Cloud (Storage) Wars!

The term “storage wars” has taken on a new meaning. It has shifted literally from the ability to keep one’s belongings in physical containers to having one’s data stored and managed in the digital realm.

A question often asked is whether the (Internet) cloud is infinite. The answer is both a yes and no.

The top four cloud tech companies are endlessly engaged in a silent market share war. It is a tough choice as they all offer millions of gigabytes in storage. It is therefore fair to interrogate to what extent is there an abundance of storage after which storage space will run out.

The “Cloud” as explained in our previous blog, is a series of backed up servers scattered across the globe.

Consequently,  in terms of availability of storage, it is just a matter of where a datacenter can be run on super-servers and at what maintenance costs.

The answer to how infinite is the cloud, therefore, boils down to primarily a cost, rather than a capacity issue for the respective cloud-storage providers (CSPs).

The main providers/participants vying for a market share in the paid cloud storage subscriptions are namely Google, Microsoft (Azure), Amazon and IBM.

There are also smaller yet significant players such as Box, Dropbox, Tresorit, and Barracuda.  A quick online search will reveal what is on offer by these individual players.

Similarly, the pages of any one of the smaller companies will give some comparisons on individual cloud storage offers.

We will, however, look at the top for major players and summarize their offerings based on a focus on both individuals and small to large enterprises.

What to look out for

Some of the key features to look for when storing data in the cloud   include: Encryption at rest and in transit, as well as end-to-end encryption; 2-Step Verification, HIPAA Compliance.

Other factors to consider is the actual server location, ability to sync any folders and perform selective Synchronization.

There are also key offerings such as offering the ability to edit files on mobile devices. For businesses, the ability to remotely wipe mobile devices, perform file-versioning, and other useful features for data management.

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As a business, if the above-mentioned features are not  in your cloud solution, you better look into switching away.

While you can technically run your own cloud, it would require a full-on IT team. That or a very good support system to assist in its maintenance and administration.

It is for this very reason that a SaaS(and Hybrid)-approach  to storage is preferred by many medium to large enterprises.

Here are 4 of the most popular CSPs 


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Weaponry: 

A standard (personal) GoogleDrive starts from 15 GB in size and comes when you open a Google email account. This is a standard with most Android-powered mobile phones which require a Gmail account to register the phone. It is a convenient way to store and access your pics, videos, and files across multiple devices or back them up in case of a hard drive crash.

If you do not mind the inconvenience of having several logins, you could get away with multiple drives giving you 15 GBs each.

There is, however, a drawback as there is no such a thing as a free lunch – the level of security and compliance features naturally are little to almost none.  Additional storage can also be purchased with different upgrade plans, which may come with more  add=ons such as extra file encryption.

When it comes to their business offering, their Team Drive is available with the G-Suite bundle. One can upload 750 GB of data per day and up to a total 5 TB in size.  Team Drive can contain a maximum of 100,000 files and folders, however, this limit can be increased upon request.

The basic package including the more advanced security costs $5 per user per month and gives you 30 GB for storage and collaboration.

A full comparison of available storage plans 
Tactical strengths:

The ease of accessing and using the drives via strategic partnerships such as the one with Android provides them with growing market share.   As it is cloud-based and not linked to physical devices,  you can access your GoogleDrive using a Mac computer as well.

There are growing talks of incorporating Artificial Intelligence <AI> into the data management systems and currently building a full AI Center in Accra, Ghana. This will help bigger companies manage, access and organize their stored information faster and with more purpose.

They have recently launched a set of new cloud storage tiers under the branding Google One.

This comes with revised pricing and storage options: 15 GB: remains Free; 100 GB costs $1.99/month; 200 GB $2.99/month  and 2 TB $9.99/month.

Potential weakness/es:

Google is a latecomer when it comes to offering business solutions and still battles with the stigma of being a free service and thus associated with inferior quality.

The integration with Office applications is still something they struggle to get right. Not many are fans of their free word processing software included in Googlesheets.

Most non-Microsoft platforms will have this compatibility problem.

They also run into a few data syncing problems ever so often, especially with the free storage. They offer full 24/7 customer and technical support with their products. More aggressive advertising and pricing of their business offerings now serves to hopefully alleviate this issue for them.

How Google bounces back from a hefty  EUR 4,34 billion fine for the mentioned collusion with Android will determine if they survive the storage war. This especially if they will be now forced to allow other CSPs to offer services on mobile devices.


AmazonWeaponry:

One of the first cloud solution provider to offer eCommerce and Business-to-Business (B2B) offerings. Amazon and its Amazon Web Services (AWS) has come a long and calculated way from just offering/selling books online.

They are actually seen as a formal threat and direct (more superior) competitor to Microsoft’s cloud (equivalent) offering –  which we touch on next.

Most of this comes from a robust and apparently the world’s largest global cloud infrastructure.

Based on this, its cloud storage, dubbed Amazon S3, works on a “pay as you use” basis while its free tier starts you off on 5GB of storage. Thereafter you pay in increments based on the storage class you fall under.

So the first 50 TB will cost  $0.023 per GB per month and then the next 450 TB will cost $0.022 per GB per month and so on.

This is practical for businesses that do not have a limit to storage space but scale up and down very quickly based on their operations.

Tactical strengths:

Amazon’s storage platform gives users and businesses alike the ability to geographically store and move data with the highest levels of encryption. In addition, one can use data analytics on your data without moving the data into a separate analytics system.

Amazon Athena additionally provides anyone who knows SQL on-demand query access to vast amounts of unstructured data. As with Google, AI incorporation along with Alexa would facilitate this even further.

Other notable benefits offered include open workflows, Hybrid-cloud storage capability, powerful APIs and easy and reliable access to many Third-Party vendors & Partners.

Naturally, you get access to its AWS Marketplaces. It also has a strong compliance adherence including HIPAA/HITECH, EU Data Protection Directive, and FISMA.

Comparison of the various storage classes available.

Potential weakness/es:

Its primary offering of consumer goods and online delivery will make it prone to any bad press received if that arm of operations does not work well.

Further expansion into areas like streaming TV with Amazon Prime and cashless stores might result in a jack of all trades expert in none phenomenon. They are, nevertheless, handling all well so far.


mslogoWeaponry:

The “go-to” tech company for word-processing software as well as operating systems. This software giant like Amazon, is branching into many products.

They now offer games, server hosting software, applications, an online store for all its devices, software and services and of course, storage.

Its Azure platform powers certain parts of Nasa and utility giant Schneider Electric to mention a few. It purchase works similarly to Amazon via ‘pay-as-you use’ terms.

Storage users need to have a .Net Framework and SQL installed to use the storage. For those looking for quick storing solutions without building heavy infrastructure, they can adopt the cloud completely.

With the launch of its online services (Microsoft 365,), it has had to repackage a portion of its Azure platform to cater for small to mid-sized businesses.

These include functional/specific bundles such as OneDrive (personal), OneDrive for Business and Sharepoint (a powerful storage and content management tool).

The online version of the Sharepoint starts at $5.00 per user per month for a rather limited 1 TB per organization. Thereafter, users can purchase more in 1 GB increments of 12 to 16 (US) cents depending on the total (storage space) size ordered.

Tactical strengths

Also early adopters of AI (Machine Learning) and recently, the Blockchain (Blockchain Workbench), Microsoft is providing its developers with more and better reasons to use its storage space for practicality.

Like their online storage offers on Office 365, Azure storage packages are also quite structured and well categorised.

There are specific functions such as a database server-data management system. Then there is one for application running services, and others to handle rest-based object storage (Blob Storage).

Lastly, they offer storage to help perform computations and process events (Functions).

These bundles are all provided free for the first 12 months and then range from $0.002 per GB to about US 0.20c per million executions.

They have a good Partner system to help distinguish and provide support for the best storage package based on one’s immediate needs.

To bolster their growing Marketplace, they recently also purchased the business that deals with OpenSource (GitHub).  This enables more freedom for developers to manipulate software on its platform.

For a comparison of the storage types via Azure and pricing for each, click here.

Potential weakness/es:

People have found its pricing a little to steep on the storage side and so keeping market share will be tough.  Many new smaller CSPs offering cheaper per GB rates.

They can only counter this by offering more products that require their storage (compatibility-wise).

Some other cumbersome restrictions like users being only able to upload 20 000 files at once or the actual file-size limit might not bode too well with heavy cloud data users.

They also don’t have as many APIs as Google or Amazon does, but these are growing by the day.


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Weaponry:

Probably the first of the CSP batch that provided cloud computing. It therefore has had the experience of honing ways of storing and retrieving data for larger businesses. International Business Machines (or IBM) can be considered as the grandfather of data storage.

As with the other CSPs, there is a free offering called the “Lite plan” consisting of a single IBM Cloud service instance with storage up to 25 GB/month.

Paid storage is staggered, per consumption and based on complex costing tiers based on location, storage class, and resiliency choice.

Storage charges start from $0.09 for up to 50 GB down to $0.014 for 500+ TB on what they call the Cross Region Flex plan.

For more insight into the complex costing table, visit the IBM storage pricing page here.

Tactical strengths:

Their security is their biggest pride and strength and makes them a firm favourite for large companies and potentially governmental institutions.

The fact that they do not actively advertise as much as Google or Microsoft is telling. They clearly need to provide high secrecy and protection for their existing clients.

One such feature unique to the way data is stored on their cloud servers is using Information Dispersal Algorithms (IDAs). This helps to separate data in unrecognizable “slices” that are distributed across datacenters.

So basically the complete copy of the data resides in any single storage node, and only a subset of nodes are available in order to fully retrieve the data on the network. This is similar to how peer-to-peer sharing or data encryption works.

And speak of heavy encryption, they have allegedly recently also started on the Blockchain and are experimenting with a particular Cryptocurrency to enable ease of payments. This in the light of IBM with its Watson platform looking to become more of a cloud-based data operating system.

Potential weakness/es:

IBM relies too much on its reputation as a forerunner for tech and cloud-based computing. It has earned that title for several decades before the likes of Google and Amazon barged in.

They might lose out on market share once the newer CSPs start to offer more robust products and compliance services like theirs.

Their high security and complex system come at a premium so designed for or rather restricted to wealthy companies essentially. The hosting option (main server locations) looks limited and restricted to geographical areas primarily within the US and EU.


250x250Be wary of clandestine terminology such as ‘unlimited archiving/storage’ even with a paid subscription. This usually refers to storing data at rest and not the ability to constantly and unlimitedly sync files.

Another salient factor to compare would be the number of files that you can upload or sync at the same time.

This will be relevant for larger companies that need to upload large files and by large, we mean 10 GB files (2 and a half HD DVDs’ worth of content) and upwards.

Making a choice

At the end of the day, your decision to take on a faction in the storage war should be based on your priorities. You simply match it to what each of the companies is offering taking your budget into consideration of course.

You may need to consider running a combination of two or more of them.

Some larger companies offer storage as a “must have” with  hosted email or along with something as basic as purchasing a new smartphone.

You will, however, have to ask yourself a few more pressing questions around functionality, data security and compliance before taking it up.

Or you can simply not accept the offer or disable it in cases where it is presented as a freebie!

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

In economic terminology, the term “utility” has not much to do with multifunctionality nor completing specific useful tasks.

It does in context, relate to the level of satisfaction or “completeness” one derives from the consumption of a product or service. For example, there is only so much pizza one can eat before feeling ill from satiety.

On a broader and more macroeconomics spectrum, our utility levels will also help determine how resources are allocated and consumed.

Definition

The concept, a brainchild of Daniel Bernoulli, has so many relevant connotations. As humans, we individually have a maximum biological boundary which when reached, signals absolute satisfaction. This in economic terms is called maximum (total) utility.

Total utility as the complete satisfaction that you can get from consuming all units of a specific item.

Economists are more interested in the changes in levels of utility or what is referred to as the marginal utility.

We will return to its application to the economy.

Applying utility

Incidentally, utility has no formal unit of measurement – though some have coined the term “utils”. These so-called utils equate a number to utility levels in a controlled sample experiment.

Understandably it can be quite a feat to quantify utility as it is based on human behavioural preferences. The closest we got to quantifying such was via the marketing concept of the consumer black box.

N26_banner-160x600-ENAs an illustration, the concept can be applied to something as basic as eating a delicious meal.

Depending on how hungry you were, you would derive the highest utility from the first few bites of your meal.

As you progressed and depending on your appetite, each additional fork, spoon, handful more would provide fewer levels of satisfaction. As you reach your stomachs capacity (inch towards satiety) your utility diminishes.

This can be applied to the taste of the meal. It specifically explains why we tend to eat something sweet after a main (savoury) meal.

The appreciation of ice cream when you are starving would diminish quickly as you concentrate on filling up your stomach. This as opposed to enjoying the taste.

When applied properly to the running of an economy, governments and policymakers can determine which goods and services yield the most maximum utility.

This helps them to consequently direct expenditure to identified priority areas (products/services).

It is a long term concept

Education, for instance, may not provide immediate utility (gratification) for scholars and pupils. However, when appropriately harnessed, it could yield higher levels of satisfaction as individuals enter the job market with better remuneration packages.

Tweaking education curricula, taking into consideration levels of utility to whip up interest for the good of the individual. This should, therefore, be a prime focus for legislators.

Inputs such as maximum times that students can concentrate and the length of study for a degree, diploma or course should be offered without compromising the substance.

Without a doubt, there would be considerations, at a micro-level to assist in enhancing both marginal and total utility in the education sector.

Read more about fiscal policy and budgets here

More life-related uses

The concept of utility is a lot less ubiquitous as we think and relates to the unsavoury phenomenon of megalomania and why we have greed.

When the level of satisfaction or self-gratification diminishes quickly, you find that it takes longer for those experiencing lower levels of marginal utility to reach a plateau of pleasure.

Drug addiction, sexual appetites, and fetishes would then kick-in in such cases where people upgrade the “product or service” that they have already maximized their utility. At that stage, another level of fulfilment would be sought.

Utility applied to finances

120x600It also explains why people lose a lot of money gambling or investing in stocks. The satisfaction of gaining more for a little outlay based on your decisions, will often drive you to take more risk until a level of risk aversion kicks in.

High-risk equity investors “called whales”  are now delving into the Crypto market to maximize their utility. They are diverting their funds from property and stock trading into digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The saying too much of a good thing is inevitably bad for you applies and can be countered by diversifying the things that deliver pleasure or satisfaction.

This is to ensure that you do not maximise utility on them too quickly and lose interest.  Worse case, delve too deep into the dangerous territories of addiction.

Economists need to be relevant, more than ever before. They also need to formulate a means to measure and quantify utility or provide “utils” for at least, the most common goods and services.

With such a strategy, policy-making, product pricing and the efficient allocation of resources would be more effortless.

250x250You can still tap into the pool of 17-odd million Bitcoins that is now in circulation. You can even purchase them in the fiat currency equivalents.

But where do you get them then? After all, Cryptocurrency is this dark and mysterious transaction system used only by criminals and drug addicts.

So you acquiring them would naturally be in a shady place like the dark web – where it is used to acquire illicit things – right?

Not quite and there are publicly accessible marketplaces where one can securely purchase Bitcoins.

Find out more via A peer-to-peer Crypto marketplace