Today, cloud storage plays an important role in modern data management strategies. Organizations of all types and sizes are using it, but in varying degrees: some as a supplement to on-premises systems, others to manage most of their data.
Cloud storage refers to a system where data storage is offered by cloud providers as a service, usually as part of other cloud services. Storage takes place in the provider’s own data centers or in leased spaces. Data centers can be located either within the same geographic area or can be dispersed across multiple regions.
The provider controls all back-end operations related to infrastructure administration, storage and service provisioning. A team of experts manages the environments, protects them and their data, and performs administrative tasks: updating data, implementing data protection, and ensuring availability.
Cloud storage architecture
Cloud storage is delivered through a virtualized infrastructure that logically groups physical storage resources and presents them as services accessible through a centralized portal. Customers interact with the storage pool through a public API that facilitates access and management of data. A storage pool can span multiple servers or even locations, with data distributed across disks.
The world of cloud storage
Most organizations are increasingly using cloud storage because of a fee structure that allows them to move from a capital cost model to an operating cost model. This not only eliminates the excessive upfront costs that typically accompany on-premises storage solutions, but it avoids overcommitting resources to support changing workloads or likely increases in data volume.
The services may be subject to base fees, but compared to the costs of purchasing, hosting, and administering, they appear insignificant. Nevertheless, costs have a feature of rapid growth. This is due to the adaptability of cloud storage. Customers can scale up and down according to business requirements. The capacity of the cloud is almost limitless as long as you can pay for it.
The advantage of cloud storage is global availability 24×7 from any location, giving business users and applications with Internet access access to data at any time. They can use protocols such as Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) to link local disks to cloud storage, thereby providing greater flexibility.
Another reason for the popularity of cloud storage is their ease of use by anyone involved in the process, be it an administrator, developer, tester or end user. The centralized portal and API allow for quick and efficient operations, changes to existing configurations, interaction with other users, and data manipulation. Cloud storage speeds up and simplifies many of the day-to-day operations of local storage.
Built-in protections address data loss and security concerns. Built-in redundancy and distributed data result in a high degree of fault tolerance. Providers take measures to protect data from loss and unavailability in the event of equipment failure, natural disasters or human error, and to ensure that all sensitive information is protected from internal and external threats. Protection methods include monitoring, network protection devices, encryption, attack detection, multifactor authentication and physical layer security. Many vendors understand that their reputation is on the line, so they do everything they can to prevent data theft.
The Dark Side of Cloud Storage
Despite vendor efforts to ensure data security, security remains one of the most important reasons companies hesitate to move data to the cloud. Even under the best of circumstances, storing data in the cloud increases the attack surface because data crosses multiple networks, is distributed across locations, and is replicated more frequently. The larger the attack surface, the more likely the data can be compromised.
Providers also need to protect against internal threats such as espionage, rogue employees or reckless internal actions; privacy and compliance issues need to be taken into account. Customers put a lot at stake when it comes to protecting personal data. Compromised data can lead to lawsuits, sanctions, and damaged reputations. And despite the actions providers are taking to address privacy issues, many organizations still assume the risk is too great to entrust data to the cloud.
But if an organization is comfortable with the level of protection offered, it needs to consider the cost of storing data in the cloud. At first glance, the capex model may seem like an inexpensive alternative to on-premises storage, but a long-term analysis that determines the true total cost of ownership often paints a different picture, because it takes into account ongoing subscription fees, additional costs for increased capacity and performance, data migration fees and high-speed network connections, among other factors.
At the same time, cloud storage means a loss of control over data. Companies have access to data, the ability to update and migrate data, but no way to determine if security patches have been applied or maintenance scheduled, control how the system is optimized or when newer technologies can be implemented. The provider regulates almost every aspect of every operation related to the platform.
Another problem with cloud storage is whether the organization can depend on the provider to keep the business in the cloud for the foreseeable future. The company may go bankrupt, be taken over by another company, change its business strategy, survive a disaster or disappear for other reasons. Not only does this jeopardize day-to-day operations, but it can also prevent access to data.
Private and hybrid cloud storage
And while many organizations have concerns about cloud storage, they like the service delivery model that the cloud provides, so some are deploying private or hybrid clouds. A private cloud is a dedicated platform that offers storage and computing resources similar to a public cloud. The components that make up a private cloud infrastructure can be hosted separately or shared with a provider, but in both cases the organization will have full control over all components.
A private cloud offers the same flexibility, scalability, efficiency and ease of use as a public cloud, although not to the same extent. However, a private cloud can be a useful solution for companies that want more control over storage or have strict security and compliance regulations (e.g., government organizations, financial institutions, healthcare institutions)
Despite the benefits of a private cloud, infrastructure implementation and administration processes can be complex and costly, and companies must be well prepared for such a project. This requires not only careful planning and budgeting, but also personnel with the necessary experience. Alternatively, some companies use consumption-based storage, which takes a distributed approach to locally managed services. Sometimes organizations want to deploy a private cloud but still use public for some storage. One option is to support individual operations.
Another approach is a hybrid cloud, in which private and public cloud storage are coordinated by an orchestration layer that integrates operations across multiple platforms. With an effective hybrid cloud solution, organizations can maintain tight control over data while maximizing the benefits of private and public platforms.
Initially, cloud storage was seen as a means to reduce capital costs for smaller organizations by allowing them to store data on a public cloud platform without paying for storage. Today, organizations of all shapes and sizes are using cloud storage, taking advantage of various deployment options to support a wide range of workloads, such as disaster recovery, file archiving, development processes, seasonal fluctuations, Internet of Things analytics, etc.