Each type of cloud storage has its pros and cons. Find out what you need to know to make the right choice for your business.
Running programs and storing information on the cloud is no longer a new idea but a standard practice. More than 95 percent of businesses are running applications or using cloud storage, according to a 2017 poll by RightScale. But there are several different types of cloud-storage solutions, which are suited to different business needs.
When determining your cloud storage needs, consider the path that is leading you to the cloud-storage solution, advised Tad Brockway, program manager for Azure Storage. He said there are three decision paths most customers are on:
1. Workload-oriented path: Businesses on this path are considering cloud storage because of an application operating on a cloud. As a result, storage is the means to an end.
2. Storage-first path: Customers are at a decision point with their current storage solutions. They need to upgrade or expand their infrastructure, for example. This usually involves data that is archived, backed up or that needs to be shared company-wide.
3. Data-first path: Customers on this path recognize that the information they are storing has far greater value than they’ve been drawing from it, and that cloud storage will enable them to more fully mine that data for its value. (Brockway said he envisions most Azure customers eventually coming to this path because the cloud offers more powerful means for using information to its fullest potential.)
Regardless of your path, you still have three choices for cloud storage: public, private and hybrid. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Before you explore your options or re-evaluate your current cloud storage use, consider the following:
Do you want cloud storage for emergency backup/disaster recovery or day-to-day use?
Do you have periodic surges that require extra space?
Does your business involve heavy consumer or employee interaction where it’s vital to minimize lag time?
How important is security and are there special compliance you must meet?
How does your data interact with different departments and programs? (For example, if one department has its data separate from the rest of the business, it’s easier to transfer to the cloud than the data being accessed by multiple programs in different departments.)
The public cloud is the apartment complex of the internet. Another company owns and operates the servers, handles security and may work to meet data standards for specific compliance, such as HIPAA compliance for the medical industry. It then rents out space on its servers, charging according to disk space, bandwidth and special concerns (such as HIPAA compliance).
Public cloud storage is almost always much cheaper than on-premises storage, especially when you take into account upkeep and periodic hardware upgrades. In addition, most of these cloud-storage services can accommodate periodic surges so if you need more storage and bandwidth during a busy month, you can get it immediately. Reputable public cloud-storage services, such as Dropbox, are at least PCI DSS compliant and have security protocols in place to protect your data, including backup in a second location. Some companies, such as Zoolz, have additional, industry-specific compliance.
On the downside, you are sharing server space with other businesses, which can lead to some problems. While designed to provide a secure and isolated spot for each tenant, even the unlimited plans generally have some limits. If you have a sudden surge of activity, you may find your account throttled or additional charges put on your bill. There may also be a greater lag time as programs and users contact the cloud for data.
Speeds have increased in the past few years, so this concern is almost nonexistent for many companies. But if your business experiences periods of extreme activity or depends on super-fast transmissions, it might be something to consider.
This storage option is particularly favored by small businesses that have steady activity and don’t have a lot of proprietary information that requires extra security.
Private cloud storage works similar to public cloud storage. All of the information is sent and accessed via the internet. The main difference is that the server housing the information is located on premises. This allows you to maintain better control over its security and access while still being able to access information from anywhere. Like with public cloud storage, you can host multiple tenants, but these may be specific departments in a company rather than multiple companies.
If you purchase and run the cloud solution yourself, you still incur the problems of hardware upkeep and upgrades; however, there are many companies that now offer to host your private cloud for you. They maintain a server dedicated only to your company, either on-premises or at its server farm. Azure is one such service.
If you need to scale up, it may be cheaper than if you had to purchase your own hardware. It would most likely be faster, as it would simply take contacting the company as opposed to getting approval to purchase equipment.
As public cloud storage technology and services improve, private cloud servers are declining in popularity. However, companies, especially on the enterprise level, still use private servers because of the extra security and responsiveness they provide. Brockway said there are some industries that need the sovereignty of a private cloud system for privacy or compliance reasons; plus, governments need the isolation.
In addition, there are some companies that need real-time calculations. “When it comes to the private versus public choice, a lot of it is going to be application oriented,” said Brockway. “There are always going to be applications where the latency requirements are such that the computer needs to be co-located with the user which, therefore, needs to be co-located with the data…where the responsiveness is a function of how fast the user is going.”
Finally, there are some situations where a public cloud storage solution simply won’t work because the business is not easily linked to the internet – oil rigs or submarines, for instance.
As its name implies, the hybrid cloud employs both a private and public cloud to host your data. It’s becoming the most popular choice for businesses of all sizes, but especially with enterprise-level businesses. It’s considered redundant to have data in private and public clouds, but it is safer for data preservation during an outage. And outages do happen. Amazon’s AWS S3 recent outages are proof of that, even though no data was lost during the February event.
There are several business models for hybrid cloud adoption. Each depends on how your company uses its data.
Host active data on the private cloud with backup to the public cloud.
Host proprietary data on the private server and less sensitive data to the cloud.
Choose the best cloud by department: HR and eCommerce, for example, may be on a public cloud while R&D stays in a private cloud.
One advantage to the hybrid method is the flexibility you get. While some cloud services such as Azure offer hybrid options, often businesses use one or more cloud-based solutions to meet their individual needs.
Whichever option and deployment method you choose, you still have the advantages and disadvantages of each service. It’s imperative to do a cost-benefit analysis so you go in with eyes open. Last year, businesspeople said that managing costs was the number one issue for businesses, outpacing even security concerns, according to the RightScale study.
Depending on the amount of data you use, the old-fashioned on-premises, hard-drive option might still be the cheapest option for some of your needs. However, research from companies such as RightScale has shown that cloud computing and cloud storage solutions save money by reducing maintenance and upgrade costs and enabling you to match storage purchased to current data needs.
Even beyond saving money, however, storing your data on the cloud makes it more easily accessible not only to multiple employees but also multiple programs. It can empower your business to use the data in ways it could not when stored in isolated hardware solutions. Brockway says the ability to leverage information is the real power of cloud storage.
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