This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2012 issue of Cloud Computing.
Businesses are finding that they need to store more and more data, for a variety of reasons. They may be converting boxes of paper files to a digital format, saving all their electronic communications to comply with eDiscovery requests, or simply dealing with the glut of files that naturally accumulate over years of doing business. But all that data is expensive to keep around. The more data a business keeps onsite, the more manpower, electricity and physical space is required to maintain it.
In light of the logistical challenges of increased data storage, organizations of all sizes are turning to cloud computing. As a managed service, cloud storage presents a set of unique benefits and challenges that businesses should consider as they look to reduce operational costs and improve employee access to resources.
Cloud vs. Traditional Storage
Cloud differs from traditional storage systems in the way the files are accessed and stored. Cloud-based information is stored at a central location, which may be on the premises or far removed geographically, and is accessed on demand by users. Broadly speaking, there are three different deployment models available when it comes to implementing cloud storage. A private cloud keeps the storage within the company, where it is managed by a central IT group. Different organizations within the company then access it as a service, on demand. A public cloud, on the other hand, involves a third party providing storage service for the organization, which is then accessed over the Internet. A hybrid cloud incorporates elements of both private and public platforms, keeping some storage in-house (typically sensitive or frequently accessed information) while relegating less vital data to the cloud.
Businesses considering the use of cloud storage should keep several things in mind as they prepare for the transition.
Costs – Cloud computing can help reduce both up-front and ongoing costs, as there may be no need for an initial investment in hardware, and maintenance costs are built into the cost of the service. Businesses should be aware, however, of the new costs to access data stored in the cloud as well as the need for sufficient bandwidth to accommodate the movement of additional data through the network.
Security – Implementing public or private cloud requires investigation into the security challenges involved with having files hosted remotely. Organizations need to carefully consider what information they are willing to place into the cloud, as well as how to secure data while moving it to the cloud. In addition, they need to select vendors that provide robust, comprehensive security and comply with government and industry regulations.
Tiering – As part of determining what data to move to the cloud, businesses should consider an automatic tiering solution which can determine the value of data as it accumulates. It should be able to identify multiple factors such as the age of a file and whether it constitutes sensitive data. It should then be able to automatically assign the data to a tier which will determine its ultimate storage place.
Accessibility – While less-critical information is often moved to cloud storage, it’s important that users be able to access files whenever necessary without the need for IT assistance. Otherwise, the cost savings of cloud implementation will be offset by additional time and resources needed to utilize the files stored there.
Preparing Your File System for the Transition to the Cloud
Before adopting cloud technologies for storage needs, organizations will need to determine what information is suitable for cloud storage. The ideal storage system will provide the required performance and data availability, at the lowest cost. For information that is more vital, or higher-tiered, this may be higher-cost, on-premises storage that reduces potential network latency and keeps the data directly under their operational control. Meanwhile, less critical files such as archived information might be well suited to a lower-cost storage system such as the cloud, trading reduced capital and operational expenses for lower performance.
In order to make the most of the move to the cloud, businesses should look for several key features as they investigate providers. The ideal solution should integrate smoothly with in-house storage, allowing users to access all the information they need without difficulty and working with file storage systems from different vendors. It should also be able to dynamically move information between tiers as it changes in importance. In addition, a user-friendly file system should be implemented, through the creation of a global namespace. This allows users to access both locally stored and cloud-based files through a single interface, much as an endpoint’s operating system allows users to access files on an internal hard drive or an externally connected device. It will also keep file access constant even as they are moved between storage systems and change in importance over time.
Correctly preparing for and implementing a cloud-based storage system provides businesses with a valuable tool that can increase operational efficiency while reducing IT expenses. By selecting the best platform, and implementing an effective classification system for files, organizations gain a powerful tool to address the growing need for data storage in today’s business world.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi