Friday, January 06, 2012

Use Cases for Cloud Storage

Cloud data storage brings in a newer perspective for storing and managing enterprise data. Though the concept of storing data in the cloud is as old as world wide web itself, only now, companies have a valid business proposition for cloud storage.

Enterprise IT systems are being drowned with so much data that the cost of data storage has become a leading IT expense item. Companies are hoarding so much digital data owing to business policies and government regulations. Most of the data stored in the enterprise IT storage systems are rarely used - yet they have to be saved and protected.

Cloud storage offers enterprises an opportunity to bring constantly rising file storage costs and reduce data management burden. Adapting cloud storage opens up several benefits to enterprise IT. The main benefits are:

1. Reduces storage costs
2. Increases operational flexibility

Reduced Storage Costs

Cloud storage has a high latency when compared to traditional storage - SAN, NAS or direct attached storage. Cloud storage is also coupled with improved storage management technologies such as data deduplication, compression and better storage utilization. As a result cloud offers lower costs.

Higher Latency

Since the data store occurs in a remote location over the Internet, there is the Internet latency which implies that cloud storage data may not be available in real time.

Having a low cost storage on the cloud albeit with higher latency has its advantages and business use cases. Moreover, most of the data being stored today in enterprise IT data centers are not active data and is rarely stored, the latency for such data is not a factor.

The initial uses cases for cloud data storage are:

1. Backup of user desktops/laptops/mobile devices

Employees use desktops/laptops/mobile devices which contain enterprise data. This data cane be backed up and stored in the cloud on regular basis. When user data is stored with data deduplication, the total volume of data that needs to be stored reduces enormously and thus cloud provides a low cost solution for backing up user device data.

Note that the mobile devices could be also imply any remote device or mobile devices such as embedded systems in automobiles, CNC machines, controllers etc.

2. Warehousing historical data

Various governmental and industry regulations mandates companies to store data. Almost all of this data is rarely used, but enterprises are bound by law to store and maintain it. In addition, most companies today do not have process/policy/procedure in place to discard old data - thus forcing IT departments to store it. Storing such unused data on active IT systems is expensive, it is cheaper to store this data on the cloud. Could storage systems can have is data stored in tiered systems - on disks that are not always ON, thus save on costs and still meet all legal/regulatory requirements.

3. Disaster Recovery plans

Main IT system data can be backed up remotely and routinely such that the cloud system offers a reliable mechanism for data loss prevention in case of natural disasters.

3a. VDI and Business continuity

Cloud storage when coupled with VDI can be a very powerful solution for business continuity. Employees can still continue to work even in a disaster by accessing the VDI from cloud service provider.

4. Enhanced business flexibility

As the company data is stored in the cloud, this data can then be accessed by other cloud services - such as business analytics, data warehousing solutions etc. This provides increased business flexibility in terms of providing new services to business - without an extensive build out of new IT infrastructure. Companies can build cloud based business/data analytics solutions and get higher ROI.
For example, A ATM machine manufacturer can use cloud storage for storing the image of each ATM machine in the network and push any changes to the OS/application on the ATM through the cloud.
A car manufacture can use the customer data stored in the cloud for running analytics to understand user color preferences

Closing Thoughts

Cloud storage is primarily characterized by high latency and low costs. Enterprises can take the cost advantage of cloud storage for all cases that can work with the higher latency. The traditional IT data center applications may not be the right use case for moving to cloud, but as technology evolves and new applications emerge in the cloud, cloud storage will be an added tool.

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