So You Think You Can Tech: Data vs Storage

Tuesday, October 13, 2020
So You Think You Can Tech: Data vs Storage

#TechTuesday with E-Services

Over the years I have spoken to a fair number of people on matters related to tech. In all that time, one of the topics I have unpacked the most is mobile data. There is a distinct disconnect between mobile data and the amount of storage a device has, at least there is in the minds of many consumers. If you have found yourself looking at both and wondering which is which, then you are in good company.

#To MB or GB, that is the question

Now, before we talk about anything else let’s look at Megabytes and Gigabytes. These often confuse people, so it is best to look at them first. Notice the ending, byte. A byte is the smallest amount of storage most people have access to. The Mega and Giga part is a measure of how many bytes we are talking about.

Now let’s say we were to make a pile of 1000 bytes. You’d have a Kilobyte.

Then 1000 Kilobytes makes one Megabyte.

1000 Megabytes gets us to one Gigabyte.

Sensing a pattern? Each time we change a name we are increasing by 1000 of the previous level.

So in terms of bytes, a KB = a thousand bytes, a MB = a million bytes, a GB = a billion bytes, and a TB = a trillion bytes.


Also known as Mobile Data, Data is an important item in our mobile lives. Without Data you would not be able to read this on a tablet or phone. While Data is measured in bytes, you might be paying for 500 MB, how those bytes are used is different from Storage.

Over the years, I have hit upon an analogy that really helps people understand Data. Think of the Data you are paying for, we’re going to stick with that 500 MB, as a pond.

Every time you go to a website, read an email, or watch a video you are taking a bucket and removing a little bit of the water from your pond. Each of those tasks removes a different amount of water. Your email takes almost no water, a thimbleful. Watching a video can be like blowing a hole in a dam, very quickly all your water is gone.

The good news is that your pond should automatically refill at the end of your billing cycle. The bad news is, if you try to use Data after you empty your pond you might face fees and be forced into a pricier plan.

#Well how can I avoid that?!

Easy. Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is everywhere. If you have Wi-Fi at home, you should not be using your Mobile Data. If you are out at a restaurant, the doctor’s, the Library, use theirs. If your Mobile Data plan is a pond then Wi-Fi is an ocean. And, if you are using a public Wi-Fi, such as the Library’s or a business’, then it is an effectively-infinite ocean.

While it is possible to remove all the water from the ocean that is Wi-Fi, it is very hard to do. To put it into perspective. Over the course of the last 21 days my family and I have used 499 GB worth of Wi-Fi Data at my home. Now while that sounds like a lot, I have over a TB worth of Wi-Fi Data. That 499 GB number includes every device we have, the 8 hours a day my partner works as a remote call center employee, my own work from home which includes regular Zoom meetings, our after work streaming of shows on Netflix and Hulu, our child using the internet for virtual schooling, not to mention downloading quite a few games onto a new hard drive. The games alone are several hundred GB worth of Data. I still have another 700 GB worth of Data and that will be refilling in 10 days.

It is highly unlikely I will hit my Wi-Fi Data cap. Most people never do. You would have to be downloading 4k Movies and shows at a ridiculous pace to hit it. And unless you have a screen capable of full 4k then you are just wasting Data.

And if you are at a business such as the Library the ocean is astronomically huge. You can have people using the network at 21 locations at once, watching videos, printing PDFs, sending resumes, and keeping in touch with family while not denting our Data. Heck, kids are playing games all the time at the Library, that’s using way more Data than you probably are.

So, when I say use Wi-Fi, I mean it.

#But how safe is Wi-Fi? I’ve heard some things…

I’m sure you have. The internet is awash with the cautionary tales of those who placed their trust into Wi-Fi and had their trust shattered. Like the legends of old, their ghostly specters float through the public consciousness as a warning.

But how much should we allow the grim faces deter us from using another’s ocean?

Not much.

Really. All you need to keep yourself safe is a little common sense. Which is likely to be the Library’s Free Wi-Fi, Free_WiFi, JimsWiFi, or LibraryPublic? LibraryPublic, right? The same is usually true for most businesses you visit. Their name will be in the Wi-Fi name. If you are unsure, ask an employee. If you are at the Library and use LibraryPublic, then the Library is handling your Data flow. This makes it harder for someone in the middle to take your information.

Also, be cautious with what you do on public Wi-Fi. If you are unsure about a network don’t do anything dealing with money or private accounts. Check out the score of Game 6 of the World Series? Sure! You won’t be compromising yourself there.

#So what about Storage?

Storage is a measure of how much space you have in your device for stuff. If Data is a measure of water, a resource that is consumed then replenished, then think of storage as your closet. Like a closet is built into your home, Storage is built into your device. It’s always there, filling as you save files and install programs only to empty when you delete them. As a good rule of thumb, if you buy a phone with 32 GB of Storage, that is all you get. Unless you can use a memory card or your laptop allows you to change the hard drive, you are stuck with the amount of Storage you initially purchased.

Notice how I wrote 32 GB? Storage and Data both use the KB, MB, GB, TB scales because it measures size. But you can have a 500 MB Data plan on a phone with 32 GB of Storage.

#What about this Cloud Storage thing? What’s that?

Well if Storage is your closet, then Cloud Storage is a storage unit down the road. Like your Storage, Cloud Storage is a finite amount of space where you can put stuff. Only this space is not tied to your device. It’s on the internet, meaning you can access it from anywhere as long as you know your username and password. It is very possible to have more Cloud Storage than you do local Storage.

A word of caution about the cloud though. Any information you access in the cloud while on Data will burn through that pool. So, if you want to do a lot of cloud work use Wi-Fi.

But is the Cloud secure?

I have had many people ask about the security of the cloud. This is a legitimate concern, especially in an era when television has granted hackers magic powers to break into anything with a power plug. But let me ask you this, how secure is your home? What will stop people from breaking in and stealing your flatware? Nothing right?

Now you may have a security system. Or at least you may have a sign saying you have a security system. If you do, you are protected by an agency. In the cloud, especially when we are talking about Cloud Storage options such as OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, and Amazon Drive, the companies behind them provide Storage to thousands of customers. Included in their customer lists are governments, other companies, entities with a vested interest in information security. Because of them, you get the benefit of protection too.

To be honest, if your cloud is going to be broken into, you’re probably going to be the one giving them the keys. Most major ‘hacks’ these days are the result of someone falling prey to a trick. They might get an email from someone pretending to be their cloud service asking for them to confirm their username and password. If they fall for the scam, then the bad guys are in. The bad guys don’t have to be master hackers, pounding on keyboards while a menacing bar fills up on their screen, they just have to understand how people react when afraid.

#Anything else?

Not really. We’ve covered this divide in great enough detail I think. Hopefully you feel comfortable enough with Data and Storage to be a better-informed consumer of both. Look out for more information and strange metaphors, next time on So You Think You Can Tech.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

The Jacksonville Public Library's E-Services Department is dedicated to helping users learn and master the technology needed in today's economy. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, join us for our online computer classes. All of our classes are free and open to the public.

John Carter

John Carter

Husband, Father, Digital Artist, and Teacher, these are but a few of the hats John Carter wears. If he is not at one of our many public libraries hosting a computer class or helping someone in an appointment you can find John working in his yard practicing hügelkultur, hidden away sketching and writing, making a pilgrimage to Disney World, or trying new recipes in the kitchen.

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