When selecting a cloud storage provider it is not only about how great the application that faces you is and what kind of magic it can do, it is about what the provider's infrastructure is internally. This may be even more important than the application that faces you. Why? The quality and capabilities of what the selected infrastructure will directly affect their ability to service you, remain competitive in the marketplace and ultimately stay in business. This analysis should be looked at from two angles; technology and physical structure. The level of detail that your analysis should go to will directly correlate to how dependent you are on the provider for your data. If they are going to hold your last copy of a data set for decades then it ought to be very detailed.
The quality and capabilities of the technology are important because that is what the provider is going to use to deliver your storage to you. It directly impacts reliability and cost control, in much the same way that if you selected the storage internally. The providers must be able to deliver storage solutions that can scale, maintain performance and leverage cost saving measures like different tiers of storage. Finally it must have able to curtail power utilization. While you shift your storage power consumption problem to them, they don't get to shift it anywhere. If they let their power costs run out of control that may eventually affect your pricing, if they run out of power and they have to build a new data center, that WILL affect pricing.
The physical premise is another area to examine. While most providers have taken good measures to secure data in transmission, how secure is it in their data center? This typically comes down to asking a lot of questions and possibly making a site visit. Do they have control over who has access? Do they have enough backup power in case of grid failures? Do the have redundancy to another data center? Is there an extra cost to get that redundancy? Are all good questions to ask.
When deciding to put your data in the cloud, especially if it may be your only copy of that data, don't trust a service level agreement (SLA). While SLAs are important, if the company does not stand behind the SLA document up with technology and procedures the SLA will only give you something to take them to court over, it will not bring your data back.
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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.