The term “storage wars” has taken on a new meaning and 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; all offering 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 data center 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 their focus on both individuals and small to large enterprises.
Some of the key features one looks for when storing one’s data in the cloud (other than the fact that you want it to be available when you need it, especially for those paranoid about losing their data in the digital abyss or getting it stolen; used by unauthorized individuals) include: Encryption at rest and in transit, as well as end-to-end encryption; 2-Step Verification, HIPAA Compliance ( other compliance and regulatory online security adherence requirements when it comes to the storage and usage of data especially in the light of GDPR); the actual server location; the ability to sync any folders and perform selective Synchronization; 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.
As a business, if the above-mentioned features are not included in your cloud solution, you better look into switching away from what you are using immediately. While one can technically run your own cloud – which many companies do internally – this would require a full-on IT team or 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
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 very 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.
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 specific applications, 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 (currently building a full AI Center in Accra, Ghana), and 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 with revised pricing and storage options: 15 GB: remains Free; 100 GB: $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 are offering of full 24/7 customer and technical support with their products and a bit more advertising of the 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 – which has been deemed unfair practice by the EU Antitrust commision, will determine if they survive the storage war – especially if they will be now forced to allow other CSPs to offer services on their devices.
Weaponry: As one of the first cloud solution provider to go commercial (to households) with 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 will 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 association with 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 its cashless stores might result in a jack of all trades expert in none phenomenon. But at the moment, they are handling all well so far.
Weaponry: The “go-to” tech company for word-processing software as well as operating systems. This software giant like Amazon is branching into many offerings: games, server hosting software, applications, an online store for all its devices, software and services and of course, storage. Its Azure platform – which incidentally powers certain parts of Nasa and utility giant Schneider Electric to mention a few, works similarly to Amazon on a pay as you use basis.
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 dubbed Office 365, it has had to repackage a portion of its Azure platform to cater for small to mid-sized businesses with 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 and 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 from a practical point of view.
Like their online servers storage offers on Office 365, Azure storage packages are also quite structured and well categorised – with emphasis on a specific functions such as a database server-data management system; one for application running services, and then others to handle rest-based object storage (Blob Storage) and lastly, 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) – allowing for more freedom for developers to use 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 keeping market share will be tough with many new smaller CSPs offering cheaper per GB rates. They can only counter this by offering more products that require their storage and by reducing costs or increasing storage and syncing capabilities.
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.
Weaponry: Probably the first of the CSP batch that provided cloud computing and 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, financial institutions and potentially governmental institutions and departments. The fact that they do not actively advertise as much as Google or Microsoft is telling regarding their need to provide secrecy and protection of their existing clients.
One such feature unique to the way data is stored on their cloud servers is using Information Dispersal Algorithms (IDAs) to separate data in unrecognizable “slices” that are distributed across data centers.
So basically the complete copy of the data resides in any single storage node, and only a subset of nodes needs to be available in order to fully retrieve the data on the network – kind of the way peer-to-peer sharing or encryption works.
And speaking of heavy encryption, they have allegedly recently also started on the Blockchain and are experimenting with a particular Cryptocurrency to enable ease of payments for data storage and movement. 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. Though very niched in their offering and type of clients 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.
Be wary of gimmicky terminology such as unlimited archiving/storage even with a paid subscription. This usually refers to storing data at rest and not to the ability to constantly and unlimitedly sync files or changes made to them as this usually has a limit. 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 to 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. And although it is practical – as you would ideally take a bed apart before packing it into a shipping container to afford more space for other things – you don’t want to have to be splitting large video files just to be able to load it to the cloud due to time taken or at the risks losing its quality when it is reassembled.
At the end of the day, your decision to take on a faction in the storage war should be based on your priorities and what each of the companies is offering compared to your budget. You might need to consider running a combination of two or more of them.
Though some of the larger companies offer cloud storage as convenience or a “must have” with other services like hosted email or along with something as basic as purchasing a phone, you will have to ask yourself a few more pressing questions around functionality, data security and compliance before taking it up – or simply just don’t accept or disable it in cases where it is presented as a freebie!