Cloud Storage: How Does It Work and The Top Cloud Storage Providers In 2021

Cloud computing is growing fast and is projected to maintain a strong upwards trajectory for 2021. Public cloud spending increased by 34.4 percent in 2020, thanks to increased reliance on the cloud due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out faster, it will still take some time before we return to anything resembling normalcy, with enterprises and consumers alike looking to the cloud to help keep things running. In fact, the cloud will likely play a vital role in the new normal.

That’s why it’s essential to get educated on cloud storage and what the top cloud providers look like for 2021. We will define cloud storage, how it works, and the most popular providers for the year.

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Let’s dig in.

What Is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage, also called cloud backup, is a computing service model that lets you transmit, store, and access files and data in a remote, offsite location, operating through the internet, all courtesy of a cloud provider. The cloud provider operates and manages the data storage service, taking responsibility for data processing away from the customer. These responsibilities also include hosting, securing, maintaining, and managing the servers and associated infrastructure.

Customers access their cloud storage either via a dedicated private network or the public internet. The host makes sure the client has access to their data whenever it’s required. Clients pay either a per consumption or a monthly rate.

Cloud storage gives businesses of all sizes a cost-effective, scalable data storage solution. It offers smaller companies the same powerful and up-to-date data storage capabilities that larger enterprises enjoy, making the little guys more competitive and leveling the playing field.

It’s not enough to use the term “cloud storage,” we need to specify because cloud storage has three different types:

  • Public Cloud Storage. Multiple customers share scalable public cloud storage, hence the name. Providers make it easy for their customers to access data, allowing them to use any device such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Private Cloud Storage. The private cloud storage model resembles the public cloud storage, but there is a significant difference: the storage system is located within the client’s onsite network. Customers use their physical servers to create virtual servers to expand their data processing capabilities. Private cloud storage services can be built and hosted by a cloud storage provider, offering exclusive private access for the customer. Alternately, the client can handle all the hosting and operational tasks themselves. Financial institutions and major retail companies often use private cloud storage due to the sensitive nature of their data.
  • Hybrid Cloud Storage. The hybrid option combines public and private cloud storage attributes. Hybrid cloud is ideal for companies that have a combination of highly personal information and less sensitive data that requires storage and processing. Customers can choose which data gets stored with a third-party provider and which remains in-house. Hybrid clouds are ideal for organizations that want to expand their data storage capabilities without investing in new in-house infrastructure.

How Does Cloud Storage Work?

Cloud storage follows the same fundamental principles as regular in-house datacenter storage. Information passes to and from a storage device that securely houses the data for safekeeping — pretty basic stuff.

However, cloud storage has its own set of rules and architecture. Cloud service providers have many large data centers located worldwide. Clients purchase storage from cloud service providers, who in turn assume most of the data storage chores, including security, delivery, capacity, processing resources, and storage servers.

Many popular cloud storage services use large numbers of hard drive storage systems grouped into virtual servers, linked in a mesh-like network structure. This architecture consists of a master control server and any number of storage servers. The cloud host’s physical machines can hold many virtual servers, each one dedicated to a paying customer. Clients can choose from many different devices, including their smartphones, laptops, desktops, or tablets, to access the servers when they want to work with their data.

But the nuts and bolts of how cloud storage works depend on what sort of storage type the host employs. The three principal storage methods are:

  • Block Storage. Block storage splits huge data volumes into easily managed smaller pieces called blocks. Each block is linked to a unique identifier then assigned to one of the host’s storage drives. Customers like block storage because it’s efficient, fast, and offers a low latency that works well with applications like high-performance workloads and databases.
  • File Storage. File storage organizes information into a file and folder hierarchy, an arrangement commonly found in personal computer drives and network-attached storage (or NAS). Click on the “File Explorer” function on your laptop, and you will see the file storage hierarchy in action. Information goes into files, which in turn get assigned to folders. Folders, in turn, are organized into directories and subdirectories for easy storage, access, and retrieval.
  • Object Storage. Object storage classifies data into objects, and each object consists of three components. First is the stored data, then the metadata associated with the data file, and finally, a unique identifier. The object storage protocol employs a RESTful API to store the file and its metadata as one object, and then assign it an identification number. When a user wishes to work with the stored data, they present the identification number to the host system, which assembles the data along with its authentication, metadata, and security.

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The Top Cloud Storage Providers for 2021

Cloud storage is surging in popularity, so it’s hardly surprising that there are many cloud storage providers to choose from, each one determined to grab a share of this fast-growing market. The problem is, which one do you prefer?

Notice that we’re drawing a difference between cloud storage services and cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Services, and Microsoft Azure. The former deals with data storage, and it’s the subject of this article. Cloud platforms are virtual environments that provide a selection of different services such as Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). There is overlap since cloud platforms also include data storage, whereas cloud storage services deal only with storing data.

Here are the five top cloud storage providers taking shape in 2021.

pCloud

This cloud storage provider is based in Switzerland. It’s more expensive up-front, but that price is a one-and-done lifetime deal that precludes concerns about potentially costly renewal fees. You can get 500GB storage for only $175, and that’s a lifetime subscription! Of course, other pricing plans offer far more storage capacity.

iDrive

iDrive is a veteran of the cloud storage game and is considered one of the best providers available. You can get 5TB of storage for just $3.48 for your first year. iDrive is ideal for small businesses and personal storage.

OneDrive

If you use Windows, then you already have some idea about OneDrive. It works perfectly with not only Windows but Microsoft’s Office programs. OneDrive comes with 5GB of free storage. If you’re using Microsoft 365, you can access an extra 1TB per user if you begin with a $6 monthly subscription.

Dropbox

Let’s hear it for the original storage provider! Dropbox is the embodiment of simplicity, and the free 2GB storage you get works with any platform. You can get 3TB of storage for just over $16 a month, and there are options for business and team plans. Dropbox is comparatively pricier than some of the other data storage offerings. Still, its ease of use and compatibility with all kinds of tech makes it worth the price, especially if you aren’t very tech-minded and just want a good chunk of data storage space.

Google Drive

We can’t forget the offering from the Internet’s heavy hitter! If you have a Google account, you not only have 15GB of free storage and the Google One office suite. Google Drive features clients for most operating systems except Linux. Like other data storage providers, Google offers you more storage space, like 2TB for $9.99 a month under the product name Google One.

There are even more cloud storage providers to choose from, each one offering something for every taste and need. However, you can’t go wrong with the above five.

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Do you know who uses lots of cloud storage? People involved in app creation, specifically DevOps professionals. DevOps is an increasingly popular software design methodology, and companies need more skilled professionals in this discipline.

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