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Coping with cloud storage: Editorial

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Coping with cloud storage


You're spinning the radio dial for a tune to take your mind off the bumper-to-bumper traffic. But before you can turn to another station, it happens: you hear Barry Manilow crooning "At the Copa, Copacabana. The hottest spot north of Havana." And now you're doomed to hear that song in your head for weeks to come.

These days, I get the same feeling about cloud storage. It seems like every storage and online services company is singing the praises of shipping your data off to ... a cloud. Maybe it's the word "cloud" that's hanging me up. "Where are the contracts, customer lists and proposals?" you ask. "Ummm, we put that in the cloud." It just doesn't inspire confidence.

I'm not opposed to the concept of cloud storage. I actually think it will play a big role some day. Back in my April editorial, I said there are "compelling reasons to consider these services." I still think that's true, but I also believe these storage services need to dig a little deeper to become serious alternatives.

Even as the spate of new online storage services seems to grow each day, this cloud does have a bit of a gray lining. AOL recently announced that Xdrive is getting the axe, ending its three-year run as an AOL product. And a couple of other smaller storage services have closed up shop, telling users to download their data or risk losing

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it all.

This isn't the stuff enterprise-worthy services are made of. Maybe we're on the precipice of what Gartner calls the "trough of disillusionment," a term the analyst firm uses to describe the phase of the hype cycle when products fail to meet users' needs and fall from favor.

Whether we're looking up from the bottom of the so-called trough or not, there are three basic hurdles online storage services need to overcome to avoid going belly up with their customers' data wafting into the ether.

  1. Online storage services have to be 100% reliable. That doesn't mean a refund if your data is lost; it means that it can never happen. Online services have to be even more reliable than in-house data protection because you're not going to send your data into a cloud just for convenience sake. You're doing it because the service will--ostensibly--do a better job of protecting it than you can.


  2. They have to be able to scale. Few of the current online storage services can handle the amount of data that even some small businesses generate and need to back up. The services must accommodate an organization's growth (as in tens of terabytes) without any detrimental effects on performance. This will require some pretty clever technology to deal with limited bandwidth and growing data volumes. And when online storage services scale, they have to do it economically.


  3. Online storage has to get cheaper. When you first look at a rate table for online storage services, the prices seem reasonable enough. But that's when you're just uploading pictures of Muffy the cat wearing a Halloween costume. For businesses, even cheapie rates of less than a buck per gigabyte per server can add up to some serious dough as data volumes grow and multiple servers need protecting. At only 50 cents per gig, backing up a terabyte would cost $500 a month plus a flat monthly fee; that's more than $6,000 a year. That's a lot of money for a relatively modest amount of backup data, and enough money to buy a bunch of 1TB disks.
It would also probably help if the services had grown-up names. Monikers like Mozy, Elephant-Drive, Go Daddy and FlipDrive don't sound, well, serious enough to be enterprise contenders.

That's my prescription for cloud storage, but I have to go. I'm off to the "Copa, Copacabana."

This was first published in September 2008

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