10 Things to Know Before You Go into the Cloud

Friday Mar 29th 2013 by Drew Robb
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Doing your homework can help you avoid mistakes when it comes to selecting a cloud storage provider.

"Know before you go" is a popular maxim. And it very much applies to cloud storage. Here are ten questions to answer before you rush to the cloud.

1. What does the cloud mean for you?

An oft-forgotten step is to define specifically what the company is actually looking for from the cloud. That will help narrow the types of providers to review.

“First and foremost, ask yourself what type of cloud storage service or provider are you looking for, whether than is for backup, disaster recovery, archiving, document collaboration, document or file sharing (e.g. Dropbox), general storage, support for your on-site compute, or cloud-based compute and applications,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group.

2. Do you need cloud storage or cloud backup?

A related question concerns cloud storage versus cloud backup. Cheap or free cloud storage is available from the likes of DropBox, Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Drive. For small businesses, that may be enough. But those are places to store data as opposed to backup locations.

“Cloud storage providers provide you with a place to store your stuff, but there is no guarantee, questionable security, no tech support and if a server goes down in one of their data centers, you may never see those documents again,” said Jamie Brenzel, CEO KineticD. “Cloud backup provides you with the ability to backup applications and their associated data files to an offsite server or data center.”

3. What grade of service do you need?

It is important to ask yourself whether you need heavy-duty enterprise functionality or can get away with consumer quality. In some cases, the latter might be enough — for example, in the case of online backup for some mobile employees. But in most cases, the answer will probably be the former.

“Also are you looking for consumer, mobile app-based, or enterprise-type functionality,” asked Schulz.

4. What security measures are in place to protect your data?

A whole article could be written just on the cloud security side. Obvious safeguards include virus/malware protection, data encryption and the use of security keys. However, you'll also need to consider the factor of cost. The highest levels of security come at a premium.

“A lot of talk is about using the cloud, but the cloud has security concerns,” noted Lee Johns, VP of product management, Starboard Systems. “Although you can easily get your data into the cloud, it is not so easy to get it out.”

5. Do you know where your data is?

While it is important to ask a cloud provider how data is safeguarded, you also need a handle on where your own data is and what should and shouldn’t be sent to the cloud.

“The first step is to do an inventory and clearly capture all the devices your employees are using for access to the corporate network, applications and folders, as well as where all of your business data resides,” stated Margaret Dawson, vice president of product management at Symform.

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6. Can you run a test before you commit?

Don’t negotiate any long-term contracts for cloud storage before testing the capabilities of the system itself. What you want to find out is how easily you can restore data and how long it takes to back it up. So do a pilot with a small amount of data first. How quickly can you restore one file or all files? And how much does it cost?

“Choosing a provider should be no different than shopping for a car,” said Brenzel. “In other words, take it for a test drive, know the technology behind the offering and choose a company that has a sustainable business model, a proven track record and a stellar support staff within your budget.”

7. How much responsibility should you assume?

The cloud can sometimes be used to shirk one’s responsibility for some province of storage. Not a good idea.

“The cloud is a shared responsibility meaning that users need to take adequate steps to make sure their data and applications are safe,” explained Schulz. “The providers will do so much, users also need to take shared responsibility.”

8. Are you being oversold?

Cloud providers often have slick assessment methods that calculate storage needs. These can sometimes utilize generous rates of predicted storage growth to highlight the potential dangers of buying just enough storage. But securing that additional space comes at a price — why pay for it until you really need it?

“Make sure the backup provider doesn’t try to oversell you on the amount of storage you require today but has the capability to grow as your business does,” added. Brenzel.

9. What added value is included?

Potential users should be asking what other value is included. Check out details like security, privacy, geography controls (your data doesn’t leave a given country), the performance levels, up-front costs and additional fees, along with what other software or tools will be needed.

“Free and freemium can sometimes be a fit; however, look beyond cost to see what you get in terms of value, including security, privacy, rights to your data that store,” cautioned Schulz. “Read the terms of service (TOS) or user license agreements to make sure you are aware of who retains rights to your data, or what you might be giving up, not to mention surprises such as if you use too much space or bandwidth will you be limited.”

10. How can we make money from the cloud?

Up till now, the cloud has been viewed mainly as a way to lower costs. But Nicos Veklarides, TwinStrata’s CEO feels that the cloud can also be monetized.

“2013 will highlight a key differentiator of cloud storage, aside from providing cost and administrative advantages over traditional storage: the ability for organizations to use their data to grow their business,” he said. “The concept of data monetization is mature and well-understood, but not easily attainable. With on-demand cloud infrastructure, the logistics of harnessing data to improve business revenues become much simpler. Look for targeted solutions emerging in the coming year.”

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