Michael Thompson is the Director of Systems Management Product Marketing at SolarWinds.
When it comes to determining the best way to store the massive amounts of private enterprise data generated every day, organizations are faced with two choices: what might be considered the traditional approach—on-premises storage systems, or an external, hosted solution through cloud computing providers. Although many companies continue to invest in local storage, cloud-based storage is beginning to become a potential fit for some. In fact, it’s expected that 36 percent of all data will be stored in the cloud by 2016, up from just seven percent in 2013. Of course, while cloud storage may be an intriguing option, there are both positives and negatives associated with each approach, from cost to control to security.
Ultimately, organizations need to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, identifying which approach—on-premises or cloud-based—provides the best fit for an organization based on individual needs is what it all comes down to. There are three key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating which option is best for almost any organization.
Data Control and Management
Control and management are the first key factors that should be considered. For organizations that want or need more control over their storage, on-premises infrastructure offers a wide range of options around service level and degrees of data protection. Offering greater support for file system replication, data tiering, snapshots and backup capabilities, physical hardware is often ideal for organizations looking to optimize performance for different types of applications and data within a single system. Furthermore, it provides greater ability to directly manage and fine-tune storage performance as part of the collective application stack, or AppStack, which consists of the underlying infrastructure needed to ensure optimal application performance. On-premises hardware also affords organizations more direct management of data security and compliance, whereas some cloud providers may not have the level of privacy needed to comply with specific data regulations.
By contrast, businesses that choose to leverage the services of a cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services, must contend with the terms laid out in the service-level agreement (SLA). They don’t have to manage as closely, but they also don’t have the same level of control. If the initial SLA, which includes details such as the percentage of time services will be available, the number of users that can be served simultaneously and performance benchmarks, eventually becomes unsuitable, organizations must upgrade to the next highest—and more expensive—tier of storage for additional services and capabilities.
Nevertheless, for some, cloud storage can still provide a valuable alternative to physical hardware, such as small-to-medium sized business with a limited IT budget and staff that may find cloud storage’s built-in data management highly cost-effective despite the SLA. In addition, larger enterprises running cloud-based applications might choose to deploy cloud storage to ensure greater availability (see below).
Availability and Latency
The ability to store and access data at any point in time is a critical component of data storage solutions and greatly influences whether on-premises or cloud will be ideal for an organization. Although a relatively new alternative to on-premises storage, cloud storage availability may often exceed that of a traditional environment because the systems accessing the data typically won’t have a single point of failure and can be easily accessed from multiple locations.
However, an inherent challenge with offsite cloud storage is latency, which is difficult to reduce without ensuring the data is stored in a closer physical location—perhaps by choosing a cloud vendor that has a data center near a business’s center of operations. IT professionals managing storage for organizations with on-premises applications where latency or an inability to access data is a serious problem should make note of these potential cloud drawbacks.
On the other end of the spectrum, on-premises infrastructure can be configured for high availability, although often with a hefty price tag. Still, it can provide organizations with fast storage backed by fast storage networking, making an on-premises storage solution suitable for a number of different workloads that require high performance, low latency storage, such as server and desktop virtualization, or database applications.
Cost Savings (or Not)
Many companies continue to invest in physical hardware, but increasingly, especially as the cost of bandwidth lowers, the cloud is becoming attractive. With cloud-based storage, an organization can purchase only the amount of storage needed and pay a monthly fee for that storage, rather than having to buy an expensive on-premises hardware device that may carry a high initial capital cost—not to mention the added cost of providing space and power. This “grow as you go” capability may also help businesses looking to decrease initial spend. If it can be avoided, why buy an expensive 20 terabyte solution when the organization only needs half that storage right now, even if future growth may require it at some point?
However, organizations should be aware that while hosted cloud solutions significantly decrease overall capital expenses, there are often a handful of hidden costs, per provider and SLA, of course, that may increase operating costs. Provider charges per gigabyte of storage, per request and for each data transfer in and out of the cloud can quickly add up, resulting in less overall budget savings than many organizations expect. To effectively determine whether cloud computing is an affordable alternative to on-premises solutions, businesses should conduct sufficient due diligence with regard to pricing structures in SLAs so there are no surprise supplemental costs.
So, Which is Best?
It’s really not a question of which approach is best, but which will best meet the needs of an organization. As long as businesses have a need for a range of storage availability, protection, performance and compliance, with an IT budget to keep in mind, there will be a need for both on-premises and cloud storage solutions. IT pros should evaluate both options with specific day-to-day business needs in mind before determining whether to keep their data on the ground or move it up into the cloud.
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