The argument over whether enterprises will move to the cloud or not has been fought argued and concluded; the result is that no matter what analysts say, enterprises are moving. But what about consumers and the massive amounts of content that they store on desktops and other devices?

Consumers In The Cloud

This is clearly a huge potential market and Gartner has recently published new research that shows the market is probably much larger than anyone originally thought. By 2016, Gartner’s Forecast: Consumer Digital Storage Needs, 2010-2016 says one third of consumer’s digital content will be in the cloud.

Probably not a lot, until you consider that in 2011 that figure was only 7% rising to 36% by 2016, a rise of nearly 30% in five years. And it seems that the principal piece of technology that is driving this move is the adoption of camera equipped smartphones and tablets, and we all know what direction demand for phones and tablets is going.

Says Shalini Verma, principal research analyst at Gartner:

"Historically, consumers have generally stored content on their PCs, but as we enter the post-PC era, consumers are using multiple connected devices, the majority of which are equipped with cameras. This is leading to a massive increase in new user-generated content that requires storage…With the emergence of the personal cloud, this fast-growing consumer digital content will quickly get disaggregated from connected devices.”

The result, is that Gartner predicts digital storage needs will grow from 329 exabytes in 2011 to 4.1 zettabytes in 2016, to cope will all the content that is currently stored in PCs, smartphones, tablets, hard-disk drives (HDDs), network attached storage (NAS) and cloud repositories.

Social Media and Cloud Adoption

What is even more striking about this is that Garter says that in the short term, storage needs will be met through social media sites like Facebook or other file sharing sites that offer users a certain amount of free storage space where they can upload videos and photos for sharing.

Reflecting the growing use of mobile devices by consumers, the amount of storage per household will grow from 464 gigabytes in 2011 to 3.3 terabytes in 2016, which this year, because of a shortage in the supply of HDDs as a result of floods in Asia will push consumers into the cloud. This trend will continue in the coming years.

Consumers will start by using basic packages offered free by online backup companies, with these services offered as apps on tablets and other mobile devices. This will then create an environment where cloud storage will become second nature, which will then be augmented by offers to consumers from cloud service providers.

However, while the percentage of content kept on desktops will drop, it will still be the main repository of personal digital content.

Cloud storage will grow as the use of personal clouds grow, will simplify the direct-to-cloud model, and allow users to directly store user-generated content in the cloud. There’s a lot more for cloud providers in this report that they should be watching for.