The Ins and Outs of Cloud Storage


There's a lot to like about cloud storage. At first blush, it seems like the ideal way to expand storage capacity without having to make significant investments in new infrastructure. And the more we hear about its capabilities, the more it appears that it will usher in an entirely new set of functions for workload distribution and application accessibility.

But it would be foolish to think that cloud storage doesn't pose its fair share of challenges, particularly when it comes to management, control and, most importantly, security of your valuable data.

First, the pluses. This article on InfoWorld, sponsored by HP, lays out the rosy side of the picture. Besides the infrastructure and scalability advantages, a number of cloud-specific applications are waiting in the wings, many of them driven by a new generation of preconfigured virtual appliances providing everything from network administration tools to enterprise knowledge-base management. The cloud also adds new dimensions to things like disaster recovery and application development.

We also shouldn't overlook some of the productivity gains that cloud storage heralds, says Storage Switzerland's George Crump. The cloud essentially delivers collaborative capabilities on a global scale, allowing far-flung employees to work off a single data set to accomplish a project-no more linear collaboration as data is shunted from one contributor to another, then sorted out at the end of the chain.

Of course, this doesn't mean you should rush into cloud storage on a whim. Hitachi UK's Tony Reid and Grid Computing Now Director Ian Osborne recommend using the cloud largely as a storage repository of non-critical data, at least until some of the regulatory issues are cleared up. Remember, since the cloud operates on a global scale, it isn't yet clear whose regulations will apply for a given circumstance.

You could also run into incompatibility issues if you start shelving data among multiple providers, say researchers at UC Berkeley. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others use vastly different storage technologies for their services, so until a standard API is developed that can cross platform boundaries, it's probably best to stick with one provider at the moment.

Still, these are only wrinkles in what promises to be a robust cloud fabric in a few short years. Not all data will be ripe for the cloud, but a significant portion will likely be moved off local platforms. It will be a significant shift in the way IT operates, so it will take some getting used to.