Services that store enterprise data in a "cloud" on the Internet raise questions that organizations are just beginning to ask, but for all their limitations, they may be no more risky than on-site storage platforms.
The technology behind cloud storage, as well as cloud computing, lets enterprises tap into IT resources without regard to where they're located. So cloud computing typically means relegating primary or backup data to an undefined repository outside the enterprise rather than a local datacenter or a dedicated remote site. By using cloud storage services, organizations can save on capital expenses and on complex setup and administration tasks, proponents say. Putting data in the cloud can also make it accessible from more locations.
[ Check out the related sidebar: Tips for safe cloud storage | Also: Can you trust your data to storage cloud providers? | And learn more about What cloud computing really means. ]
Saving work and expense is a key reason why cloud services are expected to grow in the next few years. Last year, 4 percent of worldwide IT spending went to cloud services, and by 2012 that figure will be 9 percent, according to research company IDC. Because of its cost and space requirements, data storage is a prime candidate for a cloud solution, and IDC predicts storage will grow from 8 percent to 13 percent of cloud spending in that same period.
Vendors are stepping up to fill that demand. Amazon.com made an early splash in cloud computing and now includes a storage service, called S3, in its offerings. Nirvanix started offering a cloud archiving and backup service in 2007, and some of the biggest names in storage, including EMC's Mozy unit and Seagate, have also entered the game.
Anyone who's pondering how to deal with a cloud storage provider is already ahead of the game, according to analyst Henry Baltazar of The 451 Group.
"Right now, people aren't really (looking out) for this, because they're still weighing out whether they want to use cloud storage or not. ... It's still a brand-new market," Baltazar said.
But some companies are getting ready to dive in. Some form of cloud storage is likely to be a part of the data management plan now taking shape at Adventist Health in Roseville, California. It could be something as simple as hosting videos by hospital chaplains on YouTube, said Adventist CTO Greg McGovern. It makes no sense for a health care company to develop its own video player and hosting platform when it can take advantage of the most popular one on the market, he said.
FreshBooks, an online invoicing company in Toronto, is a beta tester of Rackspace's Cloud Files storage service and expects to start using it soon to store copies of large document files. That will save the company from having to manage the files and infrastructure, which is not FreshBooks' area of expertise, said CEO Mike McDerment.
"Being able to outsource that is a huge advantage," McDerment said. "Any business owner needs to figure out what business they're in."