The Upsides and the Downsides of Cloud-Based Storage

Looking to make a move? Be sure to evaluate all the pros and the cons of cloud storage providers.

More and more, cloud services are popping up all over the Internet to help companies solve both niche problems as well as replace what might be difficult legacy services. One of the prime battles being waged today revolves around storage. Should storage remain on-premises or should organizations consider moving some or all of their storage into a cloud environment? I'll walk you through some pros and cons of cloud storage in this article to help you frame your decision.

Pro: It's Happening Anyway
This is more an advisory than a pro. It's just a fact. People in your organization are already using these services. The challenges is in figuring out who is using what and it's more than likely than there are many, many different services being used by different users in the organization. This presents a major challenge for IT organizations that are charged with ongoing data protection management tasks. If IT doesn't know where files are being stored, the organization runs a major risk when it comes to compliance and data recovery tasks.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you just turn off your storage arrays and give up. Cloud storage is just one option among many in the storage spectrum. Organizations need to take care with what kinds of items to choose to store in the cloud and what they need to keep on premises.

Pro: Cost of Entry and Potential Ongoing Cost Savings
One of the beauties of cloud-based storage services is the fact that there are no upfront or ongoing capital costs that need to be expended in order to use the solution. Costs are generally operational pay-as-you-go services so the organization just has to pay for what it is using at any point in time. The lack of initial capital expense significantly lowers the barrier to entry to storage services.

On an ongoing basis, costs may be further reduced if the organization is able to either eliminate storage administration positions or retask those positions to other purposes.

Pro: Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device
Once something is in the cloud, it's basically available from anywhere without IT organizations needing to implement complex VPN mechanisms for access. Today's companies are looking more and more like 24/7 operations, so anytime, anywhere access plays well into work patterns that are already in place. Further, as organizations seek to embrace bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives, cloud providers are almost universally ahead of what's available with on-premises solutions. Almost all of the major cloud storage players have access clients available for a broad range of devices.

Watch Out: Potential Outages and Security Issues
I struggle with whether to define this as a "watch out" or just as a reality. After all, local on-premises storage can fail, which would also result in an outage. As such, compared to traditional storage, this is a neutral item. However, if you are considering cloud-based storage for your organization, you should consider your chosen provider's history with outages and security issues and, more importantly, understand how well (or how poorly) they handled such issues. Every provider will eventually have an issue, but how they respond and learn from such issues is the key differentiator.

Watch Out: Potential Cost Surges
When you buy local storage, you know exactly what you're buying and what you're paying for that storage, right down to the per-gigabyte cost. You also have the ability to obtain deep metrics regarding that storage so that you understand current usage and, more importantly, future needs so that you can plan accordingly.

With cloud storage, you're in someone else's environment and may not have the level of control that you enjoy with local storage. Further, since storage is no longer a "sunk cost," your company may more carefully scrutinize what is being stored. After all, when there is a monthly invoice to pay, financial folks will always want to make sure that the return on that investment is as high as possible.

If you have people used to storing every byte under the sun, including their personal music collections, on your storage and these items are simply copied to the cloud, your costs could skyrocket. It's important to keep a watchful eye on what is being stored and implement policies to reduce the amount of waste.

Moreover, as is the case with any provider, it's entirely possible that your provider will significantly increase costs in the future. It's important to always have the ability to back out of the service and move to something else if the costs become too great or if the provider fails to provide the desired level of service.

Watch Out: Connectivity
This item aligns a bit with the anytime, anywhere, any device item, but I separate it for a reason. There remain many areas of the United States and the rest of the world that do not enjoy high bandwidth Internet service and are still forced to contend with dial up or satellite providers. As organizations make their move to the cloud, Internet connectivity must be a factor in that decision. Some of the potential savings from a move to the cloud should be reinvested in this supporting connectivity to ensure that the initiative doesn't suffer from a lack of bandwidth.


About the Author

Scott D. Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of The 1610 Group, a strategic and tactical IT consulting firm based in the Midwest. Scott has been in the IT field for close to 20 years and spent 10 of those years in filling the CIO role for various organizations. He's also either authored or co-authored four books and is the creator of 10 video training courses for TrainSignal.

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