data portability

Data portability is the ability to move data among different application programs, computing environments or cloud services. In a cloud computing context, this ability is the data portion of cloud portability, which makes it possible for customers to migrate data and applications between or among cloud service providers (CSPs). Data portability is growing more important as an increasing number of organizations store greater and greater quantities of data in the cloud.

Data portability has become commonplace (although not universal) among application programs designed for use on diverse vendors' PCs. The same cannot yet be said for CSPs. As more organizations move data to cloud services, a lack of data portability can cause problems if, for example, a customer wants to move data among cloud platforms or change their service provider. Different CSPs commonly have proprietary data formats, templates, and related parameters that tend to lock users into specific platforms. Often these formats are nonstandard, making data portability a difficult proposition. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), cloud interoperability and data portability pose the major challenges to enterprise adoption of cloud computing services.

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At the consumer level, data portability allows people to easily coordinate the personal data that they keep on multiple social networking sites. In social networking, data portability allows users to easily unify their contacts, exchanges, photos, videos, sound clips, and personal or professional information across multiple services (for example, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter). In that way, users can have confidence that their data is current and consistent, without having to modify the content on each service's site individually. (Users can, of course, opt out of this feature if they want to show different portfolios on different services.)

In 2010, Facebook improved its data portability by allowing users to download all of their network content as a single zipped file for viewing with a browser offline. This feature helps users to keep track of their data without fear that crackers might permanently alter or destroy any of it. The downloading feature also backs up the data so it can be easily replaced in the event of a network-wide failure causing data loss in the cloud. If something bad happens on the network, users can simply upload their backed-up data to replace the damaged network data.

Data portability provides users of social networking services with added convenience when different services allow reciprocal access to data. For example, a user on Facebook may import contacts from Google's Gmail email service. In an ideal world, all social networking services would cooperate and allow users to freely and easily migrate data among them. Things haven't worked out that way. Instead, services often take a territorial attitude toward user data.

This was last updated in May 2012

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