In June 2017, Amazon announced the end of availability for the unlimited storage tier in its consumer-facing Amazon Drive service. Despite being the market leader for cloud services from independent developers to large enterprises, Amazon's file storage service has not reached the heights of popularity that competitors Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and Microsoft OneDrive have enjoyed.
Current subscribers will be able to continue using unlimited storage for the duration of their remaining subscription, after which users can store 1TB for $59.99 per year. Additional storage up to 30 TB can be purchased at the same annual rate. Users who choose not to pay for the per-terabyte rate will be limited to viewing, downloading, and deleting content in a grace period of 180 days. After the grace period, data will be deleted, started with the most recently uploaded data first. (As an exception, Amazon Prime customers will continue to receive unlimited photo storage, including for RAW files.)
SEE: Microsoft cuts OneDrive storage, here are 3 cloud alternatives (TechRepublic)
Amazon is not the first to pull the rug from beneath the feet of users who subscribed to an unlimited storage tier—Microsoft offered unlimited storage with an Office 365 subscription in October 2014, and then abruptly discontinued the offer a year later, though Microsoft gave users a year to continue using their storage. BitCasa, a startup founded in 2011 offering unlimited storage, discontinued their unlimited tier in 2014, and shut down altogether in May 2016. The Barracuda Networks-backed service Copy.com shut down at the same time.
Why does this keep happening?
There is an indirect and a direct reason for this. Naturally, the indirect reason for this is either a lack of foresight, or—perhaps more likely—willful ignorance. For services marketed to end users who are not necessarily technically adept, the abstract concept of storage sizes is likely an encumbrance. Non-technical end users are unlikely to carefully monitor the size of their collection of files, making the use of "unlimited" an appealing marketing term. At the same time, the potential for abuse is absolutely a foreseeable—if not starkly obvious—problem.
Naturally, this potential for abuse is the direct reason. Microsoft's announcement of the discontinuation of unlimited storage for Office 365 customers specifically called out "a small number of users" who "backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings," noting that some users exceeded 75 TB of storage.
Keeping this pretext in mind, it is worth noting that a user on Reddit posted this year that they had uploaded 1 petabyte of storage to Amazon Drive, primarily by capturing "webcam streams from different websites." Somewhat comically, the user also stated: "I hope it doesn't have a negative effect on any other users." Use of the third-party tool acd-cli with Amazon Drive has been banned, with rclone banned temporarily.
How can cloud providers prevent this issue in the future?
The obvious solution to not being able to deliver on a promise is avoiding words like "unlimited," which would generally discourage such abuse of system resources. Marty Puranik, CEO of Atlantic.net noted that the unlimited problem "[is] difficult because of a low percentage of heavy users," suggesting that cloud providers follow the model of mobile network operators, citing T-Mobile USA's policy of throttling users after 30GB of transfer per month.
Has this happened to you?
Have you uploaded large amounts of data to a file storage service, and abruptly had the terms of service change? Has the trend of companies offering "unlimited" storage discouraged you from using cloud file storage services? Share your experiences in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.