Personal cloud storage: What exactly is it?

Inside Facebook data center
(Image credit: Facebook)

The term can be a bit misleading, and these days computer users may easily confuse what is truly meant by a personal cloud with a public cloud storage platform, like Google Drive.

While public cloud storage is very much exclusively a software-as-a-service offering by companies that tend to charge a monthly or annual subscription fee, true personal cloud puts the user in charge, and is a great option for those seeking ultimate control over their data or hobbyists looking for their next challenge.

Sometimes called a private cloud, it will typically consist of one or more storage drives that are connected to the Internet. The preferred method is an Ethernet connection, which is more stable than Wi-Fi. The storage drives can be HDDs or SSDs, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

A good setup will include multiple drives that have RAID capabilities. This means that the data is backed up multiple times in different locations so that, if something catastrophic were to happen to one drive, you shouldn’t lose all of your data.

If you’re looking for personal cloud storage to handle your own storage needs, then you may be able to get away with a smaller setup of 1TB to 2TB. The best of the bunch can reach and exceed 16TB, comprising multiple drives, which is good for the whole family or for storing large quantities of video. More often than not, you’ll find setups using HDDs because they’re less geared for performance and more focused on storing large amounts of data.

Personal cloud storage: how to set it up

You’ll first need to buy a specialized personal cloud device from any of the manufacturers that trade in that area, including LaCie, Seagate, QNAP, and Western Digital. Make sure that you’re buying a device compatible with personal cloud, and not just a regular external drive, because you’ll need that extra bit of software to allow it to communicate with the Internet.

Setting up your own personal cloud is as simple as following steps by the provider, either on its browser portal or dedicated desktop client.

Once complete, you’ll be able to create your own web location to access files that you have stored on your drive(s). When picking a provider, it’s beneficial to compare this online experience and whether the company offers its own desktop clients and mobile apps, because on-the-go access to your storage should be as slick as possible.

Personal cloud storage: pros

There are two key benefits to establishing your own personal cloud setup. The first is that you are entirely in charge of your own data, and you won’t be handing your valuable information and work to another company like Google. In a world where data security is of significant importance, personal cloud storage could emerge as a growing trend. The cost efficiency compared with public cloud networks is also an enticing factor for many.

Secondly, you’ll save a fortune compared with typical cloud storage platforms. For a 2TB online space, you can expect to fork out well over $120 / £80 per year for the most popular solutions. Spend about double this and you could afford your own personal cloud setup of a similar capacity, and there would be no further incurred costs, compared with the lifelong commitment associated with a public network subscription. 

Personal cloud storage: cons

There are certain tradeoffs you make when taking charge of your own data. Part of the reason that public cloud spaces are as expensive (in comparison) as they are is because of the huge amount of infrastructure that underpins your storage. 

Firstly, there’s the number of data centers made up of countless servers that are dotted strategically around the world and provide you with backups of your backups in the case of a server outage or attack. Then you’ve got the server protection itself - data centers are highly secure, monitored areas.

High-performance servers are designed with efficiency and optimization at their core, helping to make them more environmentally friendly than individual household setups.

While any Internet-connected device or service is susceptible to attacks, the huge amounts of money and resource that goes into securing public cloud platforms far outweighs any protective measure that you could implement with a personal cloud storage solution. That means that a self-managed system will be more likely to be hacked or subject to other cyberattacks including ransomware attacks, and while companies tend to be fairly speedy when reacting to threats, they often require the end user to install updates. Fail to do so and your data could be at risk.

Personal cloud storage vs NAS drives

Personal cloud storage solutions are very much network-attached storage (NAS) drives that have been boosted with an added online interface. The fact is, the two are extremely similar concepts that differ minimally in practice.

However, there is always the option to create your own NAS from existing hardware in your home, or cheap components that you can buy. Creating your own NAS setup involves plugging a storage drive into a supported Wi-Fi router or an old computer that you can afford to keep powered on at all times.

The downside to a cheap workaround like this, though, is that you will typically need to be on the same network to access your files, meaning that you’ll instantly lose access the moment you disconnect from the network, revoking any on-the-go privileges. The truth of the matter is that creating your own NAS like this won’t be any cheaper than a dedicated personal cloud setup, and the benefits of that far outweigh the possibility of a slight cost premium. 

Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!