Introduction To Cloud Files

This is one of a collection of posts I’ve written recently to provide a high-level introduction to all of the products and services available within a Rackspace Cloud Account. I like to think of them as the building blocks of the Internet. Each post will give a description of the product, how to use it, the costs and the most frequently asked questions about that product.

I’ve also included several videos to help show how to configure, deploy and use all of these products.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated!

What is it?

At first glance, Cloud Files appears to be nothing more than a very large external hard drive attached to your computer via the Internet; and this description isn’t entirely wrong. You can store an unlimited quantity of files, ranging in size from a few bytes to a few Gigabytes, and only pay for what you use.

While inexpensive, infinite storage is useful, the ability to quickly and efficiently distribute stored information via a built-in content delivery network (CDN) makes Cloud Files a powerful, multi-faceted product capable of solving a variety of problems.

What’s a CDN?
This may not be a term you’re familiar with, but understanding what it is and, more importantly, how it can give your site better performance at a potentially lower cost, is a key factor in becoming a cloud expert.

Instead of your files living only on your Cloud Servers, a content delivery network (CDN) lets them live in a global network of servers. This allows content to be stored and served with high availability and high performance from different points across the Internet rather than a single location. In fact, Cloud Files is so good at delivering content that you can host some websites directly from a Cloud Files container.

How do I use it?

Given the elastic nature of its storage capacity, the redundancy with which your objects are stored and the built-in content delivery network, there are a number of use cases for Cloud Files, including:

  • Backing up and archiving data
  • Serving images/videos (streaming data to a user’s browser)
  • Optimizing a website by serving content with a world-class CDN (Akamai)
  • Storing tertiary/secondary static web-accessible data
  • Developing new applications with data storage integration
  • Storing data when predicting storage needs is difficult
  • Storing data for applications affordably

A deep dive into all of the uses cases is beyond the scope of this introduction. To learn more about how all of the available uses and best practices for Cloud Files, refer to this article in the Rackspace Knowledge Center: Getting Started with Cloud Files

Basic Usage

At its most basic functionality, Cloud Files is used by first creating a container (think of creating Folders on your laptop) and then uploading files to that container for storage. Depending on the type of container created you have the option of using the built-in CDN to share that content with other users in a number of ways.

A new container can be designated as follows:

  • Private – Only accessible by you
  • Public – The CDN is turned on for this container and each object inside will be assigned a CDN URL that can be used to access it
  • Static Website – This container has both the CDN turned on and the appropriate headers for serving web content to a web browser

How do I get my web content into the right container?
There are a number of ways to upload data into a Cloud Files container. Your account’s control panel provides you with a web interface that will allow you to create containers and upload data. In addition to that, you can also use a third-party application like Cyberduck or FireUploader to upload additional files and obtain more flexibility with a virtual file structure.

Content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal have plugins that will automate the uploading and distribution of static content for your site to accelerate web access. A good example for WordPress is W3 Total Cache. Here are instructions on how to install and use this plugin in our Knowledge Center: Accelerating WordPress 3.5.2 with Cloud Files and the W3 Total Cache Plugin

W3 Total Cache can automate the process of uploading static content from your website to Cloud Files and distribute via CDN. 

Here’s a video showing the most basic usage of Cloud Files from the control panel:

And here’s how to access your Cloud Files container with Cyberduck using your API key:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the cost of Cloud Files? 
A: Cloud Files offers pay-as-you-grow pricing, which offers increased savings as your storage need increases. As of this post, Cloud Files has the following pricing structure. I would recommend checking the pricing page for the most accurate and up-to-date information about price.

Q: Can I use CNAMES with a Cloud Files container? 
A: Yes, there is very helpful article in the Rackspace Knowledge Center: How can I use CNAMES with Cloud Files containers.

Check out previous installments with Introduction to Cloud Servers and Introduction to Cloud Databases.

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