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5 advantages of cloud storage

Unlimited capacity, multi-tenancy and built-in disaster recovery are a few of the cloud storage benefits administrators can use to help solve data storage challenges.

When contemplating a move to a cloud or multi-cloud storage environment, data storage administrators should consider the advantages of cloud storage associated with such a decision. For example, traditional data storage systems have limits on capacity, while cloud storage services offer unprecedented scalability. In addition, cloud storage lets admins take advantage of multi-tenancy and avoid the headaches associated with data migrations.

What follows is a list of five cloud storage advantages and the ways they help users combat some common IT problems.

1. Scalability

Traditional storage systems and their scale-out storage variations have hard limits on capacity, performance and, in the case of NAS, files and objects. As a result, more storage systems are deployed as data scales. These systems require more backups, data archiving, management tasks and staff.

Cloud storage providers mitigate this problem by making it possible to add more capacity and objects and enhance performance whenever a new node is added to the cloud. This is possible because object storage emphasizes loosely federated individual data slices. Block and file storage necessitate consistent storage systems across all the resident data.

Cloud storage has no need for a single or aggregated namespace governing all the data. Instead, it uses a looser federation of individual data elements that control their own destiny. This eliminates the need for cache coherency across the entire system, the need for every node to be aware of the objects that other nodes own and the concept of ownership of a piece of data by a physical node.

The result is data scales based on rules about the data itself, rather than about the system. As long as the data meets specified policies about how many copies it needs to have and where it can live, the system can grow and scale nearly indefinitely.

Scalability is a particular advantage of a multi-cloud storage strategy. With a multi-cloud environment, policies assign data to specific locations, enabling more automation and scalability and making software development and other applications more efficient.

2. Flexibility

Limited metadata is a drawback of most storage systems. True, NAS systems have more metadata than SAN or DAS systems, but it is still limited. The dearth of metadata limits what can be automated.

Here, again, cloud computing and cloud storage advantages come into play. Cloud storage allows for much more metadata and enables exceptional customized control over data for specific business and system functions. In turn, data can be manipulated based on policy triggers and scaled on rules. Those rules automate many traditional, manually intensive tasks such as tiered storage, security, migration, redundancy and deletion.

Instead of the traditional approach of tightly coupling data to its location, cloud storage dynamically lays out data and automatically optimizes it. It then moves data nondisruptively based on policies. This contrasts with traditional storage where administrators must intervene to decide the placement of each individual object and then move it manually when they think they should. Greater automation ultimately equals significantly less management.

A multi-cloud approach adds another layer of flexibility to an enterprise cloud strategy. In particular, it eliminates the threat of vendor lock-in, offering greater portability among various environments. With a multi-cloud strategy, it's faster and easier to move applications and data from on-premises storage to the cloud and from one cloud to another.

The flexibility provided by a multi-cloud architecture enables businesses to respond quickly to changing business requirements. For instance, IT can immediately respond to unexpected demand for more storage when a new sales campaign is launched and provide temporary resources for a new analytics project.

Five advantages of cloud storage

3. Multi-tenancy

Traditional storage systems and their scale-out derivatives were never designed for multi-tenancy. Security, billing and chargeback are all bolted-on vs. built-in. A significant advantage of cloud storage is that custom metadata provides unprecedented layers of security. Each object or file functions as autonomous data instances carrying a broad swath of controlled and restricted access policies for distinct parties. Built-in encryption is provided both in-flight and at-rest.

Some cloud storage services also include erasure codes that add another layer of security. Even if someone were able to crack the encryption, they would have to intercept at least 12 data streams, which is unlikely, and as many as 64 data streams, which is highly unlikely, just to read the data.

4. No disruptive data migrations

Every time storage systems are refreshed -- typically every three years -- data must be migrated. This is a time-consuming and costly process. Data migrations often last multiple quarters, during which both systems must be powered, cooled and, of course, paid for.

Because it's based on object storage, one of the advantages of cloud storage is that it eliminates disruptive data migrations that are the result of tech refresh cycles and makes tech refresh an easy, online task. This is done by adding new nodes, such as SSDs, to the system. These new nodes are immediately discovered and used, while old nodes are retired whenever required. The data that was on the retired nodes is simply recreated elsewhere. This removes downtime and server remediation from the upgrade process.

There are several ways to move data out of cloud storage to on-premises storage or to another cloud storage service. If the data resides on a virtual machine instance in the cloud, that VM can be replicated on premises or in another cloud. If you originally moved data to cloud storage via a caching cloud integrated storage system or a cloud tiering system, you can use that system to move the data to another storage system on premises or in another cloud. A third way to move data out of cloud storage is to deploy a storage system on the same cloud, move the data to that system and then delete it from the original service provider's cloud. The storage system with the data can then be installed on premises or in the cloud where the data will reside.

5. Disaster recovery cost reduction

Costs associated with disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plans are a challenge for most IT shops. That's because systems and software licenses often have to be replicated at another data center. Many organizations have DR plans that call for a remote site, some more than 100 miles away from headquarters, to mirror the metropolitan site. You can see how easily costs can double and triple.

Cloud storage completely changes the DR equation because no additional data centers are required. Data and applications can be automatically replicated from a private cloud to a public cloud or to multiple public clouds at a fraction of the budget required to build or lease another data center. This is an inherent cloud storage capability.

Using multiple clouds in a DR strategy provides an added level of reliability and security.

When the use of multiple cloud services came into vogue, disaster recovery was one of the early use cases, appealing to admins who questioned the reliability of a single cloud in the event of a disaster. Any one cloud provider may have data centers located across multiple regions and be able to ensure a level of redundancy, but there's still the possibility a zero-day attack or some other incident could hit that cloud on a global scale.

Using multiple clouds in a DR strategy provides an added level of reliability and security. A multi-cloud storage strategy provides redundancy that can't be had with a single cloud provider. The ideal situation is to put critical data and resources on one cloud close at hand and replicate them to other providers' clouds in geographically diverse regions. If one cloud service provider were to experience a global failure, the others could step in.

Cloud and multi-cloud storage have advantages, but there are also challenges. For instance, as with cloud backup, cloud storage can get complex quickly, especially when multiple clouds are involved; data governance and compliance are tricky; determining and predicting costs isn't always easy; and security continues to require extra attention. However, when the five cloud storage advantages discussed in this article are considered, it's easy to see why a cloud or multi-cloud strategy is more effective than traditional offerings in today's storage environments.

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