Not too long ago, I received an email from my data provider offering me an upgrade from my current plan to an “unlimited” package that requires me to pay an extra of only RM10. Sounds good, right?
However, at my age, dazzling incentives and promises such as this one are typically met with trepidation. So rather than jumping straight and take up the offer, I asked around. Luckily for me, a former colleague had taken up the offer and shared that the offer was not as it made out to be.
In her own words, “Sure I enjoyed a lot more bandwidth but there’s always a catch somehow somewhere with such offer. Unlimited is just a word and it doesn’t really mean anything here as the provider has cleverly weaved in several limitations.”
Evidently, in many instances, businesses today tend to “over” promise their offers in attempts to gain more customers like those vendors in unlimited cloud storage space.
Now that is one interesting market space. By 2017, iHS iSuppli predicts there will be more than one billion personal cloud storage users around the world.
Considering the purchasing power of these digital consumers, it’s no surprise that cloud storage’s biggest players are improving their systems to gain a competitive edge.
Every so often, a cloud storage provider promises endless space for your precious data. They say to put your files on their servers and you’ll never even have to think about what a gigabyte holds.
But before long, these companies realise they can’t hold up their end of the bargain, seemingly shocked by how much storage people actually use.
Microsoft recently became the latest example, when it pulled the plug on unlimited cloud storage plans for Office 365 subscribers thanks to a select group of data hoarders. The company began offering unlimited data plans in October 2014.
The tech giant said a small number of Office 365 users had used the cloud storage service to back up several computers and upload entire movie libraries. Some of them exceeded 75 terabytes per user. In response, Microsoft has now placed a 1 terabyte limit on OneDrive users who have Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscriptions.
Cloud storage vendor Bitcasa has also announced that it will be dropping its infinite storage option after November 15, in tandem with an upgrade of its infrastructure to a fully regionalised architecture.
To continue using the service, users will have to migrate to either a 1TB or 10TB storage plan, states the company.
Maintaining unlimited customers is not viable for its business, noted Bitcasa.
Then there’re cloud storage providers who claim that their storage platforms are unlimited when in all likelihood they know that they’re not (just like that of my data provider).
Last March, Amazon announced its own unlimited cloud storage system, committing itself as one of the market’s most affordable solutions. However, like most sparkly things, the offer is not quite as spectacular as it first appears. Why is that? Because it, like its competitors, is not truly unlimited.
Amazon Cloud Drive, in all honesty, comes at two levels. The first - a US$59.99 per year unlimited ‘everything’ storage plan -- while it claims to be unlimited, this 'everything' option is founded on synchronisation.
This means that when a user uploads files to the cloud, they are first stored on a user’s hard drive. Unlike cloud storage providers who maintain storage exclusively on the cloud, synchronisation is predicated on the space available on a user’s hard drive. This space is far from unlimited.
The choice to use synchronisation methods raises a number of concerns. And these concerns are not unique to Amazon, either. Industry leaders, such as Dropbox and Box, should be similarly scrutinised in this exploration of unlimited.
Moving on, digital culture is growing quickly, and users will require more and more storage space as they increase their own digital footprints. With the potential for more than a billion cloud storage users to exist within the decade, there is a huge need for truly unlimited solutions.
The business model isn’t impossible. Online backup services such as BackBlaze and Carbonite, for instance, have been doing it for years.
The challenge now is to keep storage and related costs low, and being able to stomach the notion of having some unprofitable users. Every cloud storage service, limited or not, is paying for every gigabyte, which means costs go up as people consume more storage space.
To reduce its own costs, BackBlaze for example, builds its own storage pods out of consumer hard drives, so it doesn’t have to lease space from a cloud provider like Amazon or Microsoft. The company has also built its own software, which doesn’t require a load balancer to deal with inbound traffic. This saves a lot of money that might have been spent on expensive equipment.
All in all, in achieving these solutions, and seeing the sensitive and highly-personal nature of data stored on the cloud, storage providers should be making every effort to instill confidence and transparency with customers.
Most importantly, cloud storage providers have to be true with themselves, as well as with their customers. Unlimited has an exact definition, and right now it does not parallel with some of the most ubiquitous cloud storage efforts.