Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly impacted by cloud storage. Perhaps you begin your work day by opening a Google Doc or an email sent to you via Gmail. Both of those platforms are dependent upon cloud storage. Or perhaps you spend your lunch hour checking Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. All those platforms make use of it as well.
It’s all around us, whether we’re downloading cat videos or toiling away on a big project, and impacts us most directly when we want to back up or store our own personal data — as will increasingly be the case. Spurred by the advent of such cloud-storage systems as Google One, Amazon Cloud and OneDrive, the cloud storage market size is expected to be $49.13 billion in 2021, then jump to $297.54 billion by 2028, a CAGR of 25.3 percent.
Cloud storage is particularly popular in the business world, as some 85 percent of enterprises around the world use it.
But what is it, really?
It consists not of storage in some mystical place free of Earth’s bounds (as its name might suggest), but in far-off data centers, where files of all sizes are secured and backed up but also constantly accessible to owners via the Internet. In fact, users — who pay for the service either via subscription or on a per-consumption basis — can access their information courtesy of any device.
It is, in other words, a sizable step beyond storing information on thumb drives or external hard drives. It has also been particularly useful during the coronavirus pandemic, given many companies’ pivot to remote work. Files can be shared, and it is possible for multiple users to access a file at the same time. In other words, collaborative projects are a breeze when cloud storage is involved.
Security is, of course, a constant concern, especially given how much data is going to be out there in the years to come. While there were some 33 zettabytes of data (the equivalent of 33 trillion gigabytes) throughout the world in 2017, that total is expected to mushroom to 175 zettabytes in 2025. And rest assured that cybercriminals are always lurking.
The countermeasures adopted by cloud servers are considerable. Most take steps such as encrypting files, storing them behind firewalls, and availing users of two-factor authentication. Some even resort to artificial intelligence to scan their system for weak spots.
In addition, most services make multiple copies of files and store them at various data centers — a practice known as redundancy — to preclude their loss in a natural disaster. A 2019 report even noted that there are occasions where these services back up data on magnetic tape, often considered a relic of a bygone era but actually a reliable, secure means of storage.
The long and short of it is that we continue to be enveloped by the cloud. It is all around us, at all times, and enables us not only to store an ever-increasing amount of data, but also to access and share it. All of that is valuable — particularly the latter, and particularly now.
In 2016, Frederic Kerrest, COO and co-founder of the identity tech startup Okta, told Inc. that business was only “in the first inning” of cloud computing adoption. It is safe to say that we have moved along to subsequent innings. Snowflake, a Silicon Valley cloud data warehousing company, on September 15, 2020 raised $3.4 billion in what is the largest software IPO ever.
Now just about everyone wants his or her turn at bat (to torture the baseball metaphor a bit more).
Precious few industries have been left unaware of the advantages the cloud can offer. It is estimated, in fact, that 90 percent of companies are now reaping its benefits, and that spending on cloud infrastructure services will increase from $39.5 billion in 2019 to $63 billion by 2021.
Those benefits range from things like increasing accessibility, improving efficiency, and reducing the sheer size of a company’s data center to reducing an enterprise’s carbon footprint.
Of particular interest is the level of security the cloud provides. A 2019 post on Onehub noted that all businesses would be wise to follow the 3-2-1 backup plan, under which data is stored in two places on-site and a third off-site, thus negating the impact of a disaster such as a fire.
That same site shared some grim statistics about cybersecurity. Fully 21 percent of business files go unprotected, and 41 percent of companies leave over 1,000 files vulnerable to attack, including files that contain sensitive personal information. And just about half of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, while ransomware attacks have skyrocketed by some 350 percent each year.
The cloud obviously offers a much-needed layer of protection. Also pertinent — especially in this day and age, as the coronavirus pandemic rages — is the fact that the cloud offers businesses more flexibility in terms of remote work. No matter where an employee happens to be at any given moment, he or she can access a company’s data and applications. All that’s needed is the proper device and a working internet connection.
Here are four industries that have soared into the cloud:
- Education: With remote learning now a necessity in a great many places, the cloud offers the same flexibility it does to remote workers. Chad Stevens, leader for K-12 Education at Amazon Web Services, told EdTech Magazine that AWS affords students the opportunity to access educational resources, and in the case of the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, was integral to the setup of call centers for tech/remote support.
- Marketing/Advertising: Data is king, and cloud platforms allow those in such fields as marketing to gather information from various sources — and do so in real time. This obviously helps to spot emerging trends and markets, and thus get a leg up on the competition.
- Real Estate: As with other disciplines, agents and brokers in real estate benefit from accessibility while on the go. The cloud gives them the ability to store data, safely and securely — and have peace of mind in the event of, say, a hard drive gone bad.
- Healthcare: Telemedicine has taken on added importance during the pandemic, and is expected to be critical to this sector in the years ahead. That means, once again, that storing data in the cloud is of the utmost importance. In addition, patients have easy access to their own records, and thus a greater say in their own care than ever before.
The cloud looks incredibly promising for many businesses, in a variety of industries, as they look to meet current challenges and anticipate those in the years ahead. It offers accessibility, security and flexibility — and, perhaps most of all, peace of mind.
As detailed by Chris Pedigo of Lacework.com, 2019 saw some dark days for the cloud. While companies storing information in such data centers usually find that method cost-effective and efficient, the exceptions were notable, and troubling.
In April, 540 million Facebook records were exposed via Cultura Colectiva, a Mexican content provider. In May, Instagram saw 49 million records laid bare. July brought the Capital One breach, in which 80,000 bank account numbers (and 140,000 social security numbers) were exposed. And September saw the Autoclerk breach, where travel reservations were hacked, including those of military personnel involved with sensitive operations.
As a result, businesses are increasingly turning to blockchain to secure their cloud storage. An integral part of the larger trend toward Blockchain as a Service (BaaS), the distributed security makes this decentralized ledger far less vulnerable to hackers than the centralized servers preferred by most companies in the past.
The reasons have been well-documented. There are the cryptographic hashes unique to each block, which results in the chain’s immutability — i.e., none of the blocks can be modified without altering the whole chain. There is the peer-to-peer network, to which all data is distributed. Because it is not stored by any single entity but rather a node of users, the information within the chain cannot be changed by an outside actor. That ties into another security measure — the consensus protocol, under which all users need to verify a new block.
Finally, there is proof-of-work (PoW), the algorithm used to verify the transactions that lead to the creation of new blocks in the chain.
Again, such security is one of the great appeals of blockchain, and spending on the technology, which has tripled since 2017, is expected to reach $16 billion by 2023. Healthcare in particular is expected to reap the benefits of this technology, as blockchain spending in that sector is projected to reach $1.4 billion by 2024.
At present, however, healthcare lags behind financial services, manufacturing and energy and utilities in the industries that executives view as being most advanced in blockchain development, per a Business Insider survey. Forty-six percent of those polled believe that financial services have made the greatest strides in that area, compared to 12 percent for manufacturing, 12 percent for energy and utilities and 11 percent for healthcare. (Another eight percent view governmental use as being the most advanced.)
But it is expected that there will be precious few industries that won’t be impacted by this technology in the years to come. One report listed 58 possible areas in which blockchain can be applied, ranging from voting to ride-sharing to advertising.
The conclusion is a simple one: A decentralized storage system like blockchain can do for information what it has been doing for cryptocurrencies, keeping it safe and sound, and accessible only to those on the chain in question. The trend toward blockchain will only continue in the years ahead, and cut across all sectors.