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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is Cloud Storage For You?

Recent announcements by several tech giants have brought cloud storage into the mainstream. Will it work for you as a professional photographer?

Imagine, for example, finding yourself halfway across the world from your studio when you receive a request for images intended for the cover of a well-respected magazine. By having your images stored in the cloud, you can potentially gain access to your full image library, making it possible to select and send high-resolution files for publication.

Online storage also has become highly reliable, with most service providers offering automatic redundant storage and extremely high reliability and accessibility levels. That means you can feel reasonably confident that the files you store online will be stored safely, and also that you'll be able to access them at virtually anytime.

The Drawbacks

Naturally, cloud storage isn't without some potential disadvantages. These mostly relate to limitations you'll want to keep in mind as you consider cloud storage as part of your overall workflow.

The most important thing to remember is that cloud storage shouldn't be used as your sole storage solution. Generally, the services provided for cloud storage are very reliable, but any responsible digital photography workflow requires redundant storage. Just as you should never depend upon a single copy of your digital photos on your local computer, cloud storage shouldn't be seen as a replacement for local storage.

As dependable as cloud storage solutions have proven to be, they aren't infallible. There's a risk, though small, that files will be lost, or that files safely stored won't be accessible from time to time. As such, cloud storage should be treated as a storage option that's reliable, but for which there's the potential for problems.
There are a variety of options available for cloud storage, with varying costs and benefits. At a basic level, you'll find options for simple online backup. In most cases, this approach involves an automatic backup of photos, documents and other files stored on a particular hard drive.
There's also some reason to be concerned about the safety of your images, both in terms of dependable storage and resistance to unauthorized access. The chances of there being a problem are quite low, but the risk does exist. It's important to take these risks into account as you evaluate whether cloud storage is a good fit for you, and as you make a decision about which service provider you'll utilize for cloud storage.

One of the biggest limitations of online storage of large amounts of data is the huge amount of time it can take to upload your photos to the server. Let's assume an upload speed of around 2 Mb/s (this is probably a bit optimistic in terms of average upload speeds for extensive transfers). That means you'll be transferring images at a rate of about four seconds per megabyte of data transferred. For 1 terabyte of data (over one million megabytes), you'd be looking at more than a month required to transfer your data. Fortunately, some of the cloud storage services enable you to ship them a hard drive containing your photos so they can be transferred directly to the servers and then made available online.

The cost of cloud storage can actually be a significant disadvantage for photographers, considering the large amount of data the typical photographer has accumulated. For many services, the volume of data a photographer will want to store will cost hundreds of dollars per month. That's quite pricey considering how inexpensively you can purchase an external hard drive or other media device for a local backup.


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