There are various options available for data storage and sharing:
Physical Hardware storage
Below are some hardware storage solutions. Note sharing with these is generally limited by the need to physically interact with the intended recipient ie bring/send the piece of hardware to the location where sharing needs to occur and for the end user to have the same minimum technical requirements and compatibilities with the physical storage device to be able to use/view documents.
Optical media: CD’s, DVD’s (incl Blue ray) etc
- Good for storing large amounts of information – less than 1Gb for CD’s and several Gb’s for DVD’s; more still for Blue ray DVD.
- Can take a long time to copy information onto the media
- Most media can only be copied to one time and this can not be changed. However some re-writable versions exist where the data can be changed and recopied to.
- Require hardware to both copy to (burn) the data (CD/DVD burner) as well as read the data (CD/DVD player). This hardware is fast becoming obsolete and unavailable on many newer computers which are trying to save space in their design to make them smaller. However there are still relatively cheap add on solutions eg USB connecting CD/DVD player.
- The media is easily damaged by scratching the media which can be irreversible
Flash Storage – mini devices
- Small flash storage devices have become the storage format of choice for data storage for individuals.
- Often called “flash drives”, “thumb drives” or “USB drive/sticks”
- Typically they are very small (many can fit on a key ring) and connect to the USB port which is a ubiquitous port on computers. They are therefore ultra portable and easy to use to share and transport information between computers.
- Most require no particular associated software to operate on any mainstream computer but occasionally they do although this is usually bundled on the flash drive and open automatically when attempting to use.
- They are limited by size – many are only around the 8Gb or less mark though a few can be found to carry 16Gb or even 32Gb
Flash Storage – large external devices
- These are generally external hard drives that plug in to computers by USB or other port (eg firewire, ethernet). Frequently referred to a solid state drives due to the lack of moving parts seen in older hard drives.
- Advantage over small flash devices is storage size with many able to store hundreds of Gigbaytes which is ever increasing. They are thus frequently used for computer back up purposes and for the storage and transmission of large amounts of data
- They are less portable than the mini devices
- Some have the disadvantage of requiring their own power cord to work but most these days power themselves from the USB port of the computer they connect to
- A general advantage of flash storage is that once a file is deleted it is generally deleted permanently and is irrecoverable. This can be a disadvantage to law enforcement agencies seeking to recover data that the user has deleted. There are also more nefarious groups attempting to retrieve personal data from users’s computers for illegal activities (eg ID theft, financial theft) so this is a great advantage for users. For the user themselves, most do not have the technical capabilities to recover accidentally deleted” data on older hard drives so this irreversible loss on flash drives is not really a disadvantage to them
- As flash drives are fast becoming cheaper and larger, they are gradually taking over the market previously occupied by moving parts hard drives (see below).
Hard Disk Drives (HDD)
- Older HDD used moving parts, involving magnetic disks and as such generally required their own power source
- By comparison they generally run slower than flash drives and deleted data is not permanently deleted so can be recovered by nefarious and legitimate groups as discussed above. Moving parts are also more subject to technical problems and less resistant to physical trauma. These drives are also usually larger and heavier than flash.
- Traditionally they could store more data than flash drives, with many storing 2-3 Tb’s
- HDD are generally cheaper to buy per Gb of data storage contained compared with flash drives.
Internal Storage Hard Drives
- Typically computers used HDD’s as their means of storing data internally. However as discussed above, the fast improvements in flash drives in terms of price and size has seen flash drives take over HDD’s in many laptops and this trend will likely continue and spread to desktop computers.
- Internal storage hard drives are only as portable as the computer itself and often requires intermediary devices (eg small flash drives) to share information physically. However information can also be shared via email and cloud based storage (see below).
Portable smart devices
- Both smart phones and tablets are also useful storage devices for data. However there can be restrictions on the ability to share the data, often not available by physical connection but only via email or cloud services. Also moving data to the devices is often similarly limited in this way. Also the storage size is limited by the available space on the device which is usually much less than 100Gb, usually between 16-64Gb.
- One of the simplest methods to store and share data. Storing can occur by merely emailing to one’s self with appropriate subject title to be able to search later or use rules/filters to store this in a particular folder. Sharing is as simple as sending an attached document to the intendant recipient
- The main disadvantage is that the “filing system” for data storage in this way is inferior to conventional methodologies both in efficiency and storage size. Sharing can be limited by email data size restrictions on both the sender’s and recipients servers as well as internet speeds.
- Aside from the storage of data in the file system of the relevant Email program used on a user’s computer, the data stored in emails is effectively a form of Cloud storage – see below.
Clouds refer to data storage facilities that are geographically located remote to the user (eg in the United States) but the user can upload and download information from this cloud. Usually the cloud provides a locked account for the user so this information is only accessible to the user or those the user wishes to share it with. In addition most clouds have synchronisation features built in making the updating of stored information very easy. 2 of the main competitors in this space for the personal user market is Dropbox and Google Drive. Dropbox will be used as an example here:
- It creates a folder on your personal computer in which you can store your data in as many folders/subfolders as you like
- Anything placed in that folder is automatically synced to the cloud. Any changes to the data in this folder once saved is also automatically synced to the cloud
- Anything in the cloud can be access via various methods: online from a browser or via devices such as smartphones and tablets.
- Files and folders can be shared with other users by either providing them full access to a folder that they can have installed in their own dropbox folder on their computer which will sync automatically with the cloud, or by providing a weblink to a the folder/file to it can be accessed via computer/portable device.
- There is a limited amount of free space and you an earn more free space through various methods including referring friends to dropbox.
- There are also paid options for users who wish to have large amounts of space
The easy of use and accessibility of clouds have seen them rapidly growing as preferred data storage options for both personal users and large companies.
The main limitation of clouds is the need to have access to a suitably fast internet connection and available download/upload quota in your internet service whenever one wishes to access data. However any files in your dropbox on your computer are accessible at all times off line on the same computer. Further files can be specially marked so that they are available offline on smartphones and tablets but this is achievable on a file by file basis and limited by the storage capabilities of the device.
There are also concerns regarding the security of this data and potential hacked or granted access to nefarious organisations and legal authorities.