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First Steps Into The Cloud

Storage will be one of the first steps many will make in using cloud services. In fact, many users have already taken that first step without even knowing it. They are using services like online storage, backup, and archive. Online backup is there, because of block-level incremental and data deduplication technologies; sending backup data over a network connection is not the impossibility that it was even a few years ago. Also, these companies have been in existence for quite some time, so there
Storage will be one of the first steps many will make in using cloud services. In fact, many users have already taken that first step without even knowing it. They are using services like online storage, backup, and archive. Online backup is there, because of block-level incremental and data deduplication technologies; sending backup data over a network connection is not the impossibility that it was even a few years ago. Also, these companies have been in existence for quite some time, so there's comfort in using them.Storing data on the cloud is not new either. I have been FTPing data to sites for years, and what's new is the more user-friendly front ends and higher-speed connections that make storing active data a little more realistic, but I'm not sure if I would want my only copy of data in cloud storage yet. It's not that I don't trust the service providers -- I still don't trust my local providers. Online storage clearly would be useful for collaboration type of data -- moving Word docs back and forth, for example -- but I think for most people it's just easier to e-mail them. That said, if you could get everyone on board I would love to cut down on my e-mail flow.

Users of these types of services will likely be individuals and smaller businesses. The common question is, when will big enterprises start using the cloud? I think the answer is in archiving. While backup and storage cloud solutions abound and are too numerous to mention, companies that are focused on archive solutions are more sparse. By archive I mean more than just dump your data on an online disk. What's needed here is real retention management, solid data protection, and multisite availability. I want to know that if someone uses a backhoe near your facility and it loses Internet connectivity, my access to data will be uninterrupted. Or if you're upgrading your service that I can access the old one until you get all the kinks worked out of the current one. Service providers like Nirvanix, Cleversafe, Parascale, and Bycast provide this, as well as traditional archive storage manufacturers like EMC, Permabit, and Copan.

Archive can and should be taken even further with retention management. Retention is one thing that no one wants to deal with internally, and many cloud storage providers have limited capabilities to ensure data for a given period of time. Again, the classic archive storage solutions generally all do this well, but they need a provider to enable these capabilities to their users. One of the best implementations I have seen thus far is from iForem. With its Web interface, you can set retention periods and how long a file should be in read-only mode. In addition, it has a unique status of not charging for a monthly service; it's per file on a permanent basis. That way you can copy the file to the service and not worry about forgetting to renew an annual subscription.

There are other steps that many users have already made, like using Google Docs, Salesforce.com, etc. Then there will be steps that are new that really take advantage of the cloud. Q-layer is an excellent example. Its product, Delegation Manager, enables what it calls a Virtual Private Data Center. It allows a small business to hire just the IT professional, not the data center. That professional then defines, provisions, and manages his or her own data center, without hardware.

George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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