Using the cloud as an infinite disc
Everybody is talking about the cloud. It is the new buzz word all over the tech blogs: cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud services. One of the most popular services among this cloud boom is the so called cloud storage. This service allows users to upload their files and information to online “hard drives” to access them anywhere, anytime, from any device with internet access. This technology offers many possibilities such as using “the cloud” as an infinite hard drive, allowing users not only to store files and information, but also using software and other resources over the network. Cloud services are growing at exponential rates and they are changing the way we store, we consume and we manage our information. As this technology becomes more and more popular, many legal issues have arisen regarding privacy and intellectual property. It is important to analyze these cloud services and ask ourselves how much control are we giving up on our information. In this paper we will talk about the main characteristics of cloud storage, what are the pros and cons about this technology, who are the main players in this field, what they offer, what are their terms of service and what the future holds for this technology.
I remember a few years ago when me and my friends were studying at university. We used to store information in CDs and sometimes even in floppy disks, which by that time were already obsolete. Then the DVD became available as a data storage technology and we could backup all our information in a single disc, but using CDs and DVDs was not a good choice if you needed to share a single text file and copy it to your friend’s computer, so the easiest way to share these files was by emailing them to your colleagues. Then the USB flash drive arrived and became quite popular. These flash drives were so small and practical that I immediately bought one and I attached to my keychain so I always had important files and information with me. Flash drives were a great practical and affordable technology for sharing and storing information. Then a year and a half ago I started to study a Master in Lugano and I realized I had lost my old USB flash drive, so bought a 16 gigabytes USB and it would be big anough to manage all the files and information related to the master lectures and projects. After a few months of work at the univertsity I realized that the new flash drive I bought was almost useless and I had barely stored just a few files that I never used again. Instead I was using Google Docs to edit my “word” documents and Dropbox to store all the information related to the master lectures, and without knowing it I was using the cloud.
What is cloud storage?
According to Wikipedia’s definition “cloud storage is a model of networked online storage where data is stored on virtualized pools of storage which are generally hosted by third parties.”  Nowadays this model is becoming very popular as it allows users sign up to any kind to a third party storage service and have access to it from any device connected to the internet. The trend is growing and it seems that more and more people is seriously considering using cloud storage services. From individuals to big companies, everyone is taking advantage of the many benefits of cloud storage such as low cost subscription models, storage scalability and affordable disaster recovery.
Providers of Cloud Storage Services
There are many players in the cloud storage industry. From simple file sharing to collaboration at work and music storage, these are some of the most popular services around the market
Amazon Web Services
As its name says it, Amazon Web Services is a collection of web services mostly for developers and client side applications. Among these services there is Amazon S3, an online storage web service which allows to store documents, photos,
Storage pricing: Starting from US$ 0.15 per gigabyte-month and additional charges for sending and receiving data.
iCloud is a cloud storage and cloud computing service which offers data syncing for calendar, email, contacts, music, calendars, photos, bookmarks, notes, to-do lists, and other data. This service allows users to store data and download it to multiple devices such as computers, ipads and iphones.
""Storage pricing:"" Each account has 5GB of free storage. Additional storage could be purchased in tiers of 10, 20, or 50 GB (50 GB being the maximum) for US$20 per 10 GB per year. 
Box.net is a cloud solution which offers file sharing and online content management for companies. It allows users to manage documents, media and content online. Depending on the subscription type users can get unlimited storage and third party application integration such as Gmail, NetSuit and Salesforce.
""Storage pricing:"" Each account has 5GB of free storage. A Business Account allows up to 1000 GB for US$15. Enterprises accounts allow customization and they offer unlimited storage.
Dropbox is a web-based file synchonization service that allows users to share and store files such as photos, documents and videos. Users can access their files thourgh their computers, phones or even by going to the dropbox website. In comparison to similar services, Dropbox offers a relatively large number of user clients across a variety of desktop and mobile operating systems.
Storage pricing: Each account has 2GB of free storage. There is a Pro50 account which allows to store up ro 50GB for $9.99 per month, and a Pro100 account which allows 100GB for US$19.99 per month. There is also a Teams account allowing up to 1 TB storage.
Google Cloud Storage
According to Google Storage’s website it “offers a web-based interface for managing your storage, an open source command line tool and library, and advanced features like resumable uploads, integration with App Engine, and international storage functionality”.
Storage pricing: Each account has a 5GB of free storage. Starting from a monthly subscription of US$0.13 per GB, users are offered a “pay as you go model” allowing them to scale their needs as they grow.
"Microsoft Skydrive is a free-of-charge file hosting service that allows users to upload files to a cloud storage and then access them from a Web browser.” Just as many other services Skydrives allows users to keep files private, share them with contacts, or make the files public.
Storage pricing: This service is free of charge and it allows to store up to 25 GB.
SugarSync is a cloud storage service to backup, share and access your files, anytime, anywhere. Like the rest of the cloud storage services, it allows users to upload all kind of files such as documents, music, photos, and video. Infomation can be accessed from any internet connected device.SugarSync was awarded as the best cloud storage service of 2011.
Storage pricing: There are several monthly plans starting from 30GB for US$ 4.99, 60GB for US$9.99, 100GB for US$14.99, and 250GB for US$24.99 
Cloud Storage Advantages
As mentioned before, cloud storage has changed the way we store, access and consume information. If we wanted to do a backup of our computer in the old days we would have to use one of the several “offline” methods such as burning CDs, using flash drives or even external hard drives. But cloud storage services aren’t just about data backup. Before cloud storage, users had to deal with several copies of the same file in diverse computers or devices. This was a problem given the fact that users were saving different versions of the same file in different devices, so in the end the user had to deal with different versions of the same file.This was a problem because after having several versions of the same file, users couldn’t tell which one of them was the “final version” of itself. With cloud computing users can access the same single file from every device, modify it, make changes, even share it with other users. These are some of the benefits of cloud storage:
- Lower costs: as cloud computing is payed 
- Affordable disaster recovery as data is offsite and prevented in the event of a local disaster 
- Unlimited storage and scalability: Users can benefit from unlimited storage scalability under a “pay as you go” subscription model.
- Anytime, anywhere data: Full data storage access from any device connected to the internet. 
- Security and control: Stored and transit files are encrypted as well as role-based permission management and share expiration provide the highest degree of security for protecting public and private data. 
- Online collaboration: users can work online on the same file. 
Cloud Store Disadvantages
- Internet Access: Users will able to access their information as long as they are provided with an internet connection. This means that if users have no internet access their information won’t be available. 
- Bandwith limitations: Even if users have an internet connection the performance and speed of the cloud service will depend on the internet connection speed, which could be a problem if users are dealing with big files.
- Security: Even though cloud services offer data protection and encryption, the privacy and security of many cloud providers has been compromised more than once. Such is the case of Dropbox service, which recently left open all its users accounts open for 4 hours due to a code error. 
- Control of the data: Depending on the kind service, users know that in some way or another they have to trust their information to a third party.
Legal issues and Terms of Service (ToS)
When it comes to cloud storage services there is plenty of choice. There are some services such as Dropbox, MobileMe and GoogleDocs that offer free subscriptions, but... are these services really for free?
Before choosing a cloud storage provider we should ask ourselves who are we trusting our information, where are we uploading our files, and more important: what about legal issues and privacy. As the ZDNet blog mentions, “knowing what a service can do with your files is a crucial bit of information when you’re formulating strategies to keep personal and confidential information secure.” 
In order to understand how much control we are giving up, ZD Net blog compares 7 cloud services paying special attention to their ToS (Terms of Service). It is shocking to find out that in most of the cases, by accepting the terms of service, we are granting royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify and publish our information.
By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. 
Amazon Web Services
8.1 Your Content. As between you and us, you or your licensors own all right, title, and interest in and to Your Content. Except as provided in this Section 8, we obtain no rights under this Agreement from you or your licensors to Your Content, including any related intellectual property rights. You consent to our use of Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you and any End Users. We may disclose Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you or any End Users or to comply with any request of a governmental or regulatory body (including subpoenas or court orders). 
7. Content Submitted or Made Available by You on the Service License from You Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service. However, by submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public, you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. Said license will terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you or Apple remove such Content from the public area. By submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public, you are representing that you are the owner of such material and/or have authorization to distribute it. 
D. USER CONDUCT/ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY.
To the extent that the Services provide Users an opportunity to store and exchange information, materials, data, files, programs, ideas and opinions (“User Content”), you hereby represent and warrant that you have all necessary rights in and to all User Content you provide and all information contained therein. By registering to use the Services, you understand and acknowledge that Box.net and its contractors retain an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, and publicly display such content for the sole purpose of providing to you the Services for which you have registered. In the event that you give Box.net the right to distribute your content, additional terms may apply to Box.net’s usage or distribution of this content. You continue to retain all ownership rights in any User Content you provide and shall remain solely responsible for your conduct, your User Content, and any material or information transmitted to other Users for interaction with other Users. Box.net does not claim any ownership rights in any User Content. 
11. Content license from you 11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services. 
11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.
Your Content You control who may access your content. If you share content in public areas of the service or in shared areas available to others you’ve chosen, then you agree that anyone you’ve shared content with may use that content. When you give others access to your content on the service, you grant them free, nonexclusive permission to use, reproduce, distribute, display, transmit, and communicate to the public the content solely in connection with the service and other products and services made available by Microsoft. If you don’t want others to have those rights, don’t use the service to share your content.
You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service. 
File Sync, Storage and Confidentiality After setting up your account and downloading our Software, you can select the Files you want to sync and/or store. You can change the Files you want to sync or store whenever you want. In order to make the Service available to you, we need your permission to sync and store your Files. Accordingly, you hereby grant to SugarSync a license: (i) to use, copy, transmit, distribute, store and cache Files that you choose to sync and/or store; and (ii) to copy, transmit, publish, and distribute to others the Files as you designate, whether through the sharing or public linking features of the Service, in each case solely to provide the Service to you.
The future of cloud services
So far we have talked about services which offer cloud storage, but there is a wider approach called cloud computing. Cloud computing is not only about storing data, but about delivering full applications over the internet. Such is the case of Google’s Chrome OS: is a Linux-based operating system designed by Google to work exclusively with web applications. According to wikipedia, “this operated system is aimed at users who spend most of their computer time on the Web, the only application on the device is a browser incorporating a media player and a file manager”. 
There are positive and negative reactions to this new cloud technology. Not everyone agrees with it, and many people is even affraid this trend will lead to a group of cloud companies owning and managing all our information. One of these sceptics is Richard Stallman , the GNU creator. He says that cloud computing should be called “careless computing”.
“I think that marketers like cloud computing because it is devoid of substantive meaning. The term’s meaning is not substance, it’s an attitude: ‘Let any Tom, Dick and Harry hold your data, let any Tom, Dick and Harry do your computing for you (and control it).’ Perhaps the term ‘careless computing’ would suit it better.” 
Maybe, as author John Biggs says: “ChromeOS is Google’s way of showing us the desktop is dead” . Does that mean that in the future information will be only accesible through the cloud? Not really, but for some matters cloud computing and storage is really practical and effective. Of course we have to be careful with the information we share and upload. It is really important to be aware of the terms of service of the services of the cloud sevice we use and then decide what kind of information we upload to the cloud. There are important projects that you would rather keep in a private drive at home, but always having a safe backup somewhere.
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