Flexibility is a prerequisite to avoiding storage cloud lock-in

December 2, 2009 - Note: This post is a guest blog from Jerome Wendt, president and lead analyst with DCIG Inc. and a former IT professional. DCIG provides analysis for hardware and software companies in the data storage and electronically stored information (ESI) industries.

Flexibility is a prerequisite to avoiding storage cloud lock-in

By Jerome M. Wendt

Google searches for "cloud storage" started to take off in late 2007 according to a Google trends report and have only increased since. But as organizations move from searching for and reading about cloud storage to actually selecting cloud storage solutions, they need to ensure that those solutions offers flexibility in order to avoid public storage cloud lock-in.

Cloud storage is breaking down into two distinct camps: private and public storage clouds. Private storage clouds were discussed in a previous DCIG blog in terms of the attributes that they possess and what is motivating organizations to adopt them.

Public storage clouds are a different animal. They align more closely with the common definition of "cloud storage," but are developing their own set of characteristics that should influence which public storage cloud offering an organization selects. One such feature that an organization may not initially consider in the evaluation process is the flexibility of the public storage cloud solution.

Understanding a public storage cloud's flexibility is not as intuitive as it may sound. Most organizations assume they will fall into the category of being either a public storage cloud consumer or a provider. A public storage cloud consumer obtains storage on demand from a public storage cloud provider. Conversely, a public cloud storage provider may only offer cloud-based storage services to subscribing clients.

A few organizations may fall into a third category that both subscribes to and provides a public storage cloud. This category is primarily reserved for those few enterprise organizations, such as telcos, that may have the infrastructure, IT staff and business model to support offering a public storage cloud that serves both internal and external clients.

However, a fourth category also exists that organizations may fall into sooner rather than later. For example, an organization starts out as public cloud storage consumer but eventually decides to become a public storage cloud provider driven by data inaccessibility, increasing costs or inadequate capacity (network or storage) from its current public storage cloud provider. Once this scenario exists, suddenly an organization has a very real desire to go it alone only to find out that they are locked-in because the technology their provider uses is not available for them to purchase.

Already this issue is surfacing among organizations that have subscribed to online backup offerings -- the forerunners of the current public storage cloud trend. The challenge that early consumers of online backup services are encountering is that as they store more data with a provider, their costs inevitably go up.

So while using an online backup service is initially more economical than doing backup themselves, as they store more backup data with an online backup provider, eventually it reaches the point where the annual cost of the monthly service now exceeds what it would cost for them to provide the service themselves. However, they find themselves in a position where they can do nothing or minimally their options are extremely limited since they cannot purchase the online backup software. It is for this reason that some online backup providers are making their software available for purchase -- not just to service providers but to enterprises as well so organizations have the option to host online backup services themselves.

Organizations should expect to eventually face a similar decision when storing their data with a public storage cloud provider. While they may initially want to store data with a public storage cloud provider for ease of startup, if data availability, increased monthly storage costs, or inadequate performance becomes an issue, having the option to bring their public storage cloud in-house can start to look very appealing. However, that may only be a possibility if the underlying public cloud storage solution that the provider uses is available for purchase by the organization.

This is already happening to some degree. For example, Symantec is designing its new FileStore product so either enterprises or service providers that wish to offer cloud storage services can procure it and do so. This gives organizations the flexibility to first use public cloud storage from a provider, with FileStor as the underlying technology, while giving organizations the option to purchase the FileStore solution directly from Symantec and implement it in-house should they ever decide to do so. (Note: FileStore in its first release is intended for use only as a private storage cloud though Symantec plans to offer a public storage cloud option for FileStore in the future.)

Public storage clouds provide organizations with some exciting new options for lowering their upfront storage costs while also meeting immediate storage needs. However, public storage cloud technology is not a panacea and organizations should carefully weigh their options as they seek a provider for this service. As part of the decision, organizations need to determine if the flexibility to purchase the underlying technology that powers their provider's public cloud storage offering will eventually become a requirement. Based on what we have already seen in the online backup space, having this flexibility is an absolute necessity.

Jerome Wendt is the president and lead analyst with DCIG Inc.

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posted by: Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson, Editor-in-Chief
by Dave Simpson
Editor-in-Chief

Dave Simpson has been the Editor-in-Chief of InfoStor since its inception in 1997. He previously held editorial positions at publications such as Datamation, Systems Integration, and Digital News and Review. He can be contacted at dsimpson@quinstreet.com

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