Cloud storage for enterprises: Facts you need to know Rohini N.S

Abstract:

We live in a connected world of data, that calls for continuous availability, safe storage and timely retrieval of information when needed. Data backup, disaster recovery, archiving, analytics, cost savings, IT innovation; there are numerous reasons why businesses are ready to invest in cloud storage. This white paper analyzes the benefits of cloud storage, various storage options in cloud, comparison of leading storage providers, and tips to select a cloud storage provider.

Introduction

"I DON’T NEED A HARD DISK IN MY COMPUTER IF I CAN GET TO THE SERVER FASTER… CARRYING AROUND THESE NON-CONNECTED COMPUTERS IS BYZANTINE BY COMPARISON."

A lot has been said, discussed or written about cloud in the recent times. The words of the late chairman of Apple Inc. sums up all that need to be understood about cloud computing. As more and more organizations move large proportions of their data stores to cloud vendors, one thing is sure- cloud penetrates into all aspects of nearly every industry. In industries such as healthcare, BFSI, media and entertainment, there is a growing demand for cloud storage solutions. Increasing adoption of cloud storage gateways, burgeoning investments in latest IT solutions, enhanced cloud awareness, all have contributed to the rising demand for cloud storage in a connected world of data.

This white paper aims to throw more light into various aspects of cloud storage, pros and cons of cloud storage, leading providers in the market, tips to select a cloud storage provider and steps to evaluate a cloud storage provider.

What is cloud storage

In simple words, cloud storage is a cloud computing model in which data is stored on remote servers, accessed through internet or "cloud".

The data is stored in a logical pool, which is a physical storage that spans over multiple servers, that can be located anywhere in the world. This physical environment is managed and owned by cloud storage service providers.

High level cloud storage architecture

Here’s a simple diagram to understand cloud storage:

Cloud storage in daily life

If you say ‘YES’ to any of the below, you are already using cloud in your daily life:

  • Social Media? You can reach every nook and corner of the world at any time of your choice through social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. You may upload and download videos and images, say hello to your friends, share thoughts, knowledge, ideas and opinions, share locations and files, through the social media. All these happen through cloud.
  • Online Billing, Shopping, Banking? You can pay bills, make online purchase, do banking, all the at comfort of your home. Here, you share, save and receive information through internet, using cloud services.
  • Google Drive/Dropbox/iCloud/OneDrive? Few years back, we used to erase many old photos/videos/files to save new ones. It’s very difficult to maintain enough space in our mobile/computers. Today, by syncing our photos, videos, files, notes, contacts to these free cloud storage providers, there is no need to worry about the storage space availability.

The advantages of cloud storage are not just limited to personal usage, since many enterprises (small to large) are benefiting from cloud solutions. Tools such as Google Drive and OneDrive are great options for both general public as well as small businesses to create, edit, store and access documents anytime, anywhere.

The use of cloud in data storage, collaboration, and communication tools is more powerful now than it used to be 10 years ago. Today, it’s easy to create, edit, analyze, visualize any form of data such as documents, program deployments, worksheets, CRM, presentations, broadcasting. It’s improving the workplace productivity as well as increasing collaboration within teams.

Cloud enables businesses to reduce the cost of data management, improve productivity, and enhance information security.

Types of cloud storage

Based on its location, we can classify cloud storage into four categories:

  1. Private
  2. Public
  3. Hybrid
  4. Community

Private Cloud Storage

Also known as internal cloud storage, private cloud storage is a service delivery model for storage within a large enterprise. It runs on a dedicated infrastructure in the data center built specifically for a single business to host and manage data internally and privately. This cloud resource is not shared with any other companies or individuals.

Many institutions and establishments such as hospitals, banks, financial organizations and others use private cloud to control data. Using private cloud storage allows them to meet the federal and state norms for data regulation and privacy. Private cloud storage supports secure and safe handling of highly sensitive data by adhering to industry-based standards and civic data regulations. Examples of such data include medical records, trade secrets or other confidential information.

Some of the leading private cloud providers include Rackspace Cloud, OpenStack, HP Enterprise, IBM, Cisco Cloud Infrastructure Solutions, AT&T Private Cloud, and Red Hat.

Advantages:
  • Higher levels of reliability, performance and security
  • Can be hosted behind the company firewall or externally
Challenges:
  • Requires a significant amount of engineering effort
  • A private cloud is expensive and incurs more cost
  • Private cloud storage needs undisrupted power backup and cooling facilities. Lack of these causes issues in the smooth functioning of the services.

Public Cloud Storage

It is located and accessed over the public network. These are owned and operated by a cloud service provider who is responsible for hosting, managing and maintaining the network. The provider sells cloud space to companies or individuals who subscribe. While a public cloud’s infrastructure is shared by many companies, each company is only granted access to their own data. In public cloud storage, data and files of an individual are located within the premises of the cloud storage services provider. Hence, as a user, you have no control over the nature of the storage infrastructure. Resources are shared by hundreds or thousands of people. Both free and paid usage models are available currently.

Advantages:
  • Public clouds are often cost-effective, scalable and provide access to the latest technologies.
  • When it comes to storing enormous amounts of data, Public Cloud Storage is an economical option compared to on premises storage considering periodic hardware upgrades.
  • If more storage is required, it can be easily availed.
  • Pay-per-use, so pay only for the resources that are currently used.
Challenges:
  • Shared resources
  • Operated by third party
  • Security concerns

Hybrid Cloud Storage

In hybrid storage both private and public cloud storage infrastructures are combined and put into use with each storing different data. It is one of the most popular choices for small as well as large enterprises.

Two of the key business models for hybrid cloud storage include:

  • When the active data is on the private cloud and the backup is created on a public cloud
  • Sensitive and proprietary data on private cloud storage and less sensitive data stored on a public cloud

For instance, banks could have their clients’ data stored in public cloud. The clients will have accounts to access their data stored in public cloud, that enables them to interact with the banking officials. Their confidential account details can be stored in the private cloud.

Some of the most popular hybrid cloud storage providers are Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft, Rackspace and VMware.

Advantages:
  • Combined benefits of both private and public storages, keep sensitive data in private location and move less sensitive data/backups to public cloud
  • When an enterprise is ready for an upgrade, considering hybrid cloud storage is the best option
  • Cost effective
Challenges:
  • It shares the risks and vulnerabilities similar to those of public cloud

Community Cloud Storage

The concept of community cloud is not a completely new one. It caters to the needs of a specific group of organizations such as banks, ecommerce establishments, healthcare organizations and so on. It is based on the same multitenancy concept; except that the setup is designed and implemented to meet the requirements of a specific group of target customers. Community Storage Cloud provides a secure, multi-tenant, scale-out storage service at a local or regional level. It may be owned, managed, and operated by one or more of the organizations in the community, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.

AWS GovCloud and Azure Government Cloud are the best examples of community cloud storage. AWS GovCloud is an isolated AWS cloud region designed to host sensitive data, regulated workloads, and address the most stringent U.S. government security and compliance requirements. Microsoft Azure Government Cloud offers public sector entities a physically isolated instance of cloud that employs world-class security and compliance services critical for the all the systems and infrastructure built on the U.S. government’s architecture.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-145 defines a Community Cloud as "a cloud infrastructure provisioned for exclusive use by a specific community of consumers from organizations that have shared concerns."

Advantages:
  • Combined benefits of both private and public storages, keep sensitive data in private location and move less sensitive data/backups to public cloud
  • When an enterprise is ready for an upgrade, considering hybrid cloud storage is the best option
  • Cost effective
Challenges:
  • Allows member businesses and organizations to know the location of their data
  • Community storage clouds are not open to everyone with a credit card and hence is more secure
  • Community storage clouds provide services that support the needs of member businesses and organizations
PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE vs. HYBRIDCLOUD STORAGE
NATURE Public Cloud Storage Private Cloud Storage Hybrid Cloud Storage
SECURITY Good Based on cloud provider’s security measures Most secure All storage is on-premise Very secure Integration options offer additional security
SCALABILITY Very high Limited Very high
PERFORMANCE Low to Medium Very High Good Active content is cached on-premise
RELIABILITY Medium Depends on provider’s availability and connectivity High All equipment is on-premise Medium to High Depends on provider’s availability and connectivity
COST Very good Pay-as-you-go model Good Requires expensive storage infrastructure Fair Allows shifting some storage resources to pay-as-you-go model

Cloud-Based Storage Options

Cloud-based storage includes four categories:

  • File storage
  • Object storage
  • Database storage
  • Block storage

File Storage

Cloud file storage is a method for storing data in the cloud in which servers and applications will have access to data through shared file systems. This compatibility makes cloud file storage ideal for workloads that rely on shared file systems and provides simple integration without code changes. In file-based storage, transaction units are blocks.

File storage works in either of the two ways:

  1. Files are stored directly in the cloud and accessed through the host site
  2. The service is integrated with your device, which syncs your data, allowing you to edit files in the cloud from your device
Advantages of cloud file storage:
  • More convenience with day-to-day storage for desktops, laptops, and mobile devices
  • Allows users to sync with stored data (rather than mounting it)
  • Sharing capabilities facilitate better collaboration and interoperability
  • Allows organizations to redeploy technical resources to other projects, which brings more value to the business
  • Future scalability- grow your capacity as needed

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) is an ideal file storage solution for use cases such as large content repositories, development environments, media stores, or user home directories.

Object Storage

As your business grows, you need to manage the rapidly expanding isolated pools of data from multiple sources, used by a large number of applications and business processes. Today, many businesses face the challenge of having a fragmented storage portfolio that slows down enterprise innovation. Object storage helps you break down these silos by providing massively scalable, cost-effective storage to store any type of data in its native format. In object storage, transaction units are objects (files with custom metadata).

Advantages of cloud object storage:
  • Distributed storage service used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the Web
  • Allows developers to access a scalable, reliable and secure data storage at low cost
  • Solves resource overconsumption of traditional file system in accessing directories
  • Supports mass data storage as well as simple and rapid access to such data via API, SDK or other methods

Leading object storage solutions include Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)/ Amazon Glacier, Google Cloud Storage, Azure Blob Storage and IBM Cloud Object Storage. These are ideal for building flexible, scalable and modern applications and offer extensive support to import existing data stores for analytics, backup, or archive.

Database Storage

Here, you save information to a remote database, instead of your computer’s hard drive or a local storage device. Internet facilitates connection between your device and database. All the information in a database is organized and structured in database tables. The tables are stored on the hard disk of the database server.

Advantages of cloud database storage:
  • Use of cloud as a storage location helps to mine and compute database from any location
  • Distributed storage solution is increasingly used by different web applications to scale up
  • Users can outsource the resource and services to the third party server
  • Cloud-hosted databases are flexible, economical, and effective

Database storage offers a scale-out architecture that enables consolidation of non-production and production environments, which accelerates agile development.

Block Storage

Block storage is a kind of data storage typically used in storage-area network (SAN) environments where data is stored in volumes or blocks. Each block acts as an individual hard drive and is configured by the storage administrator. Very often, enterprise applications like ERP systems require dedicated, low latency storage for each host. Since volumes are treated as individual hard disks, block storage is ideal for storing a variety of applications.

Advantages of block storage:
  • Offers extensive compatibility with most applications and operating systems (block storage has been there in the market for a long time)
  • Data is stored in volumes or blocks and each block has its own file system
  • Supports storing any kind of data
  • Has low latency IO
  • Resizable according to our needs

Block storage solutions like Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) offers ultra-low latency required to manage high performance workloads.

Does the pros overweigh the cons of cloud storage

Cloud storage has gone mainstream in the recent years, and businesses of all shapes and sizes are adopting this technology. While adopting any kind of platform into your business, you need to consider the pros and cons to which cloud storage is no exception. The key advantages and disadvantages listed below will help you in determining if cloud storage is the right match for your company’s IT infrastructure.

Cloud Storage: Advantages

Factor Advantage of Cloud Storage
Cost
  • Cloud storage comes at little or no cost for SMBs
  • Reduction in annual operating costs, more savings
  • Removes internal power dependency to store information remotely
  • User need to pay only for the storage consumed
  • Low cost storage platform, often a shared infrastructure that drives down base cost
Ease of use
  • Many cloud options run on automated scheduler
  • Reduces operator intervention
  • Minimal skills and time required to administer the solution
Flexible infrastructure
  • Dedicated infrastructure not required
  • Eliminates the need to plan for hardware refreshes
  • Businesses pay only for what they use today
Accessibility
  • Accessible from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Allows more geographical compatibility
Disaster recovery
  • Cloud back up is a good investment
  • You can recover data from remote storage locations through an internet connection
Scalability
  • As your business grows, cloud operator can accommodate your corresponding data growth
  • Your business scales faster
Speed
  • Faster backups promise instant accessibility
Storage immortality
  • Overcome the risk of purchasing hardware (which will be obsolete soon)
  • Pay for the capacity and performance your business requires
  • Your provider can upgrade the environment to keep pace with the latest technology
Offsite management
  • Enables off-site, online storage that somebody else physically maintains
  • Avoids the necessity for having a separate service to store backup’s offsite
  • Simplifies data management
Automated backup
  • Improves the capacity to make instant offsite copies of a company’s backups
  • Backing up to off-site cloud storage is very simple and hassle-free
Policy-based administration
  • Cloud-based storage administration is managed by the provider on a policy basis, which saves the time of end user
  • Allows in-house people to set plans for future growth

Cloud Storage: Points to Watch Out

Factor Disadvantage of Cloud Storage
Wide Area Network Connectivity
  • Replicating data to cloud requires a healthy WAN connection
  • Daily replication of data may not accurately represent the WAN requirements to restore data from the cloud
  • Need to have a detailed conversation on recovery time objectives for a file, folder, server and an environment wide disaster
Resource sharing Considerations around the following:
  • How resources are distributed and prioritized?
  • How cloud responds to wide scale outages or surges in user activity?
  • What’s the vendor’s potential for slower speeds and limited availability?
Security and privacy
  • Many providers offer different levels of security with different prices
  • Concerns with valuable and important data being stored remotely
  • Sensitive business information being shared with a third-party cloud service provider
  • Choosing a reliable provider who can keep your data safe
Bandwidth limitations
  • Verify if the provider charges you when your business need to exceed bandwidth limitations
Vulnerability to attacks
  • Vulnerability to external hack attacks
  • Probability of stealing sensitive data
Data management
  • Lifetime costs instead of initial overheads
  • If your applications reside locally, and your data exists in cloud, it will increase your networking costs
Compliance
  • Industries such as healthcare or financial services that have data regulations may not work fine in public cloud
Slower I/O responses I/O reply time of data stored in the cloud is much slower than direct-attached or SAN-based storage

In spite of the concerns about security and privacy, many businesses look at the pros of cloud storage such as cost savings, accessibility, disaster recovery and back up, and support for resource collaboration. Cloud, certainly is here to stay and is a viable option for an organization’s infrastructure and budget.

Choosing a cloud storage provider: who owns the key?

The key challenges posed by data include its quantity, security and accessibility. Cloud storage is a great option to address these concerns, but only few people know how to evaluate the existing options to identify the best cloud storage for them.

We have to ensure we are choosing the best cloud storage provider since they own the KEY.

The deciding factors

Prior to choosing a cloud storage provider, answer the following questions:

  • What am I going to store?

    Is my data highly sensitive, huge in terms of volume, personal or belongs to an organization?

  • How secure is my data?

    Understand how the cloud provider protects their data centers. This will include:

    • video surveillance of the server rooms
    • physical access control to server rooms
    • robust, personal key encryption
    • disaster recovery and backup measures
  • Where is my data located?

    Companies that offer cloud storage must also have dedicated servers to store your data. The location of server farms impacts the data transfer speeds. You need to find a cloud backup provider who offers access to regional data centers and allows you to choose the data center location.

  • How cloud storage works?

    In its most basic form, a cloud storage system consists of a single data server that connects to the internet. Providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Computing maintain gigantic data centers, storing data from all over the world.

    You need to understand exactly what services you’re entitled to and how your data will be handled. That means you’ll need to carefully review the company’s service level agreement (SLA) before signing up. It defines the terms of the agreement and clearly establishes the level of service you can expect from the cloud provider.

  • Availability of my vendor

    You need to verify the following factors:

    • Do I have uninterrupted access to cloud?
    • Does my vendor have data centers with redundant power and environmental controls in place to offer constant availability?
    • Will the vendor be still there when I need those files?
    • Does my vendor offer technical support 24/7/365?
    • The viability and longevity of the vendor
  • Is my vendor trustworthy?

    There are a few types of certifications that you need to consider before signing up any cloud storage contract.

    • Companies whose data centers feature the best operational and security controls will hold either a SSAE-16 or SAS 70 type II certification.
    • ISO 27001 certification shows that a cloud service vendor has met the international standards for information security management.
    • While the SLA will detail the level of availability you can expect, you can limit your search to vendors whose data centers offer Tier IV certification – the highest ranking available.
  • Will I get the value for my money?

    Your budget should take into consideration the security level, backup/recovery plan, capacity, availability etc. of the cloud storage provider.

  • What are the challenges?

    You need to be aware of the risks while moving your data to cloud. This will include:

    • data security
    • data leakage
    • attacks through network
    • provider sustainability

Finally, you also need to think if you will be fully satisfied with your vendor.

Evaluating a cloud provider

Cloud requires establishing high level trust between the user (enterprise) and the provider. What differentiates a provider is their ability to secure the trust of their customers. Maintaining good relationship with the customer can prevent even the simplest of cloud infrastructure services from becoming a mere commodity.

While evaluating cloud service providers, look for the following points:

  • Strategy of the provider
    • Does the provider offer a forward-looking cloud strategy?
    • Is the cloud built on the foundation of future services?
    • Is the provider committed to the transformational potential of cloud?
    • Provider’s future vision- Have they invested in development resources?
    • Are they leading the trend or simply following the trend?
  • Provider’s experience
    • Provider’s track record in managing enterprise data centers, providing secure hosting, and delivering mission-critical applications
    • Access to technical expertise, terms of customer service support
    • Professional services to help you develop a cloud strategy, migrate to the cloud, and maintain optimal cloud performance
  • Evaluate provider’s cloud service portfolio

    This will include several parameters described below:

    • Service Level Agreements: Read their SLAs and ask questions. Discuss how cloud outages can impact your business and think of favorable outcomes. SLAs are about getting the terms most meaningful to your business purpose.
    • Security: Look for a provider who makes security a key priority and ensure that the provider builds its cloud architecture for optimal protection. Protection against online attacks, clarity on administrative access controls, and isolating enterprise workloads on physical servers are also very important. You also need to evaluate their range of options related to performance, security, and resiliency.
    • Interoperability: Enterprises should select a provider that enables workloads to span multiple environments. This maximizes the value of their cloud services. For greatest interoperability value, look for a provider that offers a common infrastructure platform for public and private hosted clouds, as well as your on-premises private cloud.

Leading cloud storage providers in the market

Most of the cloud services are based on a utility storage model. These providers generally tend to adopt a flexible, pay-as-you-go pricing model. This gives the users more scalability, opportunity for unlimited growth and the ability to increase and decrease storage capacity on demand. Leading use cases for a cloud storage service include backup, disaster recovery, collaboration and file sharing, archiving, primary data storage and near-line storage.

Following are some of the leading cloud storage providers for various purposes:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Rackspace
  • Oracle Cloud
  • IBM Cloud

Most of the cloud service providers (CSP) offer high-quality services, with excellent availability, high security, good performance, and customer support. However, like any other market, the cloud provider arena is dominated by a top three—Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

Let us see how they compete in terms of storage.

AWS vs. Azure vs. Google: Storage Comparison

The following table doesn’t explain all the features that you might find in the parent websites of the providers. The table lists out what’s unique about each cloud provider in terms of storage.

Amazon Web Services Microsoft Azure Google Cloud Platform
Point of differentiation
  • Rich collection of tools and services
  • Massive scale
  • Microsoft shops
  • Easy to migrate on-premises apps
  • Customer-friendly pricing feature
  • Deep discounts and flexible contracts
Reach and Support
  • Dominant market position
  • Global reach
  • Supports large organizations
  • Second largest provider
  • Supports open-source
  • Integration with Microsoft tools and software
  • Designed for cloud-native businesses
  • Supports open-source and portability
  • DevOps expertise
Storage advantages
  • Longest running storage services
  • Largest range of compute and storage services
  • Extensive database options
  • Unified storage service
  • Speed of I/O
User preference
  • Best fits large enterprises
  • Strong IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) provider

  • Right combination of tools in a single platform
  • Ideal for current Windows users and those looking for Windows integration
  • Strong PaaS (platform-as-a-service) provider
  • Ideal for SMBs with limited budgets
  • Strong emphasis on analytics
  • Gaining ground fast
Storage Specials
  • Object storage with S3 services
  • Archiving services with Glacier
  • Files and Block Blobs server for Object Storage
  • Page Blobs and temporary storage for VM based columns
  • Unified object storage service
  • Compute Engine Persistent Disks

Is cloud storage the future

With the continuous growth of internet over the past years, cloud storage is silently invading our day-to-day lives.

“Cloud-based storage will continue to gain momentum as the media industry looks toward efficient, reliable, and scalable cloud-powered workflows”, says Richard Heitmann, VP of Marketing at Aspera, an IBM Company.

Cloud-based storage allows companies to overcome cost concerns and successfully tackle issues related to accessibility, security and slow file transfer. Since cloud storage costs can be aligned with usage, upfront investments are minimal. Organizations have ample scope to scale their businesses with cloud. Accessing and retrieving content from cloud also depends on how an organization operates internally. Employing multi-cloud storage (such as Hybrid Cloud) enables organizations to work independently and facilitates seamless data transfer, without affecting user’s experience or workflow.

About the Author

Rohini N.S. is a highly focused programming designer with eight years of involvement in a variety of development and project management positions. She is an enthusiastic team player who loves to explore latest technologies. Rohini has ardently solved several complex technological problems at Zerone, working in stringent deadlines and time constraints. She is passionate to share her learnings with every technology aspirant out there.

About Us

Zerone Consulting is a leading agile software development company that delivers innovative technology and business solutions to customers across the world. Our focus is to accelerate our customers’ journey towards digital transformation by ensuring them rapid delivery, transparency, and cost advantages in the best possible way. We help forward-thinking businesses to leverage transformation through Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Computing, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotic Process Automation, Data Analytics, Face Detection and Recognition, Natural Language Processing, and Blockchain technology.

Zerone Consulting started its operations way back in 2003 and is located in Kochi, India. We have a success rate of 99+%. We are ISO 27001 certified with an exceptional track record of completing and delivering 500+ successful projects.

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