Where is Cloud Data Physically Located?

Written by Anthony Carter, MD, Connotations Publishing Ltd. Published 2019-04-24 07:29:41

The birth of the modern cloud dates back to the mid-1990s when AT&T first introduced an online platform for web-based file storage. However, the cloud concept goes back much further than that. The first cloud was an offshoot of mainframe technology that enabled people to access data from anywhere using the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) via the US Department of Defence.

All of this may mean nothing to you as a modern cloud consumer. And yet you wonder something that cloud users have been questioning for years: where on earth is my data physically located? After all, it can't be floating around in cyberspace, can it?

In a word, no. Computer data has to be stored on some sort of physical device one way or another. The thing about the cloud is that data stored there does not need to be stored on your computer or mobile device. That is, in fact, the whole purpose of the cloud. Cloud computing is designed to get data and applications off individual devices and on to cloud servers instead.

Basics of Cloud Technology

There are lots of descriptions of the cloud out there, some more confusing than others. Describing the cloud doesn't have to be that complicated though. Just imagine your own laptop computer with a 1TB hard drive. Imagine partitioning the drive into 10 separate spaces, then leasing out that space to friends and family members who can access it over the wi-fi connection in your home. The cloud works in basically the same way.

As a cloud user, your data and apps are stored on server space that has been set aside for you. If the company you work for utilises cloud services, their data and apps are stored on space that has been set aside specifically for them.

The benefit of this kind of storage is that data and apps are accessible from anywhere. You do not have to be sitting at your PC to work on a word processor document. You can be on the train, working with that document using your smartphone.

By the way, if you use a consumer service like Gmail, for example, you are already active in the cloud. Your e-mails are never downloaded to your computer or mobile device. They are maintained in the cloud, in that separate space that has been designated just for your e-mails.

Data Centre Storage

Now that you understand the basics of cloud technology, let us talk about actual physical storage. Remember that your data and applications must reside somewhere, on a device that is both physical and tangible. They are not floating around in cyberspace.

Cloud space exists on individual servers found at data centres and server farms around the world. Data centre and collocation providers offer server space for cloud computing. It is easy to illustrate how we handle this by creating a fictional scenario.

Let's say the Acme Cloud Storage Company (ACSC) began offering consumer-level cloud storage to customers like you. They could lease hard drive space on servers from a specific provider. This provider would allocate as much space to them as necessary. They would then turn around and partition that space into smaller blocks of space that would be leased to you and your fellow ACSC customers.

All of you would be storing your files on the exact same physical server. However, none of you would have access to anyone else's dedicated space. Individual spaces are kept separate through partitioning. Likewise, none of the other customers who lease space have access to the ACSC space.

Storage Space around the World

By now you might be genuinely interested in the physical location of your own data. Finding out is not as easy as it sounds. There are data centres and server farms all over the world. Unfortunately, a lot of cloud providers do not maintain their own physical storage, so they lease. Moreover, they don't necessarily lease space in the same general location.

You could have a UK cloud provider whose leased space is actually located in Dublin or Frankfurt. You could have a US provider that leases space here in the UK or German provider who space is located in Belgium. The only way to find out where your data is physically located is to ask your cloud provider.

The lesson here is simple: any data and apps you have in the cloud are physically stored on a server located at a data centre or server farm. The space is all yours and physically separate so that others cannot access it.

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