Jonathan Hoppe is President and CTO of Cloud Leverage, and draws on 15 years of technology experience in application development, Internet, networks, and enterprise management systems.
“Go to the cloud.” While the industry chants these words, and storage vendors pour into a new market for a piece of the pie, it is difficult for businesses to separate the new technology hype from the actual business value that these new services provide. While determining whether cloud storage is appropriate for your business, and if so, which vendor to choose, properly vetting providers is a critical process. Cloud storage is now available to the masses as a commodity, but in order to securely and efficiently apply the technology as a business asset for enterprises and SMBs, there are several factors that define the vendors that offer enterprise-grade services.
Where is your data?
First of all, it is critical to identify where exactly your data is being stored when it is uploaded to the cloud. This is important for two reasons: security and performance. For many companies, the ability to be certain that their data is being stored within the borders of certain countries is a make-or-break point in their ability to achieve regulatory compliance and remain competitive in their industry. PCI DSS and many other standards depend on this.
Performance is another reason to focus on location. The advantages of cloud storage really come into play with the mobile nature of the workforce today. Road warriors can now access and collaborate, from a myriad of devices, on any project that is going on in the company. They are no longer dependent on the SAN to efficiently get their work done. When storage nodes are located in close proximity to corporate offices and standard travel routes, travel over the congested public Internet is minimized, and the storage can be used to its potential. A few simple performance tests before going with a vendor can tell you a lot, as can a look at the SLAs to see their confidence in their infrastructure.
How is the data secured?
No matter what measures are taken to make a good decision about cloud storage, the data is still traversing a very hostile place – the public Internet. Because of this, enterprise cloud storage vendors should employ high levels of encryption both in transit and at rest. This form of security becomes more advanced every year, but good benchmarks to look for are 256 bit AES or SSL encryption. Some vendors even go so far as to set up hardware-based VPNs to the cloud or even create ultra-secure MPLS private-lines.
What caliber facilities are being utilized?
Vetting security on the software level is important, but what kind of environment is your data physically sitting in? SAS 70 Type II and SSAE 16 are two common certifications to ensure that storage DCs have been inspected and held to the highest standards of redundancy, connectivity, and security. Beyond that, it is recommended to inquire about their HR screening process, access control to the building, and proximity to natural and man-made disaster areas. Additional research can be conducted on industry discussion boards, blogs, and by speaking with analysts about the vendor.
Does the price scale down as you scale up?
Scalability is another buzz word in the cloud community. It represents part of the appeal to leveraging the cloud–pay for it like a utility, so bursts and lulls are less cumbersome and costly to your business. You simply pay for what you use. The question, however, is whether this continues to make sense as the business grows.
It is very important to read the fine print. One of the places where charges rack up quickly is in the common practice of charging for transfer of data up and down. Avoiding vendors that charge a transfer fee is probably a good bet, as is scrutinizing the pricing tiers for storage as you grow and add more storage.
What API is being used?
The API debate represents a significant hurdle for many companies. Vendor lock-in is a very real consideration, and it can occur in many forms, including the inability to transfer data between providers due to inconsistent APIs. The REST API is quickly becoming the industry standard, and should be erred towards when in doubt, but many providers have the ability to utilize several different types of APIs.
It’s clear that commodity cloud offerings are easily accessible today, but the considerations above can help you to seek out the leaders in the industry for enterprise functionality. It is certainly an incredible technology when used to its potential, and can drive enterprises and SMBs alike to new levels.
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