Cloud computing has evolved well beyond hype and is entering the maturity phase. Proliferation of cloud services makes it particularly attractive for organizations to find a service that best meets their requirements – which is a challenge in itself. Many organizations struggle to find the right fit, especially in the cloud storage services segment that’s covered by a variety of established IT giants and new entrants alike. The following four key aspects will help you make the right decision:
1. Categorize Types of Data for Cloud Storage
An initial exercise to assess the business needs will often drive out the parameters to be considered and satisfied depending of the types of data that will be stored. Also, the service – plain data storage or backup and restore. Questions that evaluate the nature of the data under headings such as mission critical, sensitive, required 24/7, and so on will quickly identify the mapping of data types to cloud storage service characteristics. The answers may dictate the subsequent consideration of reliability and security levels, and ultimately, cost.
Low grade and non-sensitive data may be perfectly suited to “cheap and cheerful” shared multi-tenanted cloud storage. Highly sensitive enterprise grade data will demand far greater privacy, even to the extent of requiring a private cloud facility.
2. Security and Compliance
The security aspect is top priority on every checklist for cloud storage. A holistic picture of a vendor’s offering could well include encryption options (data at rest, motion and temporary storage), physical datacenter security and safety features, redundancy across multiple physical locations, as well as the financial stability and reputation of the vendor. Again, the categorization of data types will dictate the depth of investigation and assessment required as well as the level of security needed.
Compliance varies by industry, with perhaps the financial sector being the most obvious case in point. Vendor familiarity with compliance requirements can be patchy, so seek a vendor with a track record for your industry. MSPs that specialize in a specific industry understand all of the requirements of that industry, which is a significant plus factor in the vendor selection process. All data, including redundant storage for disaster recovery, should be stored in the same jurisdiction. Geographical location may be a factor for certain types of data. For example, in Europe, data about living people is subject to the Data Protection Act, which dictates the physical geographic locations in which data may and may not be stored.
3. Uptime and SLAs
Standard SLAs will always require scrutinizing with a fine tooth comb because it is vital that the selected service delivers on every primary requirement. Enterprises that invest time and expertise in tailoring the SLA as precisely as possible reap dividends in stability and performance. The headline uptime metrics that MSPs publish cannot suffice as proof of capability and fault tolerance. Potential purchasers need to drill down to investigate the underlying technologies, infrastructure and proprietary applications that comprise a service. Uptime, for example, can be at risk in periods of high demand, and therefore basic technical must-haves such as robust and capacious load balancing, routing and network bandwidth should be transparent and thoroughly investigated for suitability for an enterprise’s real life requirements both current and planned.
4. Scalability and Flexibility
The greatest attraction of cloud storage and cloud computing in general is its capability to almost instantly scale up and down to meet requirements with a single mouse click. With a managed cloud storage service, the specialist technicians who manage the service on your behalf will be fully conversant with the best options for any particular scenario. Operating costs flex with the level of demand at any given time, providing a predictable forecasting model.
As requirements change (e.g. new applications coming on-stream, enhancements to applications requiring additional data storage) close cooperation with the managed storage vendor in advance of changes being deployed is vital to a smooth progression. A managed service vendor should provide consultancy services to answer all questions and “what if” modelling exercises when required. Flexibility to add/remove specialist tools and services is a highly desirable offering, as is a clearly defined and agreed exit/migration strategy should the need arise to switch to another vendor.