There are hundreds of different cloud storage systems. Some have a very specific focus, such as storing Web e-mail messages or digital pictures. Others are available to store all forms of digital data. Some cloud storage systems are small operations, while others are so large that the physical equipment can fill up an entire warehouse. The facilities that house cloud storage systems are called data centers.
At its most basic level, a cloud storage system needs just one data server connected to the Internet. A client (e.g., a computer user subscribing to a cloud storage service) sends copies of files over the Internet to the data server, which then records the information. When the client wishes to retrieve the information, he or she accesses the data server through a Web-based interface. The server then either sends the files back to the client or allows the client to access and manipulate the files on the server itself.
Cloud storage systems generally rely on hundreds of data servers. Because computers occasionally require maintenance or repair, it's important to store the same information on multiple machines. This is called redundancy. Without redundancy, a cloud storage system couldn't ensure clients that they could access their information at any given time. Most systems store the same data on servers that use different power supplies. That way, clients can access their data even if one power supply fails.
Not all cloud storage clients are worried about running out of storage space. They use cloud storage as a way to create backups of data. If something happens to the client's computer system, the data survives off-site. It's a digital-age variation of "don't put all your eggs in one basket."