Cloud Storage – Is It Everything It Promises?
With the advent of cloud storage, including Google Drive, the conversation has accelerated about the need for personal, secure copies of digital files. When it is possible to store very large photos, video, mp3 and document files in a remote server that can be accessed again by another computer, phone or other device, what is the need for a custom flash drive that needs to be personally carried and plugged in? The answer comes down to security and ease of access.
USB drives, available in a whole host of styles, capacity sizes and, particularly important, security settings, may seem like a relic of a former era as cloud storage enters the scene. But there are some key areas where the cloud comes up short.
First, remote server digital storage services, such as Dropbox, Box.net and others, still have a number of restrictions to file size, number of files available and often a general difficulty with the interface – downloading, sharing, retrieving, etc. Flash drive 2.0 and 3.0 technology counter this difficulty with a simple selection of storage capacities (for example 2GB to 16GB on average), and a simple plug and play user experience that normally does not require downloading drivers, installing software or dealing with cumbersome file uploading procedures. Simply drag and drop your files from the local computer to the USB file.
Second, cloud services claim they are accessible across ALL digital devices. This claim does not actually bear out as most require detailed software downloads and set up confusing file paths. Many do not have integrated or effective mobile applications either. USB flash drives on the other hand are nearly universal – including on many new model TVs! Besides, mobile phones are secondarily digital storage devices anyway. It is pretty common to hook up a phone to the computer to transfer music, video and other large files. So “sneakernet” (physically walking files to wherever you need to go) is not only still common, but made all the more alive BECAUSE of smartphones.
Third, individual users may find their music, photos and videos are easier to save and access on the cloud. However, most organizations will continue to benefit from the value and accountability of distributing physical flash drives with important data such as annual reports, promotional materials or other proprietary information that cloud computing just makes more difficult. Besides, whether for internal company data or for marketing, cloud servers cannot compete with the impression of a shiny USB drive emblazoned with the company logo, right in the palm of your hand.
Finally, the protections available through cloud file sharing are pretty slim and being combated on all fronts. The terms of service for Google’s offering are dangerously in their favor, with the company possibly able to access files and even turn them over to third parties with a court order. There is also the potential of users being scammed into giving up their passwords. USB drives offer the protection of backup without Big Brother able to peer in and see what you are saving. There is a physical device, in your position, that can be kept safe with internal encryptions.
While some will toll the death of USB flash drives as cloud computing continues to develop, it is not likely that this new service will supplant the many protections and services the reliable USB provides.