Feb8

Exploring Offline Storage

Should you be storing your data offline or up in the cloud?

The cloud has made life much easier for many businesses and individuals around the world. Providing a flexible storage environment for everyone from your grandma’s email account to giant corporation virtual environments, there’s no denying that cloud is here to stay, for those with adequate internet access.

Amid all the recent talk of cloud hosting and virtual storage, though, it’s worth remembering that offline data storage remains a key part of life for many people. Modern data transfer speeds through USB and Firewire ports enable external devices to store documents and files far more efficiently than the Zip drives and CD-RWs of yesteryear.

Since every business should regularly back up all its data, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the modern alternatives to cloud storage, particularly where internet access or upload speeds may be limited…

  1. USB Flash drives.

Also known as data keys, memory sticks and flash keys, these compact devices use flash memory chips to store large amounts of data. They are known as solid state devices, based on fixed-position semiconductor materials rather than moveable parts such as spinning disks. Weighing as little as 20 grams and smaller than a chewing gum packet, today’s USB flash drives can store 1TB of data with transfer speeds reaching 240MB per second.

Flash drives are typically encased in robust shells such as rubber or zinc alloy, enabling them to be dropped off a tower block without being damaged – an infamous (and erroneous) claim once made about the compact disk. While their minuscule dimensions does make them easy to lose, flash drives represent a convenient and affordable way to hold huge amounts of data offline. Cheaper devices usually fail much earlier than pricier alternatives, though.

2. External hard drives.

Akin to the spinning disks mounted inside computer towers, an external HDD represents a cost-effective way to dump large amounts of data onto an offline platform that should be almost completely immune to other devices being hacked or corrupted. The presence of moving parts render external hard drives susceptible to damage, and they tend to fail earlier than solid-state USB devices, but HDDs are cheaper and (for many people) more reassuring to use than an easily-misplaced USB stick or a scratch-prone DVD.

Although they have limited appeal to sole traders and small businesses, RAID devices represent a more sophisticated form of large-scale data storage. RAID systems are expensive and difficult to set up, but they are invaluable for making frequent data backups. The multiple drives in RAID 1 (or higher) devices ensure that one hard drive’s failure is mitigated by backups on other mirrored drives.

3. DVDs and Blu-ray disks.

Although DVDs and Blu-ray disks look very similar, there are marked differences in their capacities. Even a double-sided DVD is restricted to 9.4GB of data, whereas a dual-layer Blu-ray disk offers five times more storage. Sony claim that future Blu-ray disks could compress 200GB of data onto a single disk, though today’s devices would be unable to read or write to these ultra-high-density disks.

Many computers are sold with built-in DVD-burners, while the disks themselves are cheap to acquire and easy to store. Accidental deletion can be prevented by finalising the disk after burning data to it; if this isn’t done, DVD-RW disks can be reused many times and content on them may be accidentally overwritten. However, the limited data storage and comparatively slow transfer times involved in backing up data onto a DVD will probably see them gradually being phased out by solid state storage and huge external hard drives.

4. Sold secure

It should be noted that offline storage devices are increasingly being sold with advanced security features. Data keys with integrated Advanced Encryption Standard protection can be bought for less than £10, while some modern external hard drives even have a passcode keypad built in. As everyone knows, AES uses a substitution-permutation network to encrypt data in 128-bit blocks, and calculations are carried out in a finite field. In plain English, that means AES is really hard to crack. It comes with one of three cryptographic keys – 128-bit, 192-bit or 256-bit – that require immense processing power to unlock without the correct code. Because passwords typically feature a mixture of uppercase and lowercase alphanumeric characters, leaving your company’s accounting data on the train isn’t the disaster it used to be…

Although offline storage is still available to your business, the benefits of storing your company’s data in the cloud are numerous. Check out our list of 10 reasons to use the cloud right here, or get started with your own cloud hosting solution over on our website.

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