Public Cloud storage buyer's guide: Shopping Checklist

Your guide to choosing the best public Cloud storage provider for your small or medium business

When shopping for a Cloud storage service enterprise concerns go beyond the reliability of the underlying hardware. Other considerations include compliance, regulations, security and guarantee-driven Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Here is a six-point shopping checklist for buyers.

Make sure the SLA is a good fit for your organisation not a one size fits all “one pager”

The current SLA’s that are being offered by most Cloud storage providers guarantee a certain percentage of uptime (99 per cent and above) for storage services but not performance or reliability guarantees. In lieu of any downtime, they offer service credits as the only form of remediation or compensation. These “one pager” SLAs may suffice for consumer-grade services but not for business critical workloads, according to Gartner. The whole point of public Cloud storage is that customers should not have to worry about the underlying storage infrastructure at the provider location. In order to inculcate that amount of trust, transparency and highly customizable SLAs are essential. Gartner says storage hardware vendors that are offering Cloud storage as a service themselves are in a better position to service enterprise demands for granular, tiered SLAs.

Be upfront with your provider and address security, privacy and reliability issues early

From an SMB perspective, the public Cloud storage value proposition is very strong because access to on-demand storage empowers smaller, budget-constrained IT departments to expand the scope of their contribution to business agility. But Gartner warns the public Cloud storage market is still nascent. Many large enterprises are interested in the value proposition but unconvinced about the security, privacy and reliability issues surrounding it. These need to be addressed early. Gartner said en masse adoption of Cloud storage for business critical workloads is still a couple of years away. Between now and 2015 the technology ecosystem around Cloud storage including interoperability and regulatory issues, will become more standardised.

There are different types of Cloud storage offerings find the one that best suits your organisation

The commoditization of Cloud storage and market competition is driving prices down. As margins become smaller, providers will use value-added services such as e-discovery, disaster recovery, backup and encryption. Cloud storage hardware from storage vendors essentially comes in three flavours, according to Gartner. 1) Traditional storage arrays 2) portfolio vendors like HP and Dell offer disks attached to their servers as building blocks for Cloud infrastructure 3) the newer generation of scale-out architectures and/or object-based storage platforms in which the focus is on low-cost scalability. Of these, Gartner said the third category is where the most innovation is occurring.

Enterprises should consider a mixed environment and make the move to hybrid Cloud storage an infrastructure agnostic one

Gartner is advising clients to capitalise from mixed environments by utilising private and public Cloud computing. However, increased interest in Cloud storage has raised concerns of interoperability between internal and public-Cloud storage environments. Innovation in the storage market has seen the introduction of Cloud storage gateway appliances (aka controllers or accelerators) that port existing data centres to public-Cloud platforms, without any modification or need for APIs, using industry standard protocols. Gartner says this ensures the move to hybrid Cloud storage is infrastructure agnostic. Many of these appliances can compress and deduplicate data on the way to the public Cloud storage environment and also make the internal data centre agnostic to the architecture at the public Cloud provider location. These gateways also use WAN optimisation technology to accelerate the data on its way to the public Cloud.

When using Cloud storage gateway appliances beware of vendor partnerships that could restrict integration

Early players in the gateway appliance space include Ctera, Cirtas, Nasuni, StorSimple, TwinStrata and Riverbed. Hitachi Data Systems has announced a gateway appliance that is currently compatible only with its own Hitachi Content Platform. Gartner said many of these gateway products are meant to extend an organisation’s data centre storage to include a Tier 2 storage layer that is located within the public-Cloud provider’s environment. Technically this approach can extend to include multiple Cloud storage providers interfacing with an internal enterprise data centre. However, Gartner said it should be noted that each of these technologies integrate with selected Cloud partners. For example, Riverbed’s Whitewater and Cirtas’ BlueJet are compatible with AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service and the EMC Atmos platform on which it was built.

Be aware of emerging technology trends that will shape the market

Gartner said another trend that is driving innovation in this space is the integration of deduplication-enabled backup software/appliances, such as Symantec Netbackup and Commvault Simpana, with Cloud storage services such as Nirvanix and Iron Mountain. The market for multipurpose gateway software/appliances will continue to grow in terms of both revenue and innovation and will emerge as a key component of the Cloud service broker market, which will drive the emergence of enterprise hybrid-Cloud environments.

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