What are the benefits of cloud storage? Today almost everyone uses some form of cloud storage. If you use a photo service with cloud access, you’re using cloud storage. Similarly, document storage tools such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box, among others, all use cloud storage. Just about any tool that helps us access our data or synchronize our files between multiple devices such as phones, tablets, and PCs uses cloud storage. With cloud storage being so ubiquitous now, can enterprises also benefit from cloud storage?
In most cases, the answer is yes. Cloud storage offers many unique benefits that make it an intelligent and more efficient data storage choice for enterprises, including the following advantages.
Web enablement and the digitization of our working environments continue to give us more flexibility, removing restrictions—such as location, time, and type of device—on how and when we can access our data. Local data storage is limited by how it can be made accessible, whether that’s via an individual computer’s hard drive or a network storage system such as a storage area network.
To create accessibility that can compete with cloud storage, local storage must be connected to networks with network devices that have a lot of capacity so the efficiency of file transfer is consistent regardless of location. This infrastructure needs to be serviceable and maintainable without ever being shut down, all while considering data security requirements. As cloud storage improves data accessibility in our personal lives, we expect the same accessibility in our workplaces. Providing such accessibility can be costly, but it becomes more cost-effective with economies of scale. Cloud storage has the advantage of scale as cloud storage providers support many customers rather than one organization.
To provide anytime availability, the storage solution needs a high level of redundancy not only to mitigate equipment failure or even manage disaster recovery situations but also to cope with surges in storage use. Ensuring a high level of redundancy is a complex task. The redundancy needs to go beyond physical storage media and extend to include servers, networks, power supplies, and even data centers. Additionally, enterprises must consider efficient data backup and recovery to mitigate the risk of data corruption while they monitor and detect events that could impact data integrity.
Cloud storage providers build redundancy into their services from the outset as their entire business model is dependent on continuous availability. Cloud storage services also provide different levels of service based on availability (and therefore redundancy).
Like redundancy, data security has always been a primary concern for cloud storage providers and part of their business model—if providers fail to deliver security, they’re going to lose their customers. After all, you’re not going to ask someone to look after your data if they can’t or won’t provide assurances about data protection.
But is cloud storage more secure than local storage? While it’s possible to build a comparable defense setup for local storage, the continuous configuration adjustments, maintenance, and upgrades required demand specialist skills to ensure the setup is correctly configured and has the capacity to perform preemptive actions to mitigate or prevent security breaches. All of this costs money, and when competing with other budgetary demands in an organization where data storage isn’t the unique selling point, it’s going to be challenging to secure the funding.
For cloud storage providers, having the skills and resources necessary to ensure data security is critical to the success of the core business. As a result, cloud storage is continuously monitored, maintained, and improved. Local storage may be perceived as being more secure than cloud storage because it remains isolated. However, when local storage is targeted, the risk of a security issue is greater.
To enable collaboration on stored content, a single primary copy of the content is required. This means that the content must be equally accessible to all collaborators. As business today becomes increasingly distributed, the need to support distributed working and efficient collaboration with partners, suppliers, and customers is more urgent than ever.
Cloud storage is the ultimate tool for collaboration because it gives equal access to files to all users with the right to access them. This makes it an ideal solution for any group that needs to collaborate but whose members work in disparate locations or time zones. Cloud storage also enables collaboration beyond a single team or organization by allowing you to control access to files in storage without needing to grant users access to your private network and risk exposing systems to users who don’t need them.
A cloud storage provider’s ability to thrive and grow is directly influenced by its ability to scale its storage capacity so it has capacity readily available for customers. This means investing in the most-advanced technologies to ensure that the capacity is there and ready for use. However, a business that isn’t itself a storage provider will, regardless of the type of storage (object storage, block storage, file storage, backup storage, and so on), need to buy storage capacity based on current demands and near-term forecasts. It’s unlikely that such a business would get the necessary buy-in to make an investment in more expensive technology to accommodate the potential for future growth.
Cloud storage providers have agreements with storage suppliers and may even build their own storage capabilities to ensure that the equipment has minimal lead times. Smaller, more infrequent equipment purchases for smaller local storage needs come with relatively longer lead times, meaning the ability to expand local storage is constrained by an organization’s ability to anticipate growth and prepare for it.
For cloud storage providers, the ability to work at scale also comes with cost savings that result in cost benefits for customers in the long run. Local storage in a data center means paying for maintenance, oversight, and troubleshooting, along with any requisite hardware purchases—not to mention paying the salaries of skilled staff with expertise in different areas. This creates a minimum monthly cost overhead regardless of how much storage space is actively in use.
Purchasing hardware and replacement materials creates capital expenditure, which needs to reflect not just current capacity needs but also future capacity needs. By using a cloud provider, that overhead is packaged into a predictable monthly fee, creating a consistent budget at expected service-level agreements for IT performance.. This means that the amount of storage provided correlates directly to current need, not what may be needed in six months or a year. If your organization’s growth is slower than expected, then the amount of data stored will grow slowly, and, with a cloud storage provider, the cost will also grow slowly based on usage. For local storage, a lot more of the cost is required up front, and if growth is slower than forecast, the value of the investment will not be realized, and the cost of the data storage being used effectively becomes higher.
Technology is a great enabler, but with that enablement comes the risk of misuse and abuse (whether accidental or deliberate). Legislation has evolved to cover data storage and privacy with wide-ranging laws. The larger the organization, the more legislation there is to comply with—and the requirements increase further for global businesses.
For example, companies that store credit card data must comply with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) legislation. The requirements for PCI compliance run to hundreds of pages, and companies must pay for compliance inspections. Storing personal data creates even greater challenges as the rules can differ by state, country, and region. These rules can include restrictions on where in the world the data can be stored. So a global company that wishes to use local storage will need to have data centers spread around the world.
Cloud storage providers must address these rules, provide the means for customers to effectively comply with them, and demonstrate the highest standards of compliance through regular auditing to remain competitive.
Archival data and backup data are essential to any enterprise. And there are several strategies for storing archives and backups—from keeping them locally at the data center on normal storage mediums to copying and storing removable media in a remote location. Each approach has its pros and cons, but as a backup or archive often needs to be available, access speed is always a critical factor.
In addition to the level of redundancy cloud providers offer, they also address disaster recovery needs by storing data in multiple remote data centers. Beyond risk mitigation, using a cloud storage provider for archives and backup data can help further reduce costs while minimizing any impact on accessibility, allowing for an easy failover restoration whenever necessary.
Across the multiple benefits of cloud storage already discussed, several common themes recur.
There’s only one scenario where cloud storage isn’t viable and that’s when internet dependency isn’t possible. However, this situation only applies to systems that can’t tolerate any form of outside connectivity, such as the control systems of a nuclear reactor. But even organizations looking after such systems have ancillary services that can be safely connected to the internet.
Finally, while cloud storage solves many of the problems related to what data you store and how you store it, the rules you set for who can see your data are critical. And as with local storage, only the customer can know what’s right for their business. After all, you don’t want your cloud storage provider seeing your data and trying to make those decisions for you.