Should you be storing data in the cloud?

by FM Media
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Storing data in the cloud can bring benefits and challenges. HARTLEY HENDERSON investigates the pros and cons, and learns how security and transferability of data can be ensured.

With the explosive growth in information confronting enterprises of various types and sizes, more efficient ways of effectively storing and managing data are being sought. A major contributor to the massive escalation in data is the Internet, so it is no surprise to find that, in turn, organisations are increasingly looking to the internet for data storage solutions.
‘Cloud storage’ has emerged as a way of using web-based technologies to enable virtualised IT resources to be provided as a service over the Internet. According to Clive Gold, chief technology officer at EMC Corporation and vice president of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), the adoption of cloud computing is escalating at a rapid pace around the world and Australia is at the forefront of this growth. He tells Facility Management that an annual growth of 27 percent each year over the next three years is predicted in Australia.
But, what are the advantages, as opposed to the challenges and risks, of storing data in the cloud, and what standards are in place to ensure security and transferability of data?

Gold explains that the cloud is divided into three main layers:

  • infrastructure-as-a-service
  • platform-as-a-service, and
  • software-as-a-service.

“SNIA ANZ is interested in the infrastructure layer to provide a basic storage facility that enables back-up in the cloud,” Gold states. “Cloud storage can be implemented in many different ways. For example, local data (such as on a laptop) can be backed up to cloud storage, a virtual disc can be ‘synched’ to the cloud and distributed to other computers, and the cloud can be used as an archive to retain data for regulatory or other purposes.
“SNIA ANZ looks at IT from a service perspective encompassing all these approaches, where a business will own the end user devices, but not the servers or the people that run them.”

Gold says that the cloud can deliver significant benefits for businesses, including the ability to store data off-site, and increased flexibility and reliability.
“Rather than purchasing new servers, the adoption of cloud computing enables enormous computing capability and flexibility almost instantly. Storage can be bought by the kilobyte, and this becomes cheaper the more storage you have,” he notes. In addition, significant productivity benefits can be delivered, as well as increased functionality, built-in back-up and potentially lower costs, Gold notes.
Glenn Gore, chief technology officer of Melbourne IT, which provides hosting services, believes that there are multiple benefits to storing data in a cloud environment, including a single repository of the data, the ability to access infinite storage capacity and to pay for what is used versus an upfront investment.
“Furthermore, 24/7 support of your storage environment is provided, which allows you to access it anytime, and many cloud storage environments manage the protection of your data for you from replication and back-up through to disaster recovery options,” says Gore.
“The ability is also provided to use different levels of performance and availability across your information without having to invest in different multiple storage platforms yourself,” he adds.

Although storing data on the cloud provides all these benefits, Gold points out that cloud computing brings all the normal risks of having a third party provider, and that it is important to carry out due diligence in selecting a provider.
“In using the cloud, issues such as data sovereignty, security and risk management need to be addressed, as well as avoiding a potential lock-in situation, whereby it may be difficult to change service provider,” he states.
Gore believes that the real challenge of cloud storage relates to how the information is accessed. “Locating the applications and storage as close together as possible is the key to reducing network costs and latencies,” he says.
“Risks can include not understanding the redundancy of the cloud storage solution and, thus, not protecting the data, which can result in a loss of data event or loss of availability,” Gore continues. “A further risk is not understanding the security model of cloud storage and creating an environment where the integrity or privacy of the data can be lost.”
According to Gore, security of cloud storage is twofold. He notes that the first is security provided by the provider itself, which is often robust and protects the privacy of each customer when in the cloud storage environment, and the second is security provided by the customer. “This relates to how they have configured their storage implementation and applications that are running within the cloud provider,” he explains.

In order to remove the potential for lock-in, SNIA ANZ has developed the Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI). According to Gold, the CDMI is the first industry-developed open standard for cloud computing being ratified.
“CDMI is going through the process of being adopted as a global standard to enable data to be easily and securely moved to another provider if both have the standard interface,” says Gold.
The CDMI defines the functional interface that applications will use to create, retrieve, update and delete data elements from the cloud. The aim of this interface is to enable clients to discover the capabilities of the cloud storage offering. In addition, it will assist them to use the interface to manage containers and the data that is placed in them. Furthermore, metadata can be set on containers and their contained data elements through this interface.
Management of containers, accounts, security access and monitoring/billing information, even for storage that is accessible by other protocols, will also be enabled by this interface. It is vital that the capabilities of the underlying storage and data services are known in order to understand what is being offered, and the CDMI facilitates this by exposing these capabilities and the lack thereof.

Hartley Henderson is a Victorian freelance journalist specialising in Australia’s commercial property sector.

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