For All The Hype, Cloud Storage May Be Mostly Vapor

It's impossible, these days, to swing a dead cat more than about six inches without running into "the cloud" in one form or another. Whether we're discussing cloud computing as a storage concept, server provisioning, or consumer appliance, moving data into or out of the cloud has been a major topic over the past year. For all the traction cloud computing has found as an idea, however, it may end up being practically useful to a relatively small subsection of the total storage market.

In theory, Cloud Computing could free data centers from needing to keep quite so much storage around—provided they've got the time and bandwidth to upload it in the first place.

A quick glance at the broadband speeds typically available to both commercial businesses and residential consumers illustrates the problem. ADSL service in my area tops out at 512Kbps upstream and in my own experience, delivers about 60 percent of that at best. Cable is theoretically stronger on this point, but even if InsightBB is capable of delivering 100 percent of its advertised 2Mbit upload speed to business customers, that relatively wide pipe could pale in comparison to even modest needs. At top speed, that's 21GB a day, but still 49 days per TB. With consumer 1TB drives now hovering just above eight cents per gigabyte, the need to back up data in such volumes is no longer an enterprise-only consideration.

Short of a sea change, available storage capacity at any given price point is going to continue to grow markedly faster than available upload bandwidth, which could put practical constraints on just how large the "cloud" can get. As a storage facility for essential files or a few shared photo albums, the cloud works well. Whether or not it will ever evolve into the "one-size-fits-all" business solution its been touted as in certain circles is very much an open question.