Tape, disc, Zip
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.