Moving storage to the cloud offers some enticing benefits, but only if you can avoid the common cloud storage problems. Here are some of the biggest cloud storage problems you need to be aware of before moving your invaluable data to cloud storage.
The old adage is that no-one got fired for choosing IBM, and when it comes to cloud storage it's tempting to choose one of the two biggest cloud providers: AWS or Microsoft Azure.
But while they may well be the best choice for many companies, they may not be the best choice for yours. Depending on the size of your organizations it may make sense to look at smaller storage providers who will be able to give you more attention.
The things to look for with other storage providers include:
Downtime history, to get an idea of how reliable they have been in the past – and therefore an indication of how reliable they may be in the future.
Data accessibility, including what bandwidth they have within their data center, between their data centers and to the Internet.
Their pricing structure, including fixed charges and bandwidth charges to move data in and out. A common cloud storage problem is to neglect to establish how easily you can scale your requirements up and down. For example, are you committed to a certain amount of storage every month, or can pay only for what you use each day, week or month?
Familiarity with your industry vertical. Choosing a storage provider that understands your business and your likely data requirements can make life much easier for you, and failing to choose a good provider that specializes in your industry is a clouds storage pitfall that could put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors. That's because service providers familiar with your industry may be better equipped to accommodate your industry's usage patterns and performance requirements and to demonstrate compliance with relevant industry regulations.
You may have a state of the art network in your data center running at 100Gbps or 10Gbps, with perhaps 10Gbps, 1Gbps or even 100Mbps in the rest of the organization. But when it comes to connectivity with the Internet your bandwidth will likely be much slower – perhaps as low as 10Mbps – and it may well be asymmetric (meaning uploads to a cloud storage provider will be much slower than downloads from it.)
Cloud storage gateways and other WAN optimization appliances can help alleviate the problem, but if the connectivity to your cloud storage provider is not sufficient then a move to cloud storage is unlikely to enable high enough storage performance to get many of the potential benefits.
Most cloud storage providers will offer you a boilerplate SLA outlining their obligations to you and what they will do if things go wrong. But there is no reason why you have to accept it – IDC estimates that about 80% of cloud customers accept the boilerplate SLA they are offered, but 20% negotiate alterations to this boilerplate to ensure that it more closely meets their needs.
For example, a provider may offer you "four nines" (i.e 99.99%) uptime guarantee, allowing 50 minutes downtime per year. But this may be calculated on an annual basis, so the service could be down for 50 minutes on the first day of the contract and you would have to wait until the end of the year to find out if the SLA had been breached and you were therefore entitled to any compensation.
In the meantime you would have to bear any resultant losses yourself. To avoid this cloud storage problem it may be possible to negotiate that while 50 minutes per year is permissible, there should be no more than (say) 15 minutes per month if that suits your business needs better.
It's tempting to think of an SLA as some kind of insurance policy: your business can survive as long as the terms of the SLA are met, and if they are not you'll be OK because your cloud storage provider will provide compensation that is tied to the impact on your business of the breach.
But that is simply not the case and it's a common cloud storage problem. In most cases breach penalties come in the form of service credits (i.e. free storage for a few months), and in the case of a serious breach – such as all your data being lost – the most you should hope for is a monetary payment of three or four times your annual contract value. In many cases that will be nothing like the cost to your business of losing so much data.
Of course it may be possible to negotiate higher compensation payments from your cloud storage provider, but then it's likely you will have to pay much more for your storage. In most cases it would work out cheaper to buy insurance cover from a third party.
Cloud storage problem #5: Failing to monitor your SLA effectively
Working with a cloud storage provider adds another layer of complexity between the business users who use corporate data and the data itself. The IT department, which monitors the SLA, is somewhere in the middle.
A common cloud storage pitfall when it comes to data access problems is that users or business units may bypass the IT department and go directly to the cloud storage provider's help desk to resolve issues when they occur. If that happens then you can't necessarily rely on the provider to record every problem that occurs, and that means accurate monitoring of the SLA is effectively impossible. Avoiding this cloud storage pitfall comes down to educating users that your IT helpdesk should be their first point of contact in all cases.
Cloud storage providers may fall over themselves to make it easy for you to give them your data in the first place – perhaps by collecting physical media such as hard disk drives from your data center or offering free data ingress over a network connection. But if you decide that you no longer want to use the provider's services it can often prove unexpectedly difficult or expensive to get it back.
To avoid this cloud storage pitfall it's important to get satisfactory answers to the following questions:
* How will your data be made available – over a network connection or can it be placed on physical storage media for collection?
* How soon will it be available – will you be expected to wait for days or weeks?
* How much bandwidth will be available if you plan to download your data? That's important because even with a 1Gbps link, it would take almost two weeks to get 150TB of data back from a cloud storage provider to your data center.
* What bandwidth costs will be involved if you move your data back over a network, and what are the costs of having it put on physical media?
* How long will it take for copies and backups of your data to be deleted, and what formal confirmation can you expect that all copies have been deleted?
* In what format will data be made available – will it be provided in a .csv file or in some other more closed format?
Cloud providers are meant to be experts at what they do, including keeping their clouds and the data within it secure. But if there is a data security breach then it is you that your customers will hold responsible and seek compensation from, and it is you that will suffer the embarrassment, loss of reputation and possible loss of business.
That means that to avoid this cloud storage problem it is up to you to do due diligence and satisfy yourself that the security offered by the cloud storage provider is good enough for your needs. To do this you will need to find out as much as possible about the security arrangements that are in place, and what guidelines and regulations (think HIPPA, PCI-DSS, SSAE 16) it has been certified to comply with.
For many companies one of the key drivers for moving to the cloud is reduced costs, or at the very least a switch from a single large capital expenditure to small regular operating expenditures. While that may be beneficial from a business point of view it's important to remember that as well as changing how you pay, you are also paying for something fundamentally different.
Cloud storage, in other words, is not the same as your existing data center storage, and as well as new security, compliance and accessibility challenges there are also new performance characteristics to consider. What this boils down to is that some applications that you run in your data center aren't performance sensitive and are well suited to being used in conjunction with cloud storage. For other applications that's not the case.
That means that if you decide to use cloud storage for these latter applications then the applications themselves may also have to run in the cloud, close to the cloud storage. And that in turn means that moving your data to cloud storage may need to be part of a far larger consideration of the viability of moving some or all of your applications to the cloud.
For a more detailed look into choosing the right cloud storage provider, take a look at this article.