

Price is one of the first factors most of us consider when deciding which service to choose, but when it comes to cloud storage, that shouldn’t be the first thing you’re looking at. In fact, most experts will tell you that the price of a service should not be higher than the fourth, because there are three other factors that should always take priority.

Availability

Depending on how much of your data you plan to back up with cloud storage, the accessibility issue can range from being relatively minor to being absolutely critical. Knowing how often the provider backs up your files and how much redundancy there is in their storage will tell you how efficient you should expect it to be. It goes without saying that providers offering higher levels of guaranteed availability (i.e. periodic backups and high redundancy) also charge more for their services.

Flexibility

In addition to the availability of your data, flexibility in use is also a key feature that you should look for when evaluating cloud storage providers. The ease with which clients can access, edit, and share previous versions of files varies from one provider to the next, so make sure that any company you consider, offers a level of flexibility that can withstand your company’s workflow.

Security

Perhaps security – and with good reason – is the greatest concern that businesses have when transferring their local data storage to a cloud-based service. The way online storage providers handle this sensitive issue is by providing encryption of your data while resting on network servers, by transferring it to remote cloud storage, and by sending it to and from local cache storage. Be sure that the level of encryption provided by the service meets the safety standards of your company.

The Top 10 Cloud Storage Providers

The market for cloud storage is highly competitive and volatile, thanks in large part to a growing tendency by consumers to treat the service as a commodity. For that reason, establishing a Top 10 list of providers is a bit arbitrary.

Nevertheless, the list set out here represents 10 companies that have consistently been ranked among the most reliable, competitively priced providers in the business for a number of years.

SugarSync

Notable for its capability to stream data directly to your mobile device, and automatically sync files and folders to unlimited users on one account, SugarSync is considered by many to be the leader in the consumer cloud storage market.

OpenDrive

Flexible enough to adapt to either business or personal users, OpenDrive is celebrated for its ease of use, affordable pricing, and state-of-the-art security features.

Mozy

Mozy has carved out a niche for itself as the storage leader in data security for business users. In addition to offering its clients military-level encryption, its service is also celebrated for its speedy, frequent, automatic data backup feature.

Box.net

Lightning-quick data transfer and its usefulness as a web interface tool for synching files and folders are what sets Box apart from other cloud storage providers. While many of its features make it attractive to personal users, it also stands out as a business service provider thanks to its 256-bit SSL security encryption.

ElephantDrive

As its name suggests, ElephantDrive does cloud storage on a large scale. Offering two months of free 500GB storage for personal users and unlimited space for businesses with a one-year subscription, the company caters to those with large storage needs and further ingratiates itself to these clients with one of the fastest, and most-trustworthy, backup systems available.

Carbonite

Specializing in file recovery and unlimited backup capacity, Carbonite has made a name for itself as one of the most-affordable, no-frills cloud storage providers for businesses. Its security and automated scan for backups feature also make it a favorite among companies that handle exceptionally large volumes of unique, sensitive files.

iStorage

Relatively popular among personal users, iStorage gets high scores for its superior customer service and user-friendly interface. While its wealth of personal use features do make it an enticing service for those with limited personal use needs, its storage restrictions and pricing make it less suited to larger users.

MyPC Backup

Unlimited storage, scheduled backups, and the ability to automatically synchronize files edited or created offline with online users as soon as an internet connection is established, are just some of the features that make MyPC Backup a giant in the cloud storage world.

ADrive

One of the breakout cloud storage providers of 2011, ADrive took the cloud storage industry by storm with a built-in document editor, 50GB of free storage, and one of the friendlier price points you’ll find among providers who cater to business users.

FlipDrive

FlipDrive’s easy-to-use service and organizational functions make it a force in the personal storage market, where it also excels by allowing users unlimited photo storage and the ability to create either private or public albums to share with specific users. It’s security features and pricing place it behind many of its competitors, however.

Free Cloud Storage

Numerous companies offer limited free cloud storage to clients as a way to let them test out their service before buying. If your storage needs are small (generally 5GB or less), this free service may be enough to cover them. It is important to be aware of the limitations associated with most free storage before you decide on making it part of your business’ long-term model, however.

What are the Limitations of Free Cloud Storage?

Because free online storage providers earn most of their income from larger clients who pay for storage on the same network of virtual servers used by their free clients, they do place several limitations on free usage.

Storage Limit

Free online storage providers generally limit your total storage space to less than 5GB, although some will offer more (e.g. ADrive allows up to 50GB) and others less (Google Docs limits free users to 1GB). By limiting the amount of storage space offered, these companies hope to entice free users to upgrade to paid service levels after impressing them with the quality of their product.

Maximum File Sizes

In addition to limiting the total amount of storage space available to free users, some providers also limit the file sizes that may be uploaded. This limit varies from extremely small (Amazon CloudDrive caps free clients’ files at 2GB) to fairly large (Windows Live Skydrive and OpenDrive both allow up to 100GB files). It should be noted that file size limits are only associated with some free cloud storage providers. Others do not have this limitation.

Access Limited to a Portal

Most cloud hosting companies that provide free cloud storage provide only portal access to your account. This means that instead of accessing your stored data through a desktop client, you will need to log in to a website to use your files.

Ads Shown on Your Portal Pages

One of the drawbacks of using a free storage service is that part of your web portal page is used by the provider as an advertising space. By monetizing this page, the provider is in a position to generate some revenue from free clients. The disadvantage to the user is only cosmetic, but it may be a matter for some.

No Dedicated Product Support

As free clients are not, to put it bluntly, paying customers, they do not have access to dedicated support resources. This means that they are essentially on their own to deal with data loss or other issues that may arise with the storage service.

The Upside of Free Cloud Storage

Other than the cost advantage (it’s hard to beat something that’s free), free online storage providers also offer consumers something that’s uncommon in business these days – a chance to try out the actual product before buying it. If your data storage needs are small enough, you will still enjoy the same benefits as paying users. If you like the service provided by a particular company and your business needs change, you can always upgrade from free cloud storage to a paying account to meet your needs.

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