Have you considered backing up your data in the Cloud?

 The Cloud is where today’s end users expect to store and share their digital content – after all, they already use iTunes and Dropbox. What’s more, cloud services generally make sense for mobility initiatives and those involving non-mission-critical data. And cloud storage is easy to set up, right?

Well, not exactly. At one time, it meant simple drive substitutes like SkyDrive and iDisk file hosting services, but today there are endless solutions on offer as vendors respond to diverse consumer and business needs – and that’s created confusion. Let’s face it, there’s a world of difference between using bulk cloud storage as an alternative to off-site tape or online data repository for distributed apps – as opposed to having a cloud service replace your entire backup infrastructure: software, hardware, tape library and staff.

Notwithstanding these issues, businesses are increasingly giving cloud storage a whirl on the promise of its potential benefits: elimination of capex; usage-based pricing; easily expandable capacity; reliable support for mobile workers; plus the ability to off-load hardware and software management.

Indeed, a clear indication that cloud storage has moved beyond the early adopter phase is that 25% of respondents to this year’s InformationWeek storage survey say cloud is part of their project plans – up from 20% last year, with email and archiving the most common applications. Moreover, cloud providers seem to have marketed themselves convincingly on pricing since 9% fewer respondents than last year cited cost as an inhibitor to adoption.

Nevertheless, IT managers would be wise to run the numbers out four or five years, since the price of cloud storage could well eclipse the lifecycle cost of their enterprise storage system. For instance, InformationWeek recently compared a midrange storage array with a comparable amount of web storage and discovered cloud rate drops aren’t keeping pace with declining hardware prices. Having said that, operating costs are somewhat unpredictable and the calculation will clearly depend on the service in question.

At the end of the day, cloud storage is less about which service to choose and more about how it’s implemented. Before committing to any service, it therefore makes sense to:

  • Identify your goals. Will the cloud be used primarily for backup? If so, for what types of devices: PCs, mobile devices, servers? In the case of servers, check that virtual machines and your hypervisor platform will be supported. Will it be used as a file sharing platform for collaboration and cross-device data synchronisation? Do you need a local copy of the data or are you happy to restore directly from the cloud?

Or are you simply planning to use the cloud as an offsite data repository for a custom application or DIY backup process? Bear in mind that cloud backup services mean adopting new backup software and processes. If you’re happy with your current system, perhaps find a way to integrate a simple web services interface into your existing software stack.

  • Assess compromises between do-it-all suites and purpose-built services. Whilst some solutions may do an acceptable job of matching all your cloud storage requirements (e.g. backup, file sharing and synchronisation), they are typically aimed at a particular use case. Also, consider the service’s access methods – some providers use proprietary clients and APIs. To ensure maximum flexibility, choose a service that supports standard access network file sharing protocols.

  • Match pricing with the value of your data. Remember, the value of data declines with age. Active data requires a service with higher reliability e.g. replicated to two or more physical sites – and shorter guaranteed recovery time objectives. For long-term archiving, consider cloud services that automatically migrate less-used data to cheaper storage tiers and correspondingly lower monthly rates.

  • Include mobile devices. Whether it’s for ad-hoc file sharing, backup or both, mobile support is essential. Although most vendors now have mobile apps allowing backups and file synchronisation for Android and iOS, some don’t. And if you’re already using a mobile device management product, check that its backup capability can be integrated with a cloud backup service for PCs.

Lastly, when evaluating cloud file sharing – as opposed to backup services – consider those with a mobile client; whilst most leading solutions already support iOS and Android, it’s worth double-checking that your platforms will be supported.

What are your experiences if you’ve already been down this road?

 

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