When it comes to cloud computing and, in particular, cloud storage, context matters. Conversations are necessary to address concerns, as well as discuss various considerations, options and alternatives. People frequently ask me questions about the best cloud storage to use, concerns about privacy, security, performance and cost.

Some of the most common cloud conversations topics involve context:

  • Public, private or hybrid cloud; turnkey subscription service or do it yourself (DIY)?
  • Storage, compute server, networking, applications or development tools?
  • Storage application such as file sync and share like Dropbox?
  • Storage resources such as table, queues, objects, file or block?
  • Storage for applications in the cloud, on-site or hybrid?

Do you have cloud storage concerns? If you can identify and list those concerns, you can also prioritize them, then explore options on how to address or work around them.

Some common cloud storage related concerns include the following:

  • Is cloud storage cheaper than traditional storage?
  • How do you access cloud object storage from legacy block and file applications?
  • How do you implement on-site cloud storage?
  • Is enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) safe and secure?
  • Does cloud storage need to be backed up and protected?
  • What geographic location requirements or regulations apply to you?

Cloud Concerns: Storage Options

There is a common industry myth (for some perhaps it is still true) that all cloud storage is object-based. A related myth that is true for some is that accessing local or cloud-based and object storage is difficult, particular for existing applications that are block- or file-based.

While object storage is more commonly discussed, there are also block and file services, as well as tables and message queue based storage services. For example, AWS has file storage (e.g. NAS) through its Elastic File System (EFS) inside the AWS cloud environment for data sharing among EC2 compute instances, containers and other services. Likewise Azure also has file capabilities within their cloud as well as accessible externally from Windows systems using SMB3.

AWS S3 is well known as an object-accessible bulk storage service; however, I find that many are not aware of different S3 tiers (besides Glacier). Within S3 there is standard, as well as Reduced Redundancy (RR) which as its name implies, has a lower level of durability (e.g. number of copies and nines) at a lower cost. There is also Infrequent Access (IA), which is optimized for less frequent access with good durability and lower cost, yet faster access than Glacier. Google, Azure and others have various bulk, object, blob and bucket and container services.

For cold storage, AWS has enhanced Glacier with two new tiers in addition to standard tier. These include Expedited with data access time (time to first byte) of one to five minutes, Standard (three to five hours) and Bulk (five to twelve hours). The cost per retrieval varies by service tier with Expedited being more expensive than Standard and Bulk.

Fees can vary within clouds and across regions. For example, AWS US East (Ohio) region is $0.004 per GB per month plus fees for Glacier. Fees can include API and access, as well as a transfer out of AWS. Besides AWS, Azure and Google, among others, have also enhanced their “cold” cloud storage offerings.

There are numerous gateways. Some are hardware appliances; others are software-defined and virtual appliances. Others are simply plugins for various software, tools, operating systems, and hypervisors and storage systems.

Some of these are browser-based, others map a cloud storage endpoint (with security access credentials) to your system and present as a local, or network-accessed drive, volume, mount point or share. Many cloud storage and, in particular, object- or block-based solutions also support the ability to create what appear to be folders and directory structure, making working with files and objects easy and familiar.

Besides block, file and object access, there are also file sync and share solutions such as Dropbox (among others) that have enterprise options (e.g. EFSS). In addition to browser and mobile app access, some of these offer access via API as well as command line or shell scripts for easier integration with existing environments.

On-premise cloud storage options include OpenStack Swift for object and bulk activity, or if you have an OpenStack compute environment, Cinder and block, as well as Manila folders (e.g. files). Other options for on-premise include Swiftstack, Cloudian, Ceph, IBM (Cleversafe), NetApp, NooBaa, HDS HCP and OpenIO, as well as many others. Speaking of cloud stacks, if you are not aware, Microsoft has an alternative to OpenStack called Azure Stack. As its name implies, it is a derivative of the software used in the Azure service for deployment on premise.

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