What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage, or online storage," is the storage of data within an internet-accessible environment managed by a cloud storage provider. That service provider offers its storage customers on-demand network access to their data from virtually any device or location. Customers don’t have to manage the technical aspects of the storage or its supporting infrastructure.

More information than ever is stored in cloud computing services, for purposes ranging from cloud backup to data analytics. Organizations must ensure that they can secure user access to these cloud environments, and that each cloud storage service they use implements encryption and other best practices for cybersecurity.

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What are some examples of cloud storage?

A simple example of a cloud data storage system is a service such as Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, or Google Drive, which permits the end user(s) of the account to upload, download, sync, and share files in real time.

On the more complex end, public cloud storage providers like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud offer file, block and object storage services for use cases ranging from application development to media file storage and sharing for virtual collaboration.

What are the types of cloud storage?

Cloud storage comes in several main types:

File storage: Data can be stored as a file hierarchy within a storage service. This file storage system may allow for easy file sharing, for instance to support cross-company collaboration.

Object storage: In this model, data is represented as a series of discrete objects, not files. Each object has its own identity and associated metadata. Object storage is perfect for use cases like analytics and archiving.

Block storage: This is a type of low-latency cloud storage in which data is managed through sectors and tracks. Demanding applications such as ones involving databases usually rely on block storage.

These basic storage types may be incorporated into a wide range of Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud and web apps accessible to remote and hybrid workforces.


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Why is cloud storage important?

In a world of remote and hybrid work, cloud storage is a critical resource.

Instead of needing to continually buy more storage for their on-premises data centers as demand ramps up—and having to oversee the entire lifecycle of the hardware and software involved—organizations can consume that storage “as a service” from the cloud storage provider. A cloud storage service gives them much more scalability and flexibility to support their workforces and the apps they use.

End users can access cloud storage for backup, collaboration, or other tasks from virtually anywhere using an internet connection. This storage is like having a hard drive in the sky. In addition, many cloud storage options are designed especially for disaster recovery so organizations can easily recover data when power outages, weather events, and other unanticipated disruptions occur.

What to look for in a cloud storage solution

Common cloud computing service models such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and SaaS may offer storage as either a core product or one that supports another one, such as an application. The best cloud storage business plans tend to be:

Fast and easy to deploy

Getting started with cloud storage is often as simple as entering credit card information. Afterward, the subscriber doesn’t have to worry about the underlying system complexity, since the cloud provider handles tasks like patching and operating that infrastructure. Because storage management is no longer a necessity, companies have more time available for strategic projects like app development.

Elastic and scalable

As workloads and business and technical requirements evolve, the underlying cloud storage can automatically provision and deprovision its resources to adjust accordingly. Cloud subscribers can thus scale their storage precisely to their current requirements, using the cloud storage provider’s vast set of pooled storage space, delivered over the internet to support new apps, documents, and remote workers.


The pay-as-you-go pricing model of cloud computing can be more economical than committing to a significant amount of on-prem storage. Organizations don’t have to overbuy storage just to hedge against some hypothetical peak level of use—they pay only for what they use. For certain use cases, discounts may also be available for purchasing some cloud capacity in advance.


Cloud storage providers should maintain a secure environment for data. Meanwhile, to maximize productivity and minimize risk, cloud customers should ensure that access to any type of work-related cloud storage is secure yet streamlined. Legitimate users should be able to perform file sharing and other tasks without having to juggle multiple logins and password resets. But organizations must also be able to prevent personal cloud storage accounts (e.g., someone’s private Dropbox) from endangering sensitive data and consuming bandwidth. These challenges are more pronounced in the context of remote and hybrid work, when employees are out of the office but more reliant than ever on cloud services.

How does cloud storage work?

Cloud storage is provided by the cloud vendor, which operates the actual data storage infrastructure and enables access to it via an IP network, like the public internet. That cloud storage provider is responsible for the reliability and basic security of the storage resources in their cloud computing environment. For example, they may implement storage encryption.

Customers subscribe to this storage. They can connect their applications and data to it via storage protocols and/or APIs and use services from the cloud storage provider to analyze and otherwise manage their stored information. End users of those applications should be able to safely and conveniently log in to connected apps and access the cloud-stored data they need.

Cloud storage may be a component of a public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud.

How do you access cloud storage?

Cloud storage is accessed over the internet. Using a device of their choice, the user can log into the account associated with that storage and perform tasks appropriate to their privilege level. Many services are available across multiple operating systems and devices, with specialized mobile apps for iPhones, Android, Macs, and more.

Multiple access-related security mechanisms are often implemented to ensure that the user is legitimate. These may include single sign-on, two-factor authentication or a virtual private network (VPN), or something more comprehensive like secure access service edge (SASE) that safeguards app access using firewalls, secure web gateways (SWGs), and more. Organizations will want deep visibility into SaaS apps using cloud storage, along with the means to control user access to them.

Such mechanisms are the responsibility of the customer, not the cloud storage provider. However, the latter does take care of encryption and other fundamental security measures. This division of responsibilities is sometimes explained as the customer being responsible for data security “in” the cloud and the provider for the security “of” the cloud.

What are the pros and cons of using cloud storage?

Cloud storage has many advantages plus some disadvantages. Fortunately, the latter can be mitigated by the right security solutions.

Pros of cloud storage include:

  • Highly scalability and flexibility
  • Simplicity—there’s no technical complexity for the customer to manage
  • Cost-effective subscription and payment options
  • Support for widespread remote and hybrid work
  • Encryption and infrastructure security from storage providers

Cons of cloud storage include:

  • Potential security liabilities related to misuse or unsecured access
  • Access security (i.e., to apps) that remains the customer’s responsibility
  • Remote and hybrid work complications when it comes to security

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