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Clouds and their Problems

In the digital world, there are many ways to process and store information. With the internet, servers across the world are able to communicate with each other and with those servers, data can be processed or stored along the way. Many people don't understand what the ethereal Cloud even is but the answer is truly simple. When something is in the cloud, it means it's stored on Internet servers instead of a computer's hard drive. This used to be called hosting, but Cloud Computing and cloud related names worked better for marketing and the language moved with the money.

There are many benefits to have off-site storage solutions for precious data, but the Cloud is not an end-all solution to data storage, especially for the average user.

There are two types of Cloud usage: Cloud Computing and Cloud Storage. If you've ever used an storage site within a browser, you've already used Cloud storage. Companies like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Apple's iCloud, NordLocker, MEGA, and Amazon all have servers dedicated to user storage. Usually, this comes at a premium or with a limited free amount of data space. Cloud Storage is pretty easy as a concept - servers owned by a company are maintained and used to store large amounts of data. The money they earn is used for backups, server maintenance, and electricity. Cloud Computing is when an application or algorithm is hosted on a server instead of locally on your computer in order to be scalable, not to be confused with a web application. Examples of this are Youtube, Gmail, Netflix, and Uber.

Now, Clouds can be a wonderful solution to a lot of problems for very large businesses. However, such solutions come with their own dangers. For the average user, your storage can be locked behind paywalls if you miss payments or fall on hard times. Cloud storage is also vulnerable to hardware failures just like every other storage solution, and are also open to distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, in which an attacker floods a server with internet traffic to prevent users from accessing connected online services and sites.

This type of storage also isn't secure - if a service finds something they dislike or breaks their terms of service, they have the right to remove it from their platform without notice. PDF scans of books and music downloads have been destroyed for US copyright laws. Depending on what they find, they can report you to your ISP or the copyright holders, who may attempt to sue (which is also unlikely but possible). Clouds are also open to leaks and hacking events - nearly 98% of companies using cloud computing services experienced at least one data breach from 2020 to 2022. OneDrive is one of the most exploited services for malware and virus distribution. Profiles are hijacked, data is mass deleted, and information is compromised.

Downtime, or the amount of time a service is inaccessible due to internet failure, is often cited as one of the biggest cloud computing disadvantages. Cloud computing is internet-based and service outages are always an unfortunate possibility, occurring for a number of reasons. There's also the concept of Vendor Lock-In, where there's difficulty to migrate your data from one service provider to another. Some vendors make it impossible (or just really difficult) to download your data all at once, and no vendor has migration tools in order to leave their site (and why would they while they're still making money?). Clouds are also open to company shut-downs - if the company owning those servers become bankrupt or dissolved, so does your data.

Temporary or backup storage may be useful, however, especially for non-sensitive data. Using the Cloud to move files from one computer to another over a short time can be a perfectly acceptable use of these services. Backing up your family album onto the Cloud in case of a fire or disaster can also be a really desirable service for a lot of users. Even with some... Not so legal items, Cloud storage can be a good solution to distribute materials quickly. Even if it is caught and expunged from their servers, the damage is done. And barring an IP address block, free sites can be used again and again for these types of files. It's also great for sharing - if you want to distribute a free product for no money to anyone, things like Google Drive and GitHub are perfect.

Clouds aren't perfect. Far from it, actually. However, they have some use to us as individuals, and they have more than a few uses for a bigger business with a strong IT team. In the next lesson, we'll put what we've learned about all these internet topics and ask the question, "Who Controls the Internet?".

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