Not all cloud storage resources have a label on them to say ‘Cloud Storage Here’. Some of them are disguised as other applications, but nonetheless allow users to store their information in the cloud. And often they give users gigabytes of free storage space as well. So what are these ‘undercover’ cloud storage services and why would or wouldn’t you use them for storing your data, files and backups?
It All Started With Email
Whether web email was truly the first online storage medium is debatable. However, services like Hotmail and the webmail offerings that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) added to their offerings were certainly among the forerunners. All mail is held in cyberspace. You can attach whatever you want to an email. You can send and receive video clips, spreadsheet files, text and software programs, to name a few possibilities. You can also bundle your data into an anonymous zip file. The danger in that is making sure it doesn’t fall foul of anti-spam applications.
Social Storage, Anyone?
Social networking sites like Facebook and Tumblr can also be considered as big cloud storage machines with user collaboration and messaging added on. Compared to online email, social media sites may limit the kind of files they accept. For instance, Flickr and Picasa focus on photos and images. YouTube is well-known for storing and managing access to users’ video files. While social media sites generally do well in reliably storing user data like this, don’t expect too much confidentiality – the whole point of social media sites is to share.
They Were Never Meant for Backup
These other forms of cloud storage can be used for basic data safeguarding; for instance, send yourself an email with your data in an attachment. However, limitations in trying to do any sizable volume of storage or backup soon become apparent. Individual file size is often an issue with email systems, driving users who want to exchange large files to services like Dropbox. File types are an issue with other services, and storage and backup management may be limited or non-existent. Sorting out all the emails or photos you want to keep in webmail or an image management site is bad enough. Trying to automate backups or synchronize file versions across different platforms using such applications can be a nightmare.
Security and Other Weaknesses
Email accounts and web site servers (another ‘pseudo-cloud’ storage medium) can get hacked and typically offer no encryption. Information privacy practices and strong passwords can go some way to keeping systems secure; yet by the time you get to this stage, the advantages of solutions built specifically for cloud data storage start to become obvious. This is normal. The other applications were designed to get people collaborating, communicating and creating. Storage was a secondary consideration. It’s a coincidence that they happen to have enough of it to allow people to use them as a makeshift storage solutions until they get something more suitable.
The Right Tools for the Job
If an application meets your needs, then it’s the right tool for that job. On the other hand, be aware that different storage spaces in the cloud are not always the best solutions for cloud storage; especially when they are simply there to support another application with another objective. If you’re looking for purpose-built cloud storage solutions, then look for ‘Cloud Storage Provider’ or equivalent on the label.