Five considerations for cloud storage
The plethora of services and solutions makes it confusing to choose the most suitable cloud storage solution.
As data volumes continue to grow exponentially, cloud storage has become a standard business tool. Providing reliability, efficiency and automation, cloud storage offers a variety of solutions, depending on business needs and budget.
However, while it is one of the most mature cloud applications and a common feature of the business landscape, the number of service providers and storage offerings available can make it difficult to identify the right solution for a business.
Before a company buys cloud storage, it must clearly identify its needs. Considerations such as high performance and availability, versus merely archiving, will dictate what kind of storage solution a business requires. In order to make the right choice, there are a number of factors to take into consideration.
First, consider bandwidth. The cloud is effectively a continuous stream of data in both directions, so the network must be able to support high-speed transfers of varying sizes. In addition, the storage provider's network should be at least as fast as the customer's upload speed, and should cater to a variety of data usage patterns.
Whether using a private, hybrid, or public cloud environment, bandwidth is the highway by which data travels to the cloud. Moving data requires both technical and financial attention to ensure that enough bandwidth is available without costing the world. With increasing video storage requirements, as well as the ever-growing deluge of data, this will become the primary consideration for companies in the future.
The second consideration is availability and service levels. These are covered in the service level agreement (SLA), and are a function of the provider's infrastructure and connectivity. Assurances in uptime are as important as on-demand scalability, backup and/or disaster recovery. Similarly, tech support should be provided for in the SLA. The location of the tech support team is important to solving any unforeseen problems, as is their availability. If data needs to be accessed on Christmas Day, will the team be available?
Location is therefore a vital third consideration, as availability is often contingent on distance. Large data transfers can block a network if the storage provider's data centres are on the other side of the world, and different countries have different laws affecting access to data. In addition, if the data centres are situated in areas at risk of natural disasters, the provider should have a disaster recovery solution in place.
Most importantly, cloud storage enables all Internet-connected devices to become access devices, regardless of where they are. The data will update regardless of which device is used, and retrieval is quick and easy.
However, distance can cause latency if the cloud storage provider hasn't configured its set-up for high availability. This is an especially serious problem for companies requiring instant access to important files, and can't afford to wait minutes or even hours for them to come down off the server.
Security and compliance are a concern for many companies, but reputable providers should be able to provide assurances like encryption of data at all stages of its journey, as well as access control. Many industries also have legislated data storage requirements, often because of the sensitivity of the data, such as financial services. Security and compliance will therefore be fundamental to the choice of storage provider for those organisations.
Before a company buys cloud storage, it must clearly identify its needs.
To add to this challenge, Gartner predicts the IOT market will grow to 26 billion units installed by 2020, all of which will use the cloud. According to the Experian Data Breach Industry Forecast, the storage and processing of the data points collected by IOT devices will create more vulnerabilities, and the IOT will be the next entry point for cyber criminals. However, service providers are spending huge amounts of money to ensure their security is up to scratch, and because of the economies of scale offered by the nature of their business, cloud providers can provide a layer of security most organisations wouldn't be able to afford.
Finally, companies should know exactly what their storage is costing them. While cloud storage has become very competitively priced, different providers have different pricing structures. Typically, pricing will be dependent on the volume of data, but some providers charge for uploads, downloads, drive restores, set-up fees or general maintenance.
Knowing what is included is essential to gaining the benefit that led to the fast development of cloud storage - bringing down costs. By taking all of these considerations into account, businesses can ensure they choose the right cloud storage solution.
Richard Vester has been in the ICT industry since 1997, intimately involved in product development, operations and product marketing. He has worked for some of the top ICT companies in SA and joined EOH as the divisional director of Cloud Services in 2012. He has a detailed knowledge and understanding of cloud computing and has developed one of the leading cloud businesses in Africa.