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What is the difference between cloud file syncing and cloud storage?

There's a lot of confusion when it comes to differentiating file sync-and-share products and cloud storage. Analyst Marc Staimer clears things up.

The best way to distinguish file sync and share from cloud storage is that file sync and share is an application, while cloud storage is not. The cloud file-syncing application sits in front of the storage it stores files on. It can be in front of private cloud storage (DAS, SAN, NAS and object storage) or public cloud storage.

The file sync-and-share application requires application code on every device that utilizes it. The application is a client/server architecture that syncs files between devices and/or users. It is commonly found in the cloud and frequently takes advantage of low-cost cloud storage. One of the more popular consumer offerings, Dropbox, does this by running in a server on Amazon Web Services that stores the data on Amazon Simple Storage Service object storage.

Cloud storage, on the other hand, is not an application. It is storage that sits in the cloud. The storage does not require a server running the application code to sit in front of it, nor does it require application code to run on every device that accesses it. It is a storage repository for data -- just like any other storage repository. While cloud storage is primarily object storage, there are also DAS, SAN and NAS flavors. These are typically required when the application running in the cloud needs performance that object storage can't sustain.

Cloud file-syncing products use either private or public environments, just like cloud storage. Market confusion remains about the two vastly different technologies because they both store data in the cloud. File sync-and-share service providers contribute to that confusion by calling their applications cloud storage. In reality, "file sync and share" refers to managing and manipulating files that happen to be stored in the cloud. The distinction matters because cloud file sharing is limited to files, while cloud storage is not.

Next Steps

Can cloud sync-and-share products replace backup techs?

10 file-sharing terms to have in your vocabulary

This was last published in October 2014

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