This content is part of the Buyer's Guide: How to navigate the public cloud service provider selection process

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Public cloud storage services offer scalability and performance

Public cloud storage providers help organizations offload their physical hardware and associated costs, including power, cooling and server maintenance.

Many organizations use a combination of public, private and hybrid clouds, but public cloud storage services are especially appealing. They are cost-effective and offer scalability, reliability and performance benefits.

Using public cloud storage services lets organizations offload management tasks and the costs associated with supporting physical hardware to an external provider. An organization's data is stored in the provider's data center and the provider manages and maintains all facets of the data center, including power, cooling and server maintenance. As a result, organizations don't have to worry about archive planning, implementing security practices or conducting resource planning for future data growth.

Public cloud storage services are also cost-effective; organizations pay only for the resources they use. Public cloud storage provides a scalable and agile environment for businesses to increase or decrease storage on demand.

Organizations use the public cloud to store both structured and unstructured data. Many applications that have made their way to the cloud -- such as those that use back-end databases or structured data -- handle data from applications that tie directly into cloud database services. This type of cloud storage environment is appealing to companies that are either just starting out and don't want to purchase hardware or that are looking for scalable storage that doesn't require a large capital expenditure.

How do public cloud storage services work?

Public cloud storage allows for multi-tenant access to the cloud provider's infrastructure. Storage access is provided via the public cloud provider's API, which can upload, retrieve and manage data in the cloud. The API lets applications view cloud storage as a target and treat the data as if it were local. This is different from traditional storage offerings, where all of the targets are local to the network.

But a storage administrator must still choose the appropriate volume sizes, storage types, IOPS and archive features. Depending on the public cloud storage provider a company selects, the options and cost will vary. For example, some public cloud storage services offer either block or object storage.

For block storage, the customer can select the media type, volume size, and maximum IOPS and throughput per volume and per instance. The price depends on performance levels, capacity and whether data protection features, such as snapshots, are implemented.

Object storage is priced per capacity and by how frequently users access the data. There is standard access object storage, infrequent access object storage and cold object storage, for data that almost never needs to be retrieved from the cloud.

Many public cloud storage providers offer these options, but they don't all offer every service. These additional features are what make cloud storage even more attractive to potential customers, and it is what differentiates public cloud vendors from each other.

Added performance among key public cloud storage benefits

A cloud environment provides computing and performance benefits that aren't available from a locally installed storage network. For example, elastic storage allows companies to grow and shrink their storage capacity on demand. If a company has peak demand periods, it doesn't have to keep the maximum amount of storage for the full year.

Public clouds also support replication between geographic zones, which provides the ability to fail over and fail back between zones. These features increase the uptime and performance of an application. Having storage in multiple locations globally also secures data against an outage due to a disaster in one area of the world.

Security and compliance in the cloud

The multi-tenant architecture of the public cloud can raise security concerns because data from multiple companies is stored on the same hardware. Cloud security has evolved, however. The risk of data from another customer being accessed from the same shared infrastructure has been significantly reduced. The larger vendors have controls in place to ensure that another customer's data cannot be viewed, and there are tools to detect and correct security vulnerabilities.

Many public cloud storage providers can log who accessed which data and when. They also offer access control lists that limit which actions a user can perform on certain storage objects. Providers can encrypt this data in transit and at rest, but key management -- or how a vendor secures the encryption keys for a company's storage -- varies among public cloud vendors.

Most of the larger public cloud storage services have built-in compliance. However, ultimately, companies must determine which data requires a dedicated infrastructure and which data can share an infrastructure in the public cloud. Financial firms, healthcare organizations and other companies have stringent security and compliance regulations they must follow to ensure the privacy and integrity of their data.

The pricing model for public cloud storage can be granular. Many providers offer monthly subscriptions and only charge companies if they use the storage. The options public cloud storage services offer allow companies to address their needs for the data in use. These options might include the ability to have primary storage, secondary storage and archival storage.

Uses for public cloud storage

The following examples can be used to help companies make a business case for moving their storage to the public cloud.

Backing up data. Many organizations use the public cloud as an off-site target for backups because it's flexible and allows them to recover from disasters quickly.

Long-term storage archival. By using less expensive disks to archive data, organizations can keep seldom-accessed records off site.

Disaster recovery. The public cloud boosts recovery time because data is available on demand.

Capacity on demand. Unlike on-premises storage, public cloud storage services allow companies to add incremental capacity for peak processing times.

Development and testing. The pay as you go model can help an organization reduce costs, as customers can develop and test application code in the cloud or add features and functions to an application.

Distribute data regionally and globally. Not only is storage in the cloud flexible, but it can quickly be distributed worldwide because high-availability zones and redundancy are built in. Users and applications from across the globe can access public cloud storage with ease and flexibility. This provides the additional benefit of quicker download times for customers by region.

The public cloud storage market

New cloud storage service providers are challenging the early players in the market. Amazon is still the clear leader in the field, but Microsoft Azure is making strides to make the public cloud market competitive. Google is also pushing into the public cloud storage market, and it will make availability and pricing even more aggressive. These three vendors make up the majority of the public cloud market. There are smaller vendors that have similar offerings, but they are not as robust. 

Next Steps

Ten questions to ask before you select a public cloud storage provider

What you need to know if you're considering a hybrid cloud

When cloud backups don't make sense

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