Before you rush into a cloud storage arrangement, be sure to ask these questions.
The race to the cloud is on. Companies are falling over themselves to get onto the cloud, much the same as they rushed headlong onto the Internet in the nineties. Of course, many of the early websites and e-commerce outfits were complete duds, which offers a warning for those eager to adopt cloud computing.
So here are some cloud storage pitfalls to watch out for—rather than just trying to set an Olympic record for getting yourself on the cloud.
Although cloud storage brings the obvious benefits of pay-as-you-go storage, businesses using traditional storage systems may find a number of surprises once they deploy cloud storage. A big one is interface incompatibility.
“Cloud storage employs object-based interfaces, which are not compatible with today's applications,” warned Nicos Vekiarides, CEO of TwinStrata.
Packing all your data into one big, cheap amorphous cloud may seem to make economic sense. But it isn’t necessarily smart from a disaster recovery (DR) perspective.
“Most cloud providers have no incentive to make it easier to move data for DR purposes,” said Vekiarides. “It's against their best interests to encourage data mobility between clouds as part of a DR replication strategy.”
Some clouds are just vast stores with very little protection. Fortunately, as the cloud advances more into the enterprise, the big providers are getting their security act together. But know before you go. And if the safeguards aren’t there, factor their cost into your overall cloud budget.
“Most enterprises refuse to allow anyone outside of their organization to have access to their critical information,” stated Connor Fee, director of marketing, Nasuni. “Unfortunately, most cloud storage services (Box, DropBox, and others) control the encryption keys and have access to the information because they need the data to provide some of their key functionality.”
Visit the websites of Amazon and Google and take a long hard look at their pricing structures. They just go on and on with charges for this, that and the kitchen sink. Work out in detail how much it will really cost before committing. Or run a small pilot to see how it comes out in the real world.
“Providers charge for data at rest, bandwidth and also transactions, making it very difficult to predict monthly costs with so many variables,” explained Vekiarides.
Although most major cloud providers are reliable, there are stories of unplanned downtime affecting thousands of users. The thing to do is find out what they do when they fail to meet those precious SLAs.
“Downtime is now out of your control, and SLAs may do nothing more that refund a small portion of the costs” warned Vekiarides.
Some cloud providers include many value-added features. Others are stripped down to the bare bones. It’s a lot like the difference between buying an expensive EMC or NetApp array versus a super-cheap bunch of disks. Not everyone needs the former, but many do. With the cloud, too, you tend to get what you pay for.
“Always check out what’s included: Backup, disaster recovery, access to a global file share from multiple locations,” recommended Fee. “In cloud storage, Amazon S3 and similar services provide commodity cloud storage which would be like buying a load of commodity drives from Seagate. It’s not going to be very useful without additional intelligence.”
In particular, make sure deduplication is part of the picture. Just as backup administrators are learning that it is very expensive to back up the same files over and over again—in some cases, the same file 1000 times within one backup—the same factors apply in the cloud. Sending un-deduplicated data to your cloud provider could equate to paying for 30 times more space than you need.
“The handling of indexes and deleting duplicate data in the cloud are among some of the biggest challenges today,” said Jerome Noll, marketing director for Riverbed Technology. “These issues won’t be visible to the buyer unless they do their research, conduct a proof of concept test or ask hard questions, but will substantially impact the customer as the time to transmit and restore these larger data sets will create issues, not to mention the large cloud bills a buyer will receive if data no longer required is not deleted from the cloud.”
Those moving to the cloud typically have existing backup applications that are expensive to replace. Therefore, it behooves the buyer to check whether those backup apps in use can continue to be used in a specific cloud. If not, the business case for cloud storage may no longer be so attractive.