Getting Past Cloud Economics

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There are many good reasons to shift storage over to the cloud, but the question remains whether large numbers of enterprises are ready to take the plunge just yet.

After all, it's not easy to give up a tried and true data preservation method -- and just because someone says they can provide the same service for less money doesn't mean you should run off into the forest without a clear idea of what the consequences are.

So in that vein, I'm hoping to highlight some of the actual operational benefits that cloud storage offers. The cloud may be cheaper, but is it better?

Jeff Echols, senior director of cloud storage at CommVault, lists a number of advantages above and beyond the cost factor in a recent Business Week blog. Among them, he cites improved employee productivity by off-loading routine storage operations to a third party, the end of tape archiving, improved disaster recovery, and the ability to access resources based on need rather than what's available in-house. As long as your applications are secure enough to facilitate the movement, archiving and discovery of data on the cloud, you should find the cloud a much more flexible environment than traditional server infrastructure.

Even in private clouds, where the cost of maintaining service is still born by the enterprise, you gain a key advantage, according to ParaScale Founder and CTO Cameron Bahar. With the ability to extend processing to stored data, you now can provide specialized application services right on the node, eliminating some very complicated storage network infrastructure. This could be particularly crucial for organizations dealing with large data sets like log files, RFID scan data and video surveillance.

It's also true that the cloud can convert existing storage resources from a cost center to a revenue generator. Take IBM, for instance. The company recently tied up with Verizon to provide the Managed Data Vault storage service, initially to the New York area but eventually spreading to the remainder of the U.S. The idea is to utilize virtual private network technology from Verizon in conjunction with back-end management and security from IBM to enable automated transfer and storage along with high-speed recovery for large data sets. Expect those who specialize in providing enterprise platforms to others to increasingly leverage their own resources as cloud services going forward.

But if technology is moving ahead with cloud storage, the legal system isn't -- and that should have CIOs worried about putting too much reliance on the cloud too fast. Groups like the Digital Due Process coalition -- backed by Microsoft, eBay, the ACLU and others -- are calling attention to the fact that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which governs access to electronic data, has not been updated since 1986 and is either unclear or silent altogether on cloud-related issues. That leaves a large legal black hole as to whether the right to privacy will hold for data left on cloud infrastructure for any length of time.

No matter what happens in the halls of Congress or in cloud development circles, cloud storage is likely to be a fact of life for the vast majority of us in the near future. And that means the question of whether the cloud is a viable technology is quickly being replaced by questions over how it can best be utilized to achieve specific enterprise goals.