Cloud storage backup providers can either provide a pure cloud model with no on-premise equipment like Mozy and Carbonite or it can be a hybrid model like Axcient or DS3 DataVaulting provide. In the hybrid model an appliance is placed within the organization. That appliance will capture and store the latest backup and then replicate the changes to the remote site. The advantage being that for the most typical restore request, data from the last backup, the data is local and does not need to be transferred across the internet.
Another case is archive. Moving old data to an external site where it can be managed and retained can have significant value. It reduces the amount of data sitting idle on production storage and allows you to potentially leverage some of the data retention skills of the storage provider. Companies like Iron Mountain and Nirvanix leverage a hybrid model to once again cache recently archived data locally while it is being replicated to the cloud. These appliances will often perform protocol translations as well allowing you to use NFS or CIFS to move data to the appliance but allow the appliance to convert to a different, more internet friendly protocol for transfers.
For larger organizations a growing use case is to use the cloud storage model to build a highly scalable tier two internal NAS system. This can be done by leveraging similar software as the providers that allow you to use off the shelf Intel hardware and internal storage to create your own cloud storage cluster. Beyond tier two, companies like Symantec are offering solutions that allow for high performance file system delivery with off the shelf hardware. The advantage to the organization is the ability to lower costs by doing it yourself.
While the possibilities for cloud storage are limitless, the technology can bring true usefulness to organizations today. Improving backup and recovery, lowering primary storage costs and providing high end NAS services are just a few of the examples. Certainly more unique applications to take advantage of this infrastructure are on the way.
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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.