In recent years we have seen a continuing progression of software services that live in the “cloud” (a euphemism for cyberspace). At the same time, we have migrated more and more of our data into the cloud for convenience of access, backup, and a variety of other reasons. Although we have shared an increasing concern about identity theft and data security, I suspect that a relatively small percentage of people who use the cloud to house their data have any idea about the location of the storage devices that house their data, the law that applies to the data based on where the storage device resides, or who may actually have access to those devices.
When you store data in the cloud, you can access the data from anywhere in the world that you have Internet access available to you. The inverse of that means that your data can reside on storage devices anywhere in the world where they have an Internet connection.
For vendors offering services, the movement of our computing and data into the cloud creates the opportunity for profit. A recent study projected worldwide revenue from cloud services to reach $148 billion per year by 2014. Many companies have started providing a variety of cloud-related services, including software, data storage, and data processing, alone or in various combinations. Lots of big names have already gotten into the cloud storage business, including Amazon, Google, Apple, Dell, and HP, to name just a few.
Most of the cloud-based services include data storage as part of the package. Some simply provide storage for your data in the cloud; others, like Dropbox, SugarSync, and many others will conveniently synchronize data on multiple devices for you. Just to give you some perspective on how big this type of service has become, when I entered a Google search for “cloud data storage and syncing,” it returned 25,200,000 results in .21 seconds. Although I did not check all 25 million-plus results, I looked at the first several pages, and most of the entries identified different service providers.
Most of us move our data into the cloud, trusting that it will reside there in safety. That may prove true in most cases, but that is not an absolute truth. Anything on the Internet bears the potential risk of loss to hackers. Additionally, owing to the wonders of e-discovery, when you use a shared server and storage devices, a subpoena of electronic data from a cohabitant of the device, which may involve cloning a hard drive, could capture some or all of your data as well. The nature of that problem compounds itself by virtue of the fact that not all data storage devices and servers used by the multitude of service providers reside in the United States. Although we may have moved toward a globalized economy and, certainly, the Internet provides access to information and data on a global basis, we do not yet have a global standard of privacy or a global standard respecting data security. Accordingly, the rules applicable to your data will depend on where your provider has situated its servers and storage devices and the local laws applicable to such devices in that jurisdiction.
If the thought of your data sitting on a hard disk located in Lower Slobovia concerns you (and it should), then you may want to take some steps to reduce your risk. Normally, I would suggest that you use a well-known provider, but, in truth, most providers do not make it easy to find out where they store your data. Accordingly, using a well-known provider may not give you the same protection in this context that it would in others. Of course, you can (and should) encrypt your data before storing it; but although you can do that with some data, other data, such as that used by Internet-based software, will not work if encrypted by you and likely cannot be encrypted by you. This means that with such things as Internet-based calendar and contact syncing programs, you have only a few options: (1) avoid using them; (2) trust your provider to provide adequate security; (3) use it, trusting the security offered by your provider, but store critical confidential information in locations that will allow you to encrypt your data and password protect it (or at least limit your exposure by keeping as much confidential data as possible in such other locations).
Concerning your other data, technology has provided another solution for those of you concerned about having your data reside on foreign soil. We have had the possibility of hosting our own data servers for some time, although doing so would have proved more challenging in the past. It has become far easier to do so recently. Now you can set up your own cloud-based data and store your data wherever you want. The hardware will not cost much, and you can easily and inexpensively expand to accommodate more data should you need to do so.
Buffalo Technology’s Cloudstor uses Pogoplug technology and offers an easy and reasonably priced way to maintain your own data in the cloud. The Cloudstor functions as “Internet-attached” storage. I recently spent a couple hundred dollars for a two-bay Cloudstor device, connected it to the Internet (it requires a hard-wire connection), and installed the software on several computers. I set up a free Pogoplug account, and that gave me the ability to access the Cloudstor from any of my computers when they connected to the Internet. Transferring my critical data to the device took relatively little time. Transferring my 500+ GB of media, however, took a bit longer. As soon as data transferred to the Cloudstor, I could access it from any of the computers logged into the account. You can access your data without any proprietary software by using a browser and logging into your account at www.buffalocloudstor.com (you can also log into your account directly at the Pogoplug site), but having the software on each of your computers puts an alias of the Cloudstor device on each desktop, making it very easy to access and use the information.
Cloudstor and Pogoplug work with Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux systems, with special software designed for each. In addition, you can get Pogoplug apps for your iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod), Android devices, and Palm devices. You get the iOS App at Apple’s App Store, the Android App from the Android Market, and the Palm App from the Palm App Catalog; simply download and install each as you would any other application for that device. Once it is installed, open the application from your Internet-connected device and log into your account for access to your media and stored data.
The Cloudstor device I purchased came with two terabytes of storage in a single drive occupying one of the Cloudstor’s two bays. The second bay currently remains empty, but I can add another drive anytime I want, should I find that I require more than two terabytes of storage.
Pogoplug was originally set up to facilitate the storage and streaming of media, and you can, of course, use it for that. It also will store and allow the retrieval of other data, including PDF files, MS Word Documents, Power- Point presentations, etc. Pogoplug also sells its own hardware to connect to the Internet and your Pogoplug account, but it requires that you add external storage drives to it. Pogoplug will sell you an upgraded version of the software that gives you additional features for $29.
Even though I own the server and control its physical location, I recognize the potential vulnerability of anything stored in the cloud. Accordingly, I continue to encrypt critical and confidential data. I do not encrypt my media, as that would interfere with the ability to stream it to my various devices.
I have found the setup quite functional for my purposes. I have used it primarily for the convenience of access and not as a backup solution, although it certainly does provide backup for me. To that extent, it works as redundant backup to the backup structures I already had in place and continue to use. Although we generally try to avoid redundancy, backup of data is one place where it can prove useful if not valuable.