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The State Of Cloud-Based Storage – Is It Ready? Are You? (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Feb 24th 2011

By guest author Bob Shinn, with an introduction by guest author Shaloo Shalini

[From my first experiences with Mangosoft peer-to-per file sharing between my home and work computers to the ease of sharing and collaborating  with my colleagues halfway across the globe today through über cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox, storage has come a long way indeed. Having said that, there is a lot of ground to be covered before any mainstream or critical business applications can be brought onto cloud-based storage. Cloud computing holds promise in terms of providing sheer computing capacity and scale, flexibility, and cost effectiveness needed to better solve complex problems in digital media, animation, high-performance computing, life sciences research, and more. But there are several roadblocks to cloud storage – latency, portability, and accessibility issues that must be solved before the “distant” and “floating” data on some cloud can be meaningfully used in, say, an I/O- intensive and complex application. However, the way I collaborated, stored and shared my files, backed up my data, and made it highly available or retrievable has certainly come a long way in terms of ease, usability, and cost since the dawn of cloud-based storage.

In the following guest post, Bob Shinn, founder of Cloud Silver Lining, shares his observations on the state of cloud storage today, the market, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and some of the issues that cloud storage adopters must bear in mind when evaluating and harnessing cloud storage for enterprise use. – Shaloo Shalini]

Cloud computing and cloud storage are good news for entrepreneurs, startups, and small and medium businesses, because they offer the ability to easily provision storage using cloud-based services without the capital and operational costs that come with acquiring and maintaining on-premise storage. Cloud storage is a major innovation with massive efficiencies. Based on our discussions with CIOs and entrepreneurs, we believe moving many functions to the cloud will allow companies to operate more efficiently, with the potential for four times the savings that would have been possible via traditional outsourcing. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

As with so many computing innovations, actual cloud storage service offerings – and their subsequent adoption – have followed a cross-the-chasm model. Early providers of cloud storage solutions, including Amazon EC2, Rackspace, and Google, have been closely followed by computing and storage giants EMC, IBM, HP, and Microsoft, each with its own set of cloud services and differing delivery and support models. Early adopters – typically startups and nimble small-to-medium enterprises – are now being joined by more cautious enterprise IT shops, which have been slow to attain comfort with the notion of having someone else in charge of storing their data in some “space” they can’t see or touch. Security and regulatory requirements (which are still catching up to technology) for protecting sensitive data are among the chief reasons for the slower adoption rate, particularly in the EU, which recently advised members to deploy cloud services only for applications that do not process sensitive data.

Of course, most of us today already store lots of data in the cloud. Gmail and Google Docs users store e-mail and documents in the cloud. Picasa users store photos and YouTube stores video. Facebook stores the stories and day-to-day conversations of life, while Twitter stores quick observations. Salesforce stores customer data – a precious resource to entrust to the cloud.

What Is Cloud Storage?

At its most basic, cloud storage is a storage resource provisioned via the Internet using a Web browser accessible via Web-based APIs.

Clearly, if your storage is in the cloud and available via the Internet, your files and data are stored offsite. The notion of backup and restore is changed: Instead of making those functions part of your IT ritual, you’ll rely on your cloud service provider, and its service-level agreements (SLAs), for backups, restores, snapshots, business continuity (BC), disaster recovery (DR), and all the variations on backup available in a standard data center. Moving out of backup and BC/DR functions is not for the faint of heart – which is why SLAs must spell out and guarantee accessibility to backup data, ensure restores, provide capability for selective restores (snapshots, for example)  – all without violating regulations such as Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).

Cloud storage is hosting + virtualization + backup, restore and BC/DR on steroids. For companies that work in the cloud, the terms full backup, incremental backup, and snapshots may not be familiar or useful. Nevertheless, storing data in the cloud doesn’t absolve an enterprise, or an entrepreneur, of the business responsibility of backing up data in such a way that it can be fully restored. Clearly, sensitive data – data governed by regulations – is not a good candidate for cloud storage.

[In the next part, Bob will discuss the cloud storage market and reliability and security in the cloud.]

This segment is part 1 in the series : The State Of Cloud-Based Storage – Is It Ready? Are You?
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