A Vision of the Ideal Personal, Private Cloud
An overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the market.
- By Dan Kusnetzky
I've now had the opportunity to conduct informal tests on a few "personal" cloud storage systems that manufacturers claim are designed to offer the ease-of-use, freedom and scalability of cloud storage offerings, without also exposing the data to potential security or privacy issues. I had the opportunity to try Connected Data Transporter (see "Protecting Private Cloud Data") and PROMISE Technology Apollo (see "The Cloud: This Time It's Personal").
While these devices offer many useful features, few could be considered ideal replacements for storage offerings offered by cloud service providers such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and so on.
What's Available Today
Nearly all of the competitors in the personal cloud storage systems market address many, if not all, of the storage requirements of an individual, midmarket company or remote branch office of a larger company. Those requirements include:
- The ability to upload data into the personal cloud storage system, including documents, spreadsheets, photos, movies and sound files, from most popular client systems. This includes Windows PCs and laptops; Apple Macs, MacBooks, iPhones and iPads; Android-powered smartphones and tables; and in a few cases, Windows smartphones. This upload process typically can be done using mobile wireless, WiFi and, in some cases, LAN access mechanisms. Typically, these systems offer large storage capacities that can't be matched by smartphones, tablets or some laptop systems.
- The ability to download this data from the personal cloud storage system for local processing or media consumption. The download process, like the upload process, typically can be done using mobile wireless, WiFi, and, in some cases, LAN access mechanisms.
- Once downloaded on a system, these files may be processed using the same tools provided by the smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC.
- The ability to share data in a secure, safe way. Different suppliers have implemented this in different ways. Some allow access control that can allow or restrict access by individual users, workgroups, departments or other grouping. Data items are protected to assure high levels of security and privacy.
- Some allow reporting of what is being stored, as well as who accessed data, how they were accessed and when.
- Most of these personal cloud systems require that users download software making it possible for individuals to access and update data items.
Although these personal cloud storage systems can address many, if not all, business requirements, most have a few shortcomings that prevent them from being considered ideal replacements for public cloud offerings:
- To access private cloud storage data, it's necessary to download an app or some other software. This can be a labor-intensive process if there's a desire to access and share data items among users of smartphones, tables, tablets and laptops/PCs. Furthermore, it's common for suppliers to support some systems, operating systems and versions of operating systems. If an individual, workgroup, department or midmarket company deploys something not on the list, they're out of luck. The ideal would be devices that work out of the box, without requiring software downloads.
- While the private cloud storage systems often are expandable, the storage they offer isn't unlimited. In some cases, individuals would find that they need to purchase a different unit having a larger internal storage capacity. The ideal would be if these devices supported multiple storage volumes, allowing some measure of expandability.
- The backup/archival storage/disaster recovery features of these systems are limited at the best. Some suppliers make it possible to back up data being held by their personal cloud storage system, either to a public cloud storage service or local storage device or storage server. The ideal would be if the suppliers offered a number of different types of backup/recovery mechanisms.
- The level of access granularity ranges from very simple user/group/system administrator access, to very complex user/workgroup/department/business unit/company/consultant/etc. access. There are no standards here. The tradeoff is operational simplicity vs. security and control. Products will need to be evaluated individually to determine if they're workable for individual or company needs.
- The cost of these systems are typically higher per MB than offered by public cloud suppliers. While it is very hard to match "free" when considering personal cloud storage, many are quite cost effective when privacy and security concerns are included in the evaluation.
After trying out a few of these systems, it's clear that all are useful for some uses, but not powerful enough for others. Many of the suppliers offer a range of products that offer value for individual use, workgroups, departments, business units or, perhaps, entire midmarket companies.
The capabilities of these systems are often limited by the limitations of the device operating systems. Laptop and PC operating systems have long offered ways to access storage servers, and have the software built in.
Smartphones, tablets and other intelligent devices often allow access using a Web Browser, but require an app to connect to other types of storage systems.
Dan's Take: Apps Still Necessary
Suppliers of personal cloud storage systems do the best they can with what's available. The suppliers of operating systems, such as iOS, Android and other mobile device software, haven't decided to support standard distributed file systems in their base offerings. Until that changes, downloading an app will be necessary.
Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.