Making the Cloud Greener

Every once in a while, we’re asked about the cloud, cloud computing, or the “true cloud“.  Most often, that question is along the lines of, “What IS the cloud?”  And so we explain:  Generally companies who are using cloud-based software are using one, centralized storage space.  This coordinated storage space, is generally housed in physical servers, which take money to own and operate, energy to power, and safeguards that work towards keeping your data safe.  Of course, physical servers – like any computer – are prone to viruses, power outages, hacking attempts, memory loss, and more.

So then we go on to explain about our cloud – how we’ve built an infrastructure for storage without the need for physical space or servers.  We’ve started using a phrase that says it all – “With Digital Lifeboat, YOU are the cloud”.

And sometimes, some wiseguy will ask, “Well, why would I want to be the cloud?”

Why?  Well, for one thing, our online data backups are greener than traditional data storage options.  Digital Lifeboat stores super-encrypted fragments of your files across an array of computers in the cloud.  Our community of PCs don't require the massive energy drain to both run and cool a data center.  By using the open hard drive space of our member's PCs, our members are the cloud.  They benefit from unlimited backup space.  They benefit from our cloud’s self-healing properties which automatically makes room for the file space they need.  The environment wins with the most ecologically friendly backup on the planet.

Did you know that in 2008, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and Stanford University teamed up on a study, showing that data centers represent about 1% of the world’s electricity consumption.  That’s huge!

The study says:

“[The growth rate of electricity consumed is approximately] 16.7% per year for the world. About 80% of this growth is attributable to growth in electricity used by servers (almost entirely volume servers), with 10% of growth in electricity use associated with data center communications and about the same percentage for storage equipment. The overall increase in server electricity use is driven almost entirely by the increase in the number of volume servers….”

Of course, later research showed that energy consumption was less than expected, but 1% of total world energy consumption is STILL huge!  In industry that’s used to massive amounts of energy consumption – the way data centers are – it was important for us to find a solution to storing our users’ data, with as little impact on the environment as possible.  So we set out to do the right thing – with the help of our users, we built an online file storage system that is greener than traditional data centers.  So our users know that every time they open the lid on their laptop and hit the power button, they’re helping to save our planet – a little bit at a time.

Why should you want to be the cloud?  If you own a computer, you probably want to ensure that your data is safe.  And if you’re at all like us, you probably want to keep your planet safe.  So it makes sense to stick with a “greener” cloud, like the true cloud online backup system from Digital Lifeboat.

Centralized File Storage Versus Distributed File Storage

Do you ever wonder where your data goes when it is stored in the “cloud?”  When it comes to online backup, many companies store all your data in one centralized place.  While this approach is simpler for the company, and may make access quicker and easier for the customer, what if the centralized storage fails?   If a server crashes, or a storage hard-drive dies, having all your files in one place means losing everything.  This completely overrides the point of having a backup system in the first place.   As we discussed in our last blog post, what if someone hacks into the data center?  This has happened at Citibank, Sony, Amazon and Visa.

Digital Lifeboat uses automated distributed file storage – breaking your files into small fragments, replicating and encrypting them, and sending them out into the cloud to be stored in multiple locations.  Think of it as putting your eggs in a few different baskets, or diversifying your stock portfolio.   Case in point: if you only schedule a backup to your Western Digital hard-drive, and your house burns down – you lose that data.  Or if you forget to schedule a backup, and your laptop hard-drive crashes, your files are gone.  With our process, your data isn’t all in one place, and it’s always accessible to you.

Maybe you keep all your documents stored on Google Docs; all your photos stored on Picasa; 300mb of CRUCIAL data, stored on Google's cloud; none of which are backed up anywhere else.  Imagine Google unexpectedly deletes your account in error, or you receive a “network server error” (much like the Amazon outage) – where would you turn?

At Digital Lifeboat, we don’t keep all your eggs in one basket, which makes your data easily accessible to you, regardless of power outages and acts of nature.  We understand the nature of backup systems and we keep your crucial data safe with our encryption and online file storage process.

Hacking the Cloud: When Your Data ISN’T Safe…

If you’re a Play Station “fan boy” (or girl), you probably received an email from Sony offering you free games (in exchange for something about account security).  The PlayStation Network shut down it’s cloud after “an external intrusion” that resulted in the theft of personal information belonging to 77 million customers.  In fact, PSN said they’re moving their network infrastructure and data center to a new, more secure location.

Or, you might remember when Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and Elastic Block Storage platforms were offline during an April 21 outage that had major websites unavailable for three days.

Outages and security breaches like these have inspired fear that the Cloud may not be secure – or is less secure than a traditional data center; however, eWeek.com points out that major security holes are not unique to cloud services.  PSN uses both cloud services and traditional data centers.  Amazon's outage drew attention to data availability issues and reliability.  Security concerns exist in both cloud and traditional data center environments.  Cloud security is not inferior to data center security, where information can be accessed by a slew of hacking techniques.

eWeek adds, “People generally [haven't heard] about outages in [traditional] data centers because they affected only one organization and were smaller scale, but they often add up to far more lost time, money and business…”

The problem traces back to encryption.  EVERYTHING should be encrypted in both traditional data centers and on the cloud, from network traffic to S3 storage to file systems.  And the sensitive data?  That information should be especially encrypted.  The tools are out there, but companies might not realize just how secure their data needs to be.  An article by George Reese on the O’Reilly community adds:

“You should create a security system with the assumption that someone will gain unintended access to your data. It’s not that the cloud makes it more or less likely; it’s simply that a) there are attack vectors in the cloud that you have less control over and b) it’s a good idea anyways.”

What is the Cloud?

What is the Cloud: www.educationatlas.com

What is the Cloud: from www.educationatlas.com

You may have heard by now that Digital Lifeboat offers cloud-based online backup systems. But you’re probably wondering just what is “the cloud” and how is it better than backing up to an external hard drive, for example?

Let's start with how your PC works. You open an application, like Microsoft Word, and you type a letter, and save the content on your hard drive. The application (Word) and the data (your letter) are on your PC. Cloud computing is an approach which involves the creation and deployment of services and applications over the internet, supported by a coordinated infrastructure. When you open your email, the application is “in the cloud” and when you send the email to a friend, the email is stored “in the cloud.” Lots of services like search engines, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook operate this way.

The popular buzzword, “cloud” simply means storing digital files on someone else's computer and accessing it by internet.

What people like about “the cloud” is that they can access content on-demand. What businesses like about “the cloud” is that it shares computing resources (networks and servers), that requires minimal management and effort to both access and release. With cloud computing, it’s easy to partition resources for you to use, and when you’re done using those resources, it’s easy to re-integrate those resources back into the cloud for others to use. Cloud computing is an efficient way to increase network capacity and utilization, without having to go out and purchase more equipment that – in the end – will just contribute to the growing problem of e-waste.

With all the different methods and applications used in cloud computing, it would be more accurately described as “sky computing”, with little grouped clouds for each application or service – one for Facebook, another for Salesforce.com, another for YouTube, etc.

 

Next up: What's up with “hacking” the cloud?