The challenges of public cloud storage and how to overcome them

How do enterprises deal with the difficulties of public cloud storage to reap the benefits?

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I recently met with the technology team of a large enterprise to discuss its strategy; a major focus was the use of public cloud storage. The internal business desire was strong; they saw it as providing flexibility, agility, and the chance to spread risk and free themselves from lockin to any one service provider.

But they also saw significant challenges, and this is not unusual. While cloud storage brings many desirable benefits, almost limitless scale, flexibility, and access to other services, it also raises important questions: how to maintain security and compliance, how to retain ownership, and how to smoothly integrate data stored in public cloud with other business operations.

So, while taking a cloud-first approach can be very sensible, using the cloud and especially cloud storage comes with a range of challenges that make choosing cloud as a primary storage location difficult. But the flexibility that public cloud can bring means that the business desire is increasingly strong, so what are the challenges and what can you do to overcome them so that public cloud storage can be an option for your enterprise?

The Challenges

Gravity

Data has bulk, size, and weight. Unlike applications and compute, there is a difficulty in making data flexible and easily move it into the cloud. And equally challenging once there, to move it between providers or back on-premises.

Security

Security and compliance are crucial when it comes to data. Organizations are building policies and deploying tools that interact with enterprise storage to ensure the use of data can be fully controlled and understood. This must be replicated in the public cloud, but natively it isn’t.

Capability

One of the biggest blockers to the use of cloud storage is the lack of enterprise capability, be it deploying file services, data protection, or simply the ability to present an interface with which an organization's IT team is familiar. All are areas that can add cost and complexity, which in turn can have a big impact on cloud storage adoption.

Efficiency

Although storage efficiency seems like “table stakes” today and the cost savings they deliver are often dismissed when discussing on-prem storage, this is not the case when it comes to public cloud, the lack of simple efficiencies like deduplication and compression can mean the data you held on-prem when it moves to cloud can be three to four times larger than you expect. This of course has a significant impact on your cloud storage costs and can often be the difference in whether you can or cannot adopt it.

Integration

Cloud storage should not be viewed in isolation. You don’t want cloud storage in a silo; it needs to integrate with on-premises infrastructure be that local storage, applications, or compute. It is also advantageous to have cloud storage interact with enterprise data management tools ensuring that enterprise level control of data remains regardless of where it exists.

What’s the answer?

Understanding these challenges is the first step on a road to adopting cloud storage as a core part of an enterprise IT strategy, and discovering ways to overcome them is going be key in whether an enterprise can adopt public cloud storage with its benefits or not.

How to overcome the challenges?

The reality is in some cases they won’t be overcome, and an enterprise will accept the shortcomings of the native storage in the public cloud and work around them, using standard interfaces to orchestrate storage use, absorbing the costs and complexity that comes with that.

But if an enterprise doesn’t want to accept the limitations of native cloud storage, there are alternatives with the emergence of vendors providing enterprise storage services that can be layered over the native storage repositories of the hyperscalers; for example, companies such as NetApp, Actifico, Softnas, Nimble, and Microsoft are all making services available in cloud market places to deliver enterprise services and integrations onto those native storage repositories.

One of those vendors, NetApp, has taken its Ontap operating system, extracted it from its hardware appliances and made it available in the cloud marketplaces of AWS, Azure, and GCP. This allows for the presentation and delivery of rich enterprise services, from data protection and replication to storage efficiency and integration with on-prem repositories and tools. The ability to add these enterprise services can play a major part in reducing the risk of the use of public cloud storage, which is crucial to cloud storage adoption, because benefitting from the flexibility and scale of cloud cannot be at the cost of losing the controls and services enterprises demand.

The benefits that public cloud storage can bring to an enterprise are numerous, and there is a strong desire to make it an integral part of IT strategy in many organizations. However, doing so cannot be at the cost of taking risks with data assets. Still, the ability to layer enterprise level capabilities on top of these native cloud storage pools is an important start for allowing enterprises to take advantage of public cloud without the complexity, cost, and risk that can sometimes be encountered with native public cloud storage.

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