Just like I want to know what brand of tires are on my car, I want to know what architecture the cloud storage provider is built on. Why does this matter? Don't you sign up for an SLA? As I often have to remind people, the SLA is only as good as the paper it is written on. Sure, if the service goes down and suffers an outage and they violate their SLA, you might be able to sue or get free service as a form of compensation, but the fact remains you still went down and couldn't get to potentially important information when you needed to.
Most users would have rather not had the service go down in the first place as opposed to getting free service or winning a legal battle. How do you make sure that happens? Understand and investigate the architecture. Make sure that someone else, some other provider, is using that type of architecture, that it works and has proven itself to be reliable over the test of time (which, admittedly, given the maturity of cloud storage, may be brief).
This doesn't preclude you from looking at cloud startups like ParaScale or Cleversafe. Their architectures are available to a wide variety of providers. It also means that you should look for architectures built on more traditional storage architectures, comparing the two types and weighing cost vs. reliability. Obviously, the provider has a role to play in this availability as well, and its capabilities and track record has to be understood.
I would scrutinize very closely those providers that do not share the details of their architecture. What if this cloud that you are writing to is a bunch of very loosely coupled NAS boxes? How will they scale and manage that? How will they insure reliability? Conversely, what if the cloud is based on very high-end storage? Sure, the reliability is there, but can the provider be competitive from a price point as the data ages? In cloud storage you are looking for that delicate balance between cost effectiveness and reliability.
I'm not sure who originally said that the devil is in the details, but even an old saying like that applies to a new technology like cloud computing.
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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.