We'll store over 1/3 of our digital content in the cloud by 2016
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We'll store over 1/3 of our digital content in the cloud by 2016

The desire to share content and to access it on multiple devices will motivate consumers to start storing a third of their digital content in the cloud by 2016, according to Gartner (http://www.gartner.com). The research group says just 7% of consumer content was stored in the cloud in 2011, but this will grow to 36% in 2016.

I'll be among that number. However, I'm not depending solely on "the cloud" to hold my data.

"Historically, consumers have generally stored content on their computers, but as we enter the post-PC era, consumers are using multiple connected devices, the majority of which are equipped with cameras. This is leading to a massive increase in new user-generated content that requires storage," says Shalini Verma, principal research analyst at Gartner. "With the emergence of the personal cloud, this fast-growing consumer digital content will quickly get disaggregated from connected devices."

The increased adoption of camera-equipped smartphones and tablets is allowing users to capture huge amounts of photos and videos. Gartner predicts that worldwide consumer digital storage needs will grow from 329 exabytes in 2011 to 4.1 zettabytes in 2016. This includes digital content stored in computers, smartphones, tablets, hard-disk drives (HDDs), network attached storage (NAS) and cloud repositories.

The bulk of the cloud storage needs of consumers in the near term will be met by social media sites such as Facebook, which offer free storage space for uploading photos and videos for social sharing, according to Gartner. Verma said that while online backup services are the most well-known cloud storage providers, their total storage allocated to consumers and "prosumers" is small relative to that maintained by social media sites.

Average storage per household will grow from 464 gigabytes in 2011 to 3.3 terabytes in 2016. In 2012, Gartner believes that the adoption of camera-equipped tablets and smartphones will drive consumer storage needs. In the first half of 2012, a shortage in supply of HDDs as a result of the floods in Thailand provided an impetus for cloud storage adoption, leading to an unusual overall growth rate between 2011 and 2012.

Consumers are expected to first try the basic package that is offered free by online backup companies. These services will be offered as apps on tablets, smartphones and broadband-connected TV because of partnerships between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and online storage and sync companies. Cloud service providers (CSPs) will also increasingly offer cloud storage. The use of cloud online storage and sync services will provide the foundational experience for consumers to start using cloud storage as part of the personal cloud.

On-premises storage will remain the main repository of consumer digital content, although Gartner predicts that its share will progressively drop from 93% in 2011 to 64% in 2016 as the direct-to-cloud model becomes more mainstream. Cloud storage will grow at an aggressive pace during this period.

"Local storage will become further integrated with home networking, presenting opportunities for local storage providers to partner with home networking and automation service providers," says Verma. "Cloud storage will grow with the emergence of the personal cloud, which in turn will simplify the direct-to-cloud model, allowing users to directly store user-generated content in the cloud. As storage becomes a part of the personal cloud, it will become further commoditized. Therefore, online storage and sync companies need to have a strategic rethink about their future approach."

All good points, but I, for one, will never depend entirely on having my data "in the cloud," whether it's my songs, videos, or documents for my work. I want physical copies -- or at least digital copies on a hard drive (or, preferably two, in different locations).

After all, security expert Bruce Schneier said this to say to "The Guardian" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/): "You don't want your critical data to be on some cloud computer that abruptly disappears because its owner goes bankrupt. You don't want the company you're using to be sold to your direct competitor. You don't want the company to cut corners, without warning, because times are tight. Or raise its prices and then refuse to let you have your data back. These things can happen with software vendors, but the results aren't as drastic."

-- Dennis Sellers


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