Why corporate cloud storage doesn't add up

Full-on outsourcing of corporate storage needs is a puzzling concept, to say the least

As IT continues in a zigzag path of figuring out what to do with this "cloud" stuff, it seems that some companies are getting ahead of themselves. In particular, the concept of outsourcing storage to a cloud provider puzzles me. I can see some benefits in other cloud services (though I still find the trust aspect difficult to reconcile), but full-on cloud storage offerings don't make sense outside of some rare circumstances.

The value proposition for these types of services is that it removes the need for an organization to provide general file storage. Servers will still need some form of local storage, of course, but when Betty in Accounting fires up a new spreadsheet, that file actually exists on the cloud storage provider's gear in a data center somewhere. This means that IT doesn't have to worry about purchasing, maintaining, and backing up local storage resources, and because it's a "cloud," it's assumed that those files will be perfectly maintained and constantly available. That's what we always hear, right? The cloud is infallible.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Matt Prigge urges IT and users to call a truce on the senseless battle over easy, secure data access. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's storage newsletter and stay on top of the latest info. ]

The reality of this situation is not quite so rosy. And in most cases, there's little to be gained by deploying file storage in this way. Sure, removing the onus of backing up those files is a net gain for IT, but then again, there's already storage in the data center running the servers. That means there's already a backup solution in place, and adding local file storage is trivial. Unless the entire organization is running on the cloud -- servers, storage, apps, and so on -- this is fundamentally true. Thus, there's little to be gained by eliminating backups for user data.

Then there's the bandwidth issue. If you're moving all your user files offsite, you better have invested in tons of bandwidth, as well as robust failover circuits for when the primary circuit gives out. In fact, you'd better go as far as you can with that redundancy, ensuring that the circuits take different paths out of the building, and potentially utilize two different carriers if at all possible. Without connectivity, your users might as well go home.

When (not if) the Internet egress circuits go down but local file storage is in place, the impact on the users is signfiicantly less than a full cloud solution. Betty can open her spreadsheet, Bob can work on that presentation, and Phyllis can still type up her TPS reports. Sure, Internet resources are down, but the company can still operate even when nobody can get to Facebook.

And the circuits need to be fast, because for decades users have been accustomed to instantaneous file access. Even with local caching, dragging a file from a few hundred miles away will be slower. Even with 100Mbit to the desktop and general-purpose storage in the backroom, a 50MB PowerPoint presentation opens in a few seconds, not in five minutes. Turn that around and the IT department will be tarred and feathered the first week.

To combat this, many cloud storage providers recommend the use of a dedicated circuit from the corporate office to the provider. While it's true that this can alleviate some performance issues, it's still a single circuit that can wreak havoc when it drops. You'd better get two.

There's the second caveat: You may find that you've spent more on expensive high-speed data circuits than you've saved by going to the cloud.

Don't forget that fast, reliable storage is very cheap these days. You can pick up 24TB of raw storage for less than $7,000, and even though they're SATA drives, they'll be more than sufficient for most general business purposes. If the lack of redundant controllers is a concern, buy two and leverage the real-time replication many NAS vendors are now offering. Heck, buy three and use one for backups. You're still ahead of the game and have tons of available disk space. Kick the budget up a notch and you can get highly redundant and resilient storage for less money now than at any time in the past. Averaged against the cost of adding those high-speed data circuits and other "hidden" expenses, it's likely to be cheaper now and in the long run.

Underneath it all are the security issues to take into consideration. By moving to the cloud for storage, you're putting the fortunes of the entire business in the hands of another entity. If they make a mistake, get hacked, or suffer outages, you're SOL. All the SLAs in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if the data that drives your business gets nuked or winds up in the hands of the competition.

I see a few situations that could make good use of full cloud storage services, such as startups. Then again, if you're starting a company with no existing IT infrastructure, you'll likely use cloud apps all the way at first, along with the storage inherent in those solutions. Separate dedicated file storage resources are probably unnecessary.

I can also see this as being a very valid option for offsite backups and DR purposes, but security demons lurk in those scenarios as well. The fact of the matter is it's challenging for me to find a valid business case to completely outsource data storage. Clearly others can, but I'll keep my files where I can see them, thanks all the same.

This story, "Why corporate cloud storage doesn't add up," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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