Cloud Wars

The competition to provide you with cloud storage is starting to reach a fevered pitch. It’s now possible to add excellent cloud backup to your storage system for a very reasonable cost. Some of these costs remain artificially low, and may therefore not be reliable in the long run. But we’re also seeing the big players in computing (Google and Amazon) offering really low pricing.

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First, a word of caution
We’ve seen some low-cost options for years. This includes services like Carbonite and Backblaze that have claimed “unlimited” storage for prices around $50/year. This means that someone like me with a dozen terabytes of data will be a money-loser for each of these companies. I’ve always been distrustful of these plans, fearing that the companies will go the way of Digital Railroad, which shut its doors with little advance notice in 2008.

Carbonite gets around the super-user problem by limiting the cheap backup service to your internal drive. As you add external disks, the price goes up. (Let’s also take a minute to note that Carbonite does not forecast profitability anywhere on the time horizon, which is problematic.) Backblaze does allow for truly unlimited data, and explains their strategy by saying it will average out between low and high volume users. This is okay for backup, as long as you realize the service may go away someday, and it’s not your only backup.

(Note: I personally use Backblaze for my computers and for my family. I’m currently testing the unlimited storage with my own archive. You can get a discount off Backblaze by clicking my affiliate link.)

The big boys jump in
Last summer, Amazon rocked the world of online storage by offering a new cloud backup and archiving service called Amazon Glacier. The price for the service came in at 1/10th of Amazon’s regular S3 pricing. You can now store a terabyte of data in Amazon’s cloud for $10/month.  This one is a game-changer. Amazon is the 800lb gorilla in cloud service, so the prices that they set will determine what the rest of the market does.

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Amazon Glacier is positioned as a real backup or deep archive solution. They say it may take up to 5 hours to access the data, so it’s definitely not a place to store stuff you expect to access frequently. But it does promise great safety and reliability from a blue-chip company.

(I’ve heard, from a very good source, that Amazon can offer this service because they are making use of some “free” capacity. In order to speed up its regular service, Amazon is using the outer rings of the hard drive platters, which deliver faster data throughput. So the inner rings were sitting on drives unused. They created Glacier to make use of this spare capacity.)

Google responds
A few weeks ago, Google matched Amazon’s bet, and even raised it. Not only did they match the $10/terabyte/month price, they made the offer on Google Drive.  This means that Google is offering the price on storage that is always on, not just a backup service.

DriveOnWhile Google will probably lose money on this specific service, it’s part of a larger strategy from the tech giant.

(Note, I’ve been slogging through Google’s Terms of Service to get an idea of exactly what rights you give to Google Drive, and it’s not totally clear to me. It does look like private data stored on Drive is private. But other stuff, like your public photos on Google+ do seem to give Google a  non-terminable license to republish.)

It’s really about “My Stuff Everywhere”
The real competition at work here is not about collecting money for storage. The real competition here is to become the universal shared storage system which can work across all your devices.

Dropbox has been the category killer for this service, seamlessly  sharing between you, your friends and coworkers, your computer(s) and your phone. It has been able to do this where Apple (and others) have failed numerous times. Dropbox has rocketed up in value, and is poised to become even more valuable.

The companies that become successful in creating a shared filesystem  are well-positioned for long-term success.  This kind of engagement is hard to pull away from, since  you build it into your collaboration and your fundamental relationship with your own media.

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In The DAM Book 3.0, I’ll dive into the use of cloud storage as part of a DAM strategy. This new development in pricing and strategy offers some excellent value for photographers looking for storage, backup and sharing services.

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