Pros and Cons of Cloud Storage
Cloud storage solutions and services are now ubiquitous. Originally named for the shape used to diagram connectivity between networks, the cloud refers to servers and the corresponding applications, databases and files hosted by those systems.
Just what is cloud storage?
At its simplest, cloud storage services provide on-demand access to application and file data typically housed in a server room or data center. The corresponding network gear, server equipment and data circuits, not to mention security and administration, are almost always the responsibility of the service provider delivering the cloud storage solution.
But, that’s not always the case. Cloud storage services can also be private—in which systems typically are used exclusively by one company.
In practice, there are three types of cloud services:
A public cloud involves cloud storage services provided to a customer by a third party using the public Internet. With a public cloud, multiple organizations typically use the same infrastructure and services. Examples of public cloud storage offerings include Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Oracle Cloud.
A private cloud, however, is a cloud solution in which the infrastructure is built and hosted privately within an organization’s own internal network or data center. An example is a firm that installs servers, network gear and data services connections within its own server room or dedicated data center rack, then connects its various sites to that infrastructure typically using dedicated circuits exclusively used by the firm and no other companies.
A hybrid cloud, meanwhile, uses both public and private infrastructure. The goal is to capitalize on the best features of both public and private clouds, such as the security of a private solution combined with the scalability of a public provider like Microsoft.
Cloud storage services can sometimes prove simplistic, too. Depending upon the device, simple cloud storage applications—such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive—are often available by default. Yet more examples of popular cloud storage solutions include Box, Dropbox and Sync.
Pros and cons of cloud storage
Regardless of the cloud storage solution an organization employs, common advantages typically accompany the technology. As often proves true with any choice, a few drawbacks exist, too.
The pros of cloud storage
Cloud storage advantages are plentiful. The list, while long, begins with a commonly important component: lower costs.
The technology offers organizations lower capital expenses, as firms need not purchase all the corresponding hardware and software. Cloud storage also lowers operational expenses, as companies need not dedicate resources to installing, configuring, securing and backing up the data storage infrastructure. Maintenance costs are eliminated. Outsourcing cloud storage services to a third party offloads all those responsibilities.
Cloud storage services also offer organizations rapid scalability that would, likely, otherwise prove cost prohibitive. By having additional computing capacity and file storage space available on demand at a moment’s notice, without having to first pay to purchase, install and configure the corresponding network gear, server and storage equipment and software, is a significant advantage that again lowers capital expenses while eliminating unnecessary operational costs. With effective cloud storage solutions, firms can ramp up services rapidly and with little planning. Cloud storage provides such agility with no need to pay for expanded capacity until it’s needed.
Performance is another cloud storage advantage. Cloud storage providers regularly make performance-improving investments in data centers, circuits and other infrastructure that would prove prohibitive for individual companies. The resulting available bandwidth, server, application, database, file storage and overall corresponding performance capacities make cost-efficient growth and expansion possible for their customers, typically regardless of industry or size.
Administrative complexities are reduced or eliminated, too, when using cloud storage. An organization’s IT department does not need to spend time managing banks of virtualized servers, monitoring high availability environments, backing up storage area networks or securing sensitive systems. Cloud storage solutions also eliminate the need to patch and update the various supporting components—including standalone servers and operating systems, network switches, SAN and NAS devices and firewalls.
Cybersecurity, ever increasing in importance, often proves another advantage of turning to a third-party cloud storage provider. Whereas cloud storage services companies usually employ teams of highly trained cybersecurity experts, and support these professionals’ efforts via a 24×7 security operations center (SOC), the capabilities typically elude most small and medium businesses and even some large enterprise firms. The importance of protecting sensitive systems, data and information can, subsequently, be addressed while simultaneously offloading the actual work of setting up, administering, maintaining and securing the outsourced systems.
Another important advantage cloud storage solutions provide is uptime. When hosting servers within its own server room or even a dedicated data center, firms maintaining their own systems must also manage and monitor availability. These standalone systems must also sometimes be taken offline to permit patching and updating. Cloud storage providers typically build their systems to deliver high availability by leveraging strategies that permit accommodating updates without impacting availability. Subsequently, they leverage server virtualization, high availability environments, systems redundancy and continual systems monitoring and response. Many other organizations, particularly SMBs, simply can’t compete providing equivalent operational environments and uptime levels.
Easy to overlook is the fact cloud storage providers also provide a business continuity and disaster response (BCDR)-friendly application, database and file storage solution. Because the heavy lifting of hardware administration and software support and maintenance is offloaded to the services provider, and because the cloud storage provider assumes responsibility for backing up the applications, databases and data maintained on its systems, as well as the burdens of delivering high availability, replicating production environments to multiple locations (which also helps protect against downtime due to natural disasters) and implementing and maintaining cybersecurity protections and defending against malicious encryption, cloud storage services can become a natural extension of organizations’ BCDR efforts. Trying to build independent redundant data centers and systems, and maintaining continual replication between those sites, is a tall order for even enterprise organizations and usually exceeds the expertise, budget and capabilities small and medium businesses possess.
The benefits of cloud storage don’t end there, though. In an age when many organizations are converting to work-from-home environments and supporting employees, contractors and other authorized users working from alternative locations, all that’s typically required for these remote workers, other than proper permissions and credentials, is an Internet connection. Considering the preexisting dependence remote-working users already have for reliable Internet connectivity, the requirement becomes similar to electricity, in that the dependency is typically already in place.
The cons of cloud storage
As with many technologies, cloud storage presents a few disadvantages. Some of the disadvantages can be mediated by adopting a private model, should any of the disadvantages prove significant for an organization based on its specific needs. In other cases, a hybrid cloud environment might prove more appropriate.
Here’s a look at each potential cloud storage disadvantage, as well as potential workarounds sometimes adopted by organizations seeking to tap cloud storage advantages.
Likely the biggest hurdle for some firms are compliance requirements. Not all public cloud providers implement cloud services in a way that meets all industries’ requirements. In such cases a private cloud configuration can address any shortfalls, such as auditing all file changes or retaining records for a sustained period of time and in a location where they are inaccessible to other users. Organizations should always review a potential cloud storage solutions’ capabilities, and compare those capabilities to the industry or governmental regulations governing their industry, before proceeding. That said, many cloud storage services prove surprisingly compatible with even demanding industry requirements. Dropbox, for example, is both HIPAA and HITECH compliant, when deployed properly.
Another drawback to cloud storage services, one that proves difficult to address even when moving to a private or hybrid cloud when also needing to meet business continuity, data redundancy and rapid recovery requirements, including from alternative locations, is the need for robust Internet connectivity. Without reliable Internet access or a dependable dedicated circuit or VPN by which a cloud services provider can be reached, cloud storage proves inaccessible. Thanks to modern physical premises security systems, email, messaging, collaboration tools and the prevalence of other online applications and services, being without Internet connectivity is rarely a persistent issue anymore for any firm, but the problem can still arise, including due to an outage. Organizations, subsequently, should consider and plan alternative connections when moving any essential workflows to cloud storage providers.
Security, of course, is a two-edged sword. Outsourcing cloud storage security to a third-party vendor offloads cybersecurity responsibilities. Cloud storage providers go to great lengths to secure data centers and any corresponding proprietary applications they provide, their own production systems and cloud storage services and even their headquarters’ offices. Yet, anomalies can occur. Some customers, too, insist on ever sophisticated and complex cybersecurity standards. Or, just having sensitive data in the cloud or subject to access by authorized remote workers can present potential additional risk, at least as compared to building and maintaining a tightly secured local network. As a result, a third-party cloud storage provider may introduce security concerns, some of which might be addressed by moving to a private cloud or even a hybrid cloud environment.
Some organizations, too, lament the simple loss of control that occurs when outsourcing file, application or database storage and services to a cloud provider. Adopting a private or hybrid cloud strategy can minimize some of the resulting data, operational or security sensitivity, but additional infrastructure is required, which makes administration more complex. Compatibility, too, can prove a problem, such as when some workers use unsupported operating systems or seek to access and manipulate data in nontraditional ways.
Most every professional observer must admit cloud storage services’ benefits exceed potential drawbacks. Depending upon an organization’s specific needs and requirements, a few common workarounds can typically address problems, while permitting firms to realize the cloud’s many advantages.
Have questions as to how your organization can best benefit from cloud storage? Contact a Louisville Geek technical expert by emailing [email protected] or calling 502-897-7577.