Cloud storage adoption slow; cloud data backup leads the way

Cloud storage adoption rates are low according to market research, with most of the interest among early adopters around cloud data backup. But drawbacks remain even for that cloud service type.

Research indicates that cloud storage adoption is a lot more talk than action so far, and what little action there is involves cloud data backup.

In a recent report titled "Business Users are Not Ready for Cloud Storage," Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. revealed that 43% of the 1,272 businesses they surveyed weren't interested in cloud storage and another 43% were interested but had no immediate plans for cloud storage adoption.

And a survey of 309 Fortune 1000 and midsize enterprise storage pros conducted late last year by New York City-based TheInfoPro listed cloud storage last among technologies likely to make an impact this year.

Dave Russell, a Tucson, Ariz.-based research vice president at Gartner Inc., said during informal polls taken at Gartner's 28th Annual Data Center Conference in December 2009 that storage users "were very skeptical" about the cloud. "I'll bet in a year from now we get different survey results, but now they're appropriately cautious," he said.

Data backup appears to be the one area where the door is open for the cloud. The Forrester survey found that 16% of respondent firms have some backup as a service compared with 3% overall for storage as a service (SaaS), and another 10% plan to implement a backup service compared with 8% for overall storage.

"Why the greater interest and adoption of backup-as-a-service?" wrote Reichman in the Forrester report. "First, it's a complete service offering, not just CPU or storage capacity; you get the backup software intelligence and storage capacity in a fully managed service. Second, it's involving a very specific pain point. … This is in contrast to storage-as-a-service offerings where the user has to figure out how to put it all together." Reichman also pointed out that there are already mature backup services on the market.

Lauren Whitehouse, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Mass., agrees that data backup is a good starting point for the cloud. "Backup is an easy application for people to take advantage of," she said. "Cloud storage is just a copy and most people are afraid of relinquishing control of primary data."

Cloud data backup services are often deployed using a hybrid model involving some infrastructure on premise integrated with an organization's in-house backup tools. "When data's written [by a backup tool] in a proprietary format, encrypted and compressed, they don't feel a lot of vulnerability," Whitehouse said. "It's not a strategic IT operation, so not a lot of end users feel like they have to do it themselves."

Cloud data backup still has drawbacks, though. Many organizations are worried about data security and large shops are also avoiding external public clouds for backup and disaster recovery (DR) because the bandwidth of the public Internet can't handle multiple terabytes to be backed up within a certain time window.

Still, some organizations find public clouds the most cost-effective alternative for getting data offsite. Jay Vlavianos, director of production operations and IT at eCast Network, a company that maintains digital jukeboxes and touchscreen kiosks at nightclubs and sports stadiums, found Amazon's Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) far cheaper for storing copies of music files and other content than building out a DR site.

"The service is still relatively immature, but I've never seen anything so cheap," Vlavianos said of Amazon S3, which he estimates saved the company $130,000 in additional operational and equipment costs it would have taken to expand the DR site. "The most important thing is the operational costs. At a DR site if I had a problem, I'd have to handle it remotely and open a ticket with a vendor. If Amazon has a problem, they handle that part on their end and I don't notice it."

Other issues come into play for organizations using the cloud. Service-level agreements (SLAs) are crucial when sending critical data offsite to a public cloud service. ESG's Whitehouse said this is one area where cloud customers must be especially careful when dealing with cloud storage service providers.

"Generally, SLAs have to do with access to the service, not to data," she said. "Generally, the service has to be down more than 10 minutes before it's considered an outage, so two nine-minute outages in an hour don't count as an outage. If there's an outage of the service, they just adjust the bill –- that's the kind of game that gets played. You have to ask, 'What about access to data?'"

Cloud storage adoption concerns: data retention, migration

Brandon Jackson, chief information officer for Gaston County, N.C., said a question he asks when considering cloud storage adoption is: "What are the provider's retention rules? Big organizations are already struggling with data lifecycle management policies rules and procedures."

Jackson said there's still too much risk with trusting data management and corporate government to a third party. "A lot of data sharing, intentional and unintentional, will occur as people move toward this model," he said.

Another consideration for most large organizations is that they've heavily invested in storage networks, so why scrap what they have for a new model? Brad Blake, director of infrastructure and engineering at Boston Medical Center (BMC) in Massachusetts, said he can see the cloud's appeal for a new company or one just starting to build out its storage infrastructure, but the cost benefits aren't as apparent with a large infrastructure already in place.

In Blake's case, BMC has been scaling its storage to deal with digital data that grew from 1 TB five years ago to more than 1 PB now.

"People like me have spent a ton of money, time and resources ramping up [infrastructure] for the storage explosion," Blake said. "And the time it took to get applications to work on the SAN and vendors to sign off on it … "

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