When storage managers start to sift through the hype surrounding cloud storage and try to decide if and where cloud storage would make sense in their environment, they are often left dazed and confused. There are so many companies trying to jump on the cloud storage bandwagon that almost any new feature makes them "the" cloud storage provider. The goal of this entry is provide some ideas on when should a business use cloud storage.As we discuss in our article "What is Cloud Storage?" the definition really depends on how you intend to use it. For the purposes of this entry, a blog and not a white paper, we'll limit the discussion to those providers whose primary business is to deliver storage capacity over some type of WAN or Internet connection to other businesses that can take advantage of that capacity. There are potentially a hundred other definitions depending on how many vendors you speak with. Within the scope of a business selecting an external provider of storage services, we find that in most successful cloud use cases the users did not set out to specifically purchase cloud storage. It became a natural extension to either an existing process or it came as a component of a solution to another problem they were trying to solve.
In the natural extension case this is usually exemplified by an ISV adding the ability to move some of its data to a cloud storage provider. Typically this is a backup application but other applications have added the ability to archive information from emails or projects to the cloud as well. In this model cloud storage becomes an option that you check during configuration of the application. This is a simple and relatively safe way to start using cloud storage. Usually the data being copied to the cloud is a second copy and there is a local copy maintained for a user's selected time.
The other use case is when a storage manager has a specific problem to solve and the solution happens to leverage cloud storage as a component of solving that problem. Once again the obvious examples are backup and email solutions that are cloud focused. In addition a growing number of primary storage solutions focused on the small to medium business are leveraging cloud storage as well. These systems can solve the need for NAS services or even SAN services and then move older data to a cloud storage provider. This keeps local costs down and, for some of the solutions, leverages the storage provider to take care of data protection. The selection of the cloud storage provider is often again a check box with a list of supported providers. While these solutions are certainly more committed to cloud storage than the simple extension use case, many will work even if the connection to the cloud storage provider has gone down.
Cloud storage providers and ISVs should focus on solving the business problem, not on the value of putting a bunch of data out in the internet. Cloud providers need to be careful though, while working with ISVs to be in that list of options they also need to make sure that users understand what to look for in a cloud provider. All cloud storage providers are not created equal and price should not be the sole selection criteria, something we'll detail in our next entry.
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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.