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Cloud storage: Is the convenience worth the extra expense?

Weigh the benefits

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Sysadmin blog Judging by my inbox, quite a few businesses have taken to heart my warnings about the legal issues that arise when you allow your data to be exposed to US jurisdiction.

Companies outside the US sense a gap in the market and are pouring in. Within a few years I suspect I will be perfectly comfortable with recommending nation-local cloud services as feasible, so I think it is worth taking a moment to review the economics of cloud storage.

In November I had a go at the economics of cloud storage, the short version being that it is hard to see it making sense for my personal use. I want to expand on that and start looking farther afield.

Fact of life

Even if you are one of those curmudgeonly types that abhors the cloud I can pretty much guarantee that you use cloud storage in one form or another every month.

The example we don't think about is software updates. If you have been doing IT long enough you will remember when software updates were a thing that came on physical media and no two shops were ever at the same patch level.

Today, virtually everyone accesses a publicly shared storage repository and downloads updates for everything from their operating system to new firmware for their lightbulbs.

Cloud storage is simply a fact of life and so integrated with the way we work that the economies of entire nations would simply collapse without it.

These types of cloud storage are one-to-many of course. Software updates, game downloads, even the websites you visit all fall into that category. Yet these are also often paired with personalised storage upon which have become equally dependant.

A Steam cloud sync for your video game data, even your chat history on Skype or Gtalk is a miniature bit of cloud storage available only to you (and the NSA robots that love you).

Straw man

At a small level – your Dropbox for example – cloud storage makes perfect sense for most people. The amount that you are backing up each month – or each day – is well below typical broadband bandwidth limits. It gets highly questionable for dial-up and satellite users and this gives us an easily understandable basis to discuss the wider issues.

With a broadband connection we not only don't question the value of digital distribution of patches and software, we demand it. We have pictures stream from our phones into our Dropbox – and from there onto our PCs – despite knowing we will pay for that bandwidth. We value the convenience enough to pay the toll.

The maths of convenience and the economics of the bandwidth costs change dramatically when you start trying to drink the internet through a 56kbps straw, but still people persist.

Oh, they grumble about the cost but most will cheerfully start a Dropbox syncronisation round and leave the PC to do its thing for three solid days. This seems mad at first, until I realise that I do the exact same thing.

Hot and Steamy

The hard drive in my Alienware is on the way out. The SMART statistics still say it is good, but after 20 years you just know when that toggle is about to change. I have been avoiding dealing with it but I won't have that luxury forever.

When I stopped to ask myself why I am procrastinating the answer is twofold. Firstly, I refuse to put another spinning-rust drive in there and the Micron/Crucial M500 960GB SSD I would need to replace my current drive can't be had.

A fix will require a smaller drive, which means a complete rebuild of the system as I change it from a single-disk setup to an "OS and major apps on the SSD, everything else on some spinning-rust" configuration.

I am a sysadmin and this isn't exactly difficult for me, but a rebuild would essentially mean restoring my system from a cloud backup, even if I don't think of it quite that way.

Windows updates to a fresh Windows 7 SP1 install take the better part of a working day at the broadband speeds my home system can muster. A full Steam synchronisation of my game library would take at least two days. Syncing my Dropbox, Gdrive and Teamdrive is another three days and you can add several hours to get all my miscellaneous apps downloaded.

I can't afford to flatten my DSL connection for the better part of a week; my livelihood is tied to that internet connectivity. Despite this, at no point have I dismissed the idea of doing the rebuild. I am simply putting it off until it is convenient.

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