Cloud Storage — should I use it?

Cloud Backups, should I use it? What is cloud storage? From a users’ point of view, it’s simply an endless amount of disk space that resides “in the Internet” and is available for you to store your files (including music and photos). This space is secure, cheap and highly available for all your backup/restore needs. Remember, Cloud is a metaphor for the Internet. Technically, it’s networked online storage accessed through the internet (or WAN) connection. Its several servers or nodes clustered together forming large storage pools. The architecture is scalable, economical and manageable. But, you don’t really need to be concerned with this part – this is what the hosting company does.

There are several products available that provide this service. I recommend searching the Internet for products, features and pricing. One starting point is to get an idea of what your storage requirements are and what features you would like. Pricing varies based on the initial amount of storage you are going to use.

Advantages of using Cloud backup software:
• A copy of your data is stored offsite (outside of your house). Storing data on an external hard drive is still vulnerable for hardware issues and house related issues (such as floods and fires).

• Many services monitor your file changes and will back up the files as they change without your intervention (you don’t have to worry about scheduling backups). There is a small product that gets installed locally on your computer.

• Files can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection and the proper account information

• Scalable, you can increase storage limits as needed.

Concerns using Cloud backup software:
• Security (see below for more information)

• Performance is slower than local hard drives because you are going through a network connection.

• Point of vulnerability is your Internet connection

• There can still be hardware issues with the solutions provider, cloud computing is not infallible.

Security – deserves a paragraph on its own. Whether it’s your business or personal data, everyone is nervous about moving their data to an external provider. Are you willing to give control of your data to someone else? Most providers will encrypt the data in transit as well as when it’s at rest. Double encryption equals harder to crack. And, each customer should have their own encryption key.

Large providers, such as Amazon and Verizon vs. smaller startup type providers. Obviously, you should have more stability with the larger providers. Although, I have had a few issues with cloud instances being unavailable for several hours (but, that’s a different issue). There are so many small vendors that you have to question whether they will all be around in a few years. So, I wouldn’t put anything critical on the smaller providers sites. How would you feel if, the vendor suddenly went away and you no longer had access to your data?

There are also different types of software that use cloud storage. One is strictly for backup purposes and the other is for file sharing. You should consider your needs and make the decision accordingly. Pricing is comparable – it’s just a matter of what functionality you need.

There is another cool option for safely storing your data. There are now external hard drives that are both fire and water proof. They hold large amounts of data for about $150-$200. If you really don’t want to store data in the cloud and don’t have a need to share files with people outside your house – this may be the best option.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the “Cloud”


Anti-Virus going to the Clouds

Cloud computing is a type of computing where the resources are provided as a service over the Internet. One example that I’m sure you’ve used is mapquest or Google maps. There are services that offer Office type products over the Internet. So, how will cloud computing be used for security and anti-virus. Many of the lead vendors have anti-virus products using the Cloud on the market now.

Currently security products run locally on your PC. They consume resources and are not always as up-to-date as they should be. Even the vendors have a difficult time staying on top of all the latest potential threats. Anti-virus programs developed in the SaaS (Software-as-a-service) model take the burden off of home users and small to mid size companies. These companies probably aren’t paying for a high end security solution and don’t have the resources to dedicate to data security.

Most lead vendors have released or are developing the next generation of security using the cloud-client content security infrastructure. The client is a light weight client, beneficial for your local pc’s. Trend micro has a product called “Smart protection network”. They use several statistics to help determine the condition of the files. Some of there tests use web reputation scores, email reputation and file reputation scores. The file will be blocked in the cloud if the reputation scores are at a high level. Ex. Incoming email can be tested based on the senders IP address, if they are on the suspect list then your email will be blocked in the cloud. This is determined through behavioral activity software running in the cloud.

CloudAV, developed at the University of Michigan during 2008 uses the concept of running multiple search and behavioral engines. Each engine is run on a virtual system, thus resolving the issue of multiple antivirus engines running on the same system.
CloudAV also uses cache analysis. This can increase processing and access time because once a file has been scanned it won’t need to be scanned again. The history of each file scan is saved and as new viruses are discovered, a retro scan is run. So, a file may have a virus that the anti virus vendors haven’t discovered yet. In this case, it will be caught when the vendor discovers the file and a retro scan is run.

Some of the benefits for cloud antivirus protection are: The signature files will be as up to date as possible, use of multiple search engines and less local resources used.

The disadvantages of using a model like this are: you need a strong Internet connection, there may be a lot of data transferred and do you want your files moved to the Cloud? While the engines will use a hashing mechanism(won’t have to transfer the whole file) for scanning, the fall back when there is a detection will probably be to transfer the whole file.

I think the biggest question is do you want your files out on the cloud? Fundamental question that you need to answer for yourself or your business.