Tape, disc, Zip

Tech Advisor - - FEATURE -

One re­sult of all the ex­tra dig­i­tal photos and videos we are now cap­tur­ing is that we all need more stor­age space. Mu­sic, movies, books, files... all were once ana­logue ‘things’ for which we had to find shelf space – a self-lim­it­ing process. We’ve in­ves­ti­gated the chang­ing price of stor­age on page 108, but it’s fair to say that the ex­po­nen­tial rate of in­crease in the amount of dig­i­tal media we all gen­er­ate, own and share means we are in­creas­ingly un­able to store ev­ery­thing on phys­i­cal stor­age media in our homes. En­ter the cloud. Let’s get one thing straight. True cloud com­put­ing is the de­liv­ery of com­put­ing func­tion­al­ity as a ser­vice rather than a phys­i­cal prod­uct. It is a means of shar­ing re­sources, soft­ware and in­for­ma­tion be­tween mul­ti­ple de­vices, as a util­ity, over a net­work, which al­most al­ways means the in­ter­net. So if you use an online word pro­ces­sor or video editor from a web-based in­ter­face, you are cloud com­put­ing. But, these days, ‘the cloud’ tends to re­fer to any ser­vice that utilises web con­nec­tiv­ity to share and stream in­for­ma­tion and media. It’s a term ap­pended to prod­ucts and ser­vices good, bad, com­plex and sim­ple in an at­tempt to add an el­e­ment of mys­tique to what is a very sim­ple process: if you have nei­ther the stor­age space or the com­pu­ta­tional power to do some­thing from your desk­top, you can throw it up into the cloud.

It’s an idea that was un­heard of in 1995, but some­thing we are all do­ing to­day – to a greater or lesser ex­tent. Even if you don’t know it as cloud com­put­ing.

Use web­mail? That’s stor­age in the cloud. Share your im­ages over Face­book, In­sta­gram or Flickr? Cloud. Per­haps in your work­ing life you share and edit doc­u­ments us­ing a ser­vice such as Google Docs or OneDrive? That, my friend, is cloud com­put­ing. And all of that in­for­ma­tion is be­ing stored re­motely, whereas once you’d have had a phys­i­cal copy.

More pro­saically, in­creas­ing num­bers of busi­nesses choose to back up their data to off­site cloud stor­age ser­vices. It’s a sen­si­ble idea. Even if you slav­ishly back up ev­ery file and folder you have in your busi­ness, if the tape drive is in the same build­ing as the of­fice and it burns down then you’ve lost the orig­i­nals and backup in one fell swoop.

The same prin­ci­ple ap­plies to in­di­vid­u­als in the home. All rep­utable online stor­age ser­vices use servers across mul­ti­ple sites, mir­ror­ing con­tent so you’re cov­ered in the case of nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. One of the weirder hang­overs from the rapid switch from ana­logue to dig­i­tal is that we all con­sider hard copies of photos, mu­sic and so on to be more ro­bust than ephemeral dig­i­tal files. It’s a com­pletely wrong-headed prin­ci­pal: dig­i­tal files are sim­ply a set of dig­its. Saved across mul­ti­ple servers they will last un­harmed as long as those servers re­main live. An op­ti­cal disc or pa­per copy will even­tu­ally de­grade, no mat­ter how care­fully it is stored.

Six­teen years ago if you owned a record or a photo, you had to store a phys­i­cal de­vice. Now we all have mul­ti­ple copies stored on servers all over the world.

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