Do You Suffer from Cloud Sprawl?

Free! Store 2 GB, 5 GB, or even more on our cloud! This is the pitch that draws us into putting data on yet another cloud service.

Soon we have some files here, more files there, photos everywhere, shared folders, and folders we don’t know how to unshare. Our digital lives are spread across many clouds and our files are in many locations. If you’re like me, you’re familiar with what I’m talking about. I’ve got so many files in so many free clouds, it fogs my brain.

Many cloud vendors have been generous with their free storage offers. Some range as low as 2 GB and many offer a standard 5 GB as a freebie. With special offers for new accounts activated on certain devices or referral bonuses, some users can earn as much as 50 GB for free.

Is it a bad thing to have more than one cloud storage vendor? And what about those shared folders that are syncing automatically, to one another? And what about the services you use strictly for backing up your data? They are a cloud somewhere over the rainbow you have to keep track of.

At the very least, you can agree with me that we will wind up with a problem of who’s on first? Where are those pictures I wanted to make into an album for my grandmother’s 90th? Where are all the videos I took of my daughter in her toddler years? And where are all the story ideas I’ve been squirreling away? On top of these personal items, there’s my professional writing to consider. I have shared links to articles to review through any number of online services. In fact, those who work with me know there are at least two clouds they should check before they ask me where something is. That’s fine for my team, but not the case when I’m on the phone with an executive or thought leader and have to remember which cloud I put our latest interview.

Then there’s the issue of terms of service. I’ll admit here and now that I haven’t read the terms of service for all the cloud vendors I use to know how safe my grandmother’s album-to-be really is. But I know some cloud vendors won’t let you store copyrighted information in the cloud, even if you have a right to the copy you own.

The takeaway here is that the more clouds I am using, the more terms of service I will ultimately have to keep track of. (I plan to explore this in more detail in future blogs on security and privacy in the cloud.) And for clouds services built on other clouds, there could be multiple layers to those terms of service. In other words, having more than one cloud doesn’t simply imply that I have to consciously keep track of which files are on which clouds, but I also have to take time to understand and sort through multiple terms of service. It’s more to manage overall. Now that I think about the other “costs” involved, these GB sound less free all the time. Multiple clouds inevitably lead to more management for users; that much is clear.

I’m not proposing any solutions here; I realize that. Maybe we are all works in progress when it comes to our personal use of the cloud. But it has started me thinking about where all those files are and that maybe I’ve signed up for (at least) one too many free services.

What do you think? How many cloud services are enough? Too much? How do you keep track of them all? Should we just keep accepting those limited GB free offers? What is the real cost of sprawl? Even with free services, there are costs in terms of peace of mind, trying to keep track of which files are where, which of my devices I can access them from, and what their terms of service are.