What Is Cloud Storage? – Definition, Types, and Benefits

Read this comprehensive guide to learn about cloud storage, including benefits and how to select the right service.

Brien Posey

May 19, 2023

8 Min Read
Computer laptops sharing data through cloud storage

Table of Contents

What Is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage is a broad term for cloud-based data storage services.

Cloud storage works by letting users store data on remote servers. Users can access their data from anywhere via the internet.

Cloud storage providers cater to individual consumers and businesses alike. For example, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform primarily service enterprise and business customers, while other cloud storage providers offer only consumer-grade services.

What Are the Types of Cloud Storage?

There are three main categories of cloud storage: private cloud storage, public cloud storage, and hybrid cloud storage.

Private cloud storage

Private cloud storage refers to storing data within an organization’s own private cloud, typically in its data center.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Private Cloud Computing Is Losing Its Appeal

Public cloud storage

Public cloud storage is data storage offered by cloud service providers. Amazon S3 and Microsoft’s Azure Files are examples of public cloud storage services.

Large cloud service providers offer different tiers and classes of storage, each tailored to specific use cases and performance requirements. Storage prices vary from one tier to another. For example, an archive storage tier, which is meant for storing data that is rarely accessed, will typically have an extremely low cost per gigabyte of storage.

Related: AWS, Azure, and GCP: 4 Major Areas in Which They Differ

Hybrid cloud storage

Hybrid cloud storage is a storage architecture that combines public and private cloud storage. Organizations can create multiple tiers of storage, using both public cloud and private data centers.

Some organizations opt to store their data primarily in private data centers, then use public cloud storage as burst capacity when on-premises resources max out. The approach provides flexibility and scalability.

Related: Enterprise Guide to Hybrid Cloud Adoption and Management

What Are the Benefits of Using Cloud Storage?

Here are six key benefits of using cloud storage.

Cloud storage is convenient and easy to use

Most public cloud storage options are designed to be user-friendly. For example, they usually have simple interfaces and will work in tandem with various applications.

Public cloud storage has matured to the point that some platforms, such as Amazon S3 cloud object storage, have become standards. As such, software vendors often design their applications to be compatible with S3.

Cloud storage is secure

Cloud storage providers invest heavily in cybersecurity measures. Since these providers know that they are constantly targeted by cybercriminals, they have little choice but to take security seriously.

That said, cloud storage is not necessarily secure by default. Nearly all cloud providers have adopted a shared responsibility model. Under the model, cloud providers are responsible for the security of the underlying infrastructure, while customers are responsible for their own data security.

Cloud storage is reliable

Cloud storage is built to be highly reliable. At a minimum, a provider might implement storage redundancy measures within an availability zone. More often, however, data is replicated across availability zones and possibly two data centers in different geographic regions. This ensures the availability of customer data, even in the event of disaster or data center failure.

Cloud storage is affordable

Cloud storage providers typically charge their customers a small fee for every gigabyte of storage consumed. However, the total cost of using cloud storage can be significantly higher than the cost per gigabyte per month.

For example, some cloud providers will charge bandwidth fees anytime stored data is accessed or created. It's also common for cloud providers to charge data egress fees for any data sent outside of the cloud. Data egress fees can be expensive because they are intended to deter customers from migrating data to competitors’ clouds.


Cloud storage is scalable

Cloud storage offers the advantage of easy scalability. While public cloud providers might not give customers unlimited amounts of storage, larger cloud providers can deliver storage capacity that surpasses what an organization can deploy on-premises.

Cloud storage is easy to share

Cloud storage lets users access their stored data from anywhere. This makes it easy for users to share data with colleagues, partner organizations, and other stakeholders.

How To Select the Right Cloud Storage Provider

These six steps can help you determine the suitable cloud storage provider.

Step 1: Define your needs

Carefully consider several factors, including the types of data you will store, performance requirements for reading or writing that data, and redundancy needs.

Step 2: Figure out the types of data you need to store

As noted in Step 1, it’s important to consider the types of data you will store. Your data will ultimately determine which cloud services you can use. For example, if your data must reside on object storage, you can’t use a cloud-based Network File System or Server Message Block file share. Likewise, if you need to store a heavily used database, the cloud storage service must have enough performance and capacity to handle the database.

Step 3: Evaluate security and compliance

Determine if the cloud provider meets your security standards and compliance requirements. If you work in a regulated industry such as financial services or healthcare, you may be limited to storing only certain types of data in the cloud.

Consider the cloud storage provider’s reputation for securing its customers’ data. Keep in mind that providers normally use a shared responsibility model, which essentially says that customers are responsible for securing their own data. As such, examine the security mechanisms the cloud provider has in place for its customers. Find out whether your existing security products are going to be compatible with your preferred cloud storage platform.

Step 4: Consider the cost

Cost is always a factor when it comes to data storage, and storing data in the cloud is no exception. Most cloud providers offer different classes and tiers of data storage, with storage prices varying from one tier to another based on features like data redundancy and performance.

Trying to store all your data in a single tier may be unrealistic. Financially, you may be better off storing data in several different storage tiers based on data usage patterns.

You should also analyze the cloud providers’ fees, including bandwidth and data egress fees.

Step 5: Examine scalability

Nearly every cloud storage provider offers highly scalable storage, but actually scaling your storage can come with caveats.

You might sometimes find that you must submit a formal request to receive additional storage. Similarly, some cloud providers lock their customers into long-term contracts. It’s important to understand exactly how the provider handles storage scaling before you use that storage for mission-critical functions.

Step 6: Consider ease of use

Finally, ensure the cloud storage service integrates smoothly with your existing applications and workflows (as well as any applications and workflows you plan to add).

How To Use Cloud Storage Effectively

Follow these five steps to get the most out of your cloud storage.

Step 1: Understand your data

Identify the types of data that you need to store in the cloud. Oftentimes, cloud storage services are designed for a highly specific use case, so it’s important to match your data with a suitable service. For example, you likely would not store a high-performance database on a cloud service designed for storing end-user document files.

Related: Cloud-Based Object Storage Pros and Cons for Data Management

Step 2: Choose the right storage tier

Make sure you are using the appropriate storage tier. Seldom accessed data would generally go into an archive tier, while hot data would go into a performance tier.

Related: Cloud Computing Sustainability: How Green Is the Cloud?

Step 3: Weigh the costs

Consider the cost of storing your data in the cloud, including both gigabyte-based fees and ancillary charges (e.g., bandwidth fees and data egress fees). Also, think about the fact that cloud storage fees are ongoing. Even though the public cloud has a reputation for being the less expensive option for data storage, when viewed over the long term, it may be more cost-effective to store your data on-premises.

Related: 7 Cloud Finance Metrics to Track to Better Control Cloud Costs

Step 4: Perform a cloud storage pilot

Once you have settled on a cloud data storage service, perform a pilot deployment that uses noncritical data. By doing a pilot deployment, you can uncover problems such as misconfigurations. You can also find out if the storage truly aligns with your requirements.

Related: Cloud Migration: A Recurring, Never-Ending Process

Step 5: Invest in a private cloud

If you work in a regulated industry, you may need to deploy a private cloud in addition to any public cloud resources you use. Although regulations vary, there may be rules in place that prevent you from storing sensitive data on systems that are outside of your direct control.

Related: 5 Best Practices for Compliance-Proofing Your Cloud Strategy

About the Author(s)

Brien Posey

Brien Posey is a bestselling technology author, a speaker, and a 20X Microsoft MVP. In addition to his ongoing work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years training as a commercial astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space.


Sign up for the ITPro Today newsletter
Stay on top of the IT universe with commentary, news analysis, how-to's, and tips delivered to your inbox daily.

You May Also Like