What is cloud storage and how does it work?

If you’ve ever uploaded a file or a video online to share with someone, chances are you’ve used a cloud storage service. 

Unlike traditional forms of data storage (such as hard drives), cloud storage uses servers in off-site locations to store data, letting you access your files any time you want as long as you have a device that connects to the internet.

In this article, we explain what cloud storage is, how it works, and the advantages of using it.

What is cloud storage?

In simple terms, cloud storage allows you to store and access data and files over the internet without needing physical storage devices such as hard drives or USB drives. Instead, your files are sent across the internet to be stored on servers owned and maintained by cloud storage providers, and you can access them from any device with an internet connection. These servers are commonly known as “the cloud”.

Setting up your own cloud server for data storage is technically challenging and expensive, which is why most people opt to use a third-party cloud storage provider, such as Google Drive or Proton Drive. Besides convenience, cloud storage providers also offer advanced security features like encryption and two-factor authentication (2FA) to help protect your files. 

For businesses, cloud storage is more cost-effective than maintaining their own physical servers. It helps them reduce hardware costs, improve scalability, and minimize maintenance expenses.

Protect your files with end-to-end encryption with Proton Drive

How does cloud storage work?

When you upload a file to the cloud, your cloud storage provider duplicates it and spreads the copies across different servers to maintain availability and provide redundancy. This allows you to have seamless access to your data no matter where you are. 

Internet access is really the only limitation on using cloud storage. As long as you have a device connected to the internet, you only need to sign into your cloud service’s app or web portal to download or upload files.

Read a more technical explanation of how the cloud works

Differences between public and private cloud storage

There are two kinds of cloud storage: public and private. Here are some of the main differences between the two:

  • Ownership: A private cloud is owned and operated by a single organization and only members of that organization have access to it. In a public cloud, you share the cloud service’s resources (for example, servers and network devices) with other people.
  • Scalability: Public cloud storage is highly scalable and can easily accommodate many users and files. Private cloud storage is usually fixed and may require additional resources to expand.
  • Security: Standard public cloud storage is considered less secure than private cloud storage due to its shared infrastructure. Since private cloud storage is only dedicated to a single organization, it can easily be customized to meet specific security requirements.
  • Cost: Public cloud storage is generally cheaper than private cloud storage since the cost of maintaining the cloud is shared among its users. Private cloud storage also requires a significant upfront investment in hardware and resources. 

If you’re looking for a cost-effective and secure cloud storage provider, Proton Drive gives you up to 1 GB of storage on our Free plan. Proton Drive was created by the same team that developed Proton Mail and Proton VPN(new window) and uses the same end-to-end encryption (E2EE) to secure your files. This means nobody, not even Proton, can access them without your permission. All your files are encrypted locally on your device before being uploaded to our cloud servers. 

With Proton Drive, you can also enjoy advanced security features, such as:

To access more storage and support our goal of building a better, more private internet, consider upgrading to a paid account

Advantages of the cloud

Cloud storage has become hugely popular in the last decade due to its benefits and flexibility. Here are some examples. 

Backup and recovery

Cloud storage offers a secure and convenient way to back up important files, such as photos, videos, and documents. It’s especially useful for businesses as it retains copies of critical business data and provides disaster recovery solutions during a data loss event. By storing data in the cloud, businesses reduce their dependence on physical hardware and minimize the risk of data loss due to hardware failure or natural disasters. 

Files are always in sync

One of the biggest advantages of cloud storage is the ability to keep files in sync across multiple devices and platforms. When you store files in the cloud, they’re accessible from any device with an internet connection, which means you don’t have to worry about transferring files manually. Any changes you make to your file are also automatically updated in real time, ensuring you always have the latest version of your documents.

Saving space on local devices

Local devices like laptops and mobile devices typically have limited storage capacity, and if you’re looking to store large files, you might run out of space. By using cloud storage, you can free up space on your local device and store these files in the cloud instead. 

Shared collaborations

Cloud storage is a powerful tool for shared collaborations, such as working on a travel itinerary with family members or reviewing a document with colleagues. It allows multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously, reducing the need to send a file back and forth. Some cloud storage platforms also offer version control, which lets you track changes and revert to earlier versions of the document if needed. 

Improved security

As cloud storage providers are responsible for keeping personal data safe, they offer advanced security features to protect your files from unauthorized access or malicious attacks. One of the primary security features that cloud storage providers use is encryption. While there are many types of encryptions, E2EE is considered the gold standard. Most cloud providers also offer 2FA to prevent unauthorized access to your files. 

What is cloud storage used for?

Cloud storage offers many practical applications for individuals and businesses. For individuals, you’ll most often use cloud storage in the following contexts:

  • File storage services (Proton Drive)
  • Video streaming websites (YouTube)
  • Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Email services (Proton Mail, Gmail)
  • Online productivity software (Google Docs, Microsoft 365)
  • eCommerce websites (Amazon)

Businesses, on the other hand, use cloud technology to offer all types of services. Besides cloud storage, businesses are also likely to employ other cloud computing services, such as: 

  • Software-as-a-Service (Saas): SaaS is a cloud-based method of providing software. The provider hosts the software and customers access it through a web browser or mobile app. Popular SaaS products include Slack, Netflix, and Zoom.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): IaaS refers to cloud computing services where businesses rent IT infrastructure, such as servers and storage capacity, from a provider. The provider is responsible for managing the infrastructure, and businesses can use it to build and run their own applications. Some IaaS examples include Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. 
  • Platform-as-a-Service (Paas): Cloud platform services, also known as PaaS, are cloud computing services where developers can build, test, and deploy software. This allows developers to focus on building their software applications rather than managing and maintaining infrastructure. Some examples of PaaS platforms are Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure. 

Is cloud storage safe?

While cloud storage providers implement various security measures to protect your data, it’s important to remember that no system is completely foolproof. 

Most cloud storage providers encrypt your files with TLS and AES-256. These encryption methods are widely considered secure and can protect your files from interception and tampering by third parties, but your cloud provider still retains your private key. This means your cloud provider can access your files if necessary (for example, in response to a legal request or a security incident). A hacker who breaches your cloud storage provider’s servers can also easily steal your private key and access your files.

The best way to defend the integrity of your files and prevent unauthorized access is to use a reputable and trustworthy end-to-end encrypted cloud storage provider like Proton Drive. Proton Drive’s encryption makes it mathematically impossible for it to access your files. If you’re in doubt, always read your cloud provider’s privacy policy to determine how it handles your files and collects your personal data. You should also choose a strong and unique password, enable 2FA, and regularly monitor your account for unusual activity.


How do I access cloud storage?

Accessing cloud storage depends on your cloud storage provider, but in general, there are a few common steps:
– Register for a cloud storage service, such as Proton Drive.
– Sign in to your account on your cloud provider’s website. Alternatively, you can also download the mobile app.
– Select which files and folders you want to store in the cloud and upload them.
– Many cloud storage services allow you to share files with others by creating a link or inviting them to access your files directly. You can also set permissions to control who can view or edit your files.

Can anyone see your cloud storage?

In general, no one can see your cloud storage unless you specifically share your files with others. However, bear in mind that most cloud storage services store your private key alongside your data, which means your cloud provider can access your files at any time. If your cloud provider’s servers are breached, a hacker can also easily obtain your documents.
To guarantee the privacy of your files, choose a cloud storage provider that uses end-to-end encryption. E2EE is the only type of encryption that prevents unauthorized third parties from accessing your files.

Is cloud storage free?

Most cloud storage services offer a free plan that gives you 1-2 GB of free storage. If you’d like additional storage, you typically have to upgrade to a paid subscription.

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