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Flexibility a Prerequisite to Avoiding Storage Cloud Lock-in

One of the barometers that can be used to gauge the popularity of a specific topic among readers on the Internet is the frequency for which they search for it on Google. In that sense, it is noteworthy that Google searches for “cloud storage” started to take off in late 2007 according to a Google trends report and have only increased since. But as organizations in 2009 move from searching for and reading about cloud storage to actually selecting cloud storage solutions, they need to ensure it offers flexibility to avoid public storage cloud lock-in.

Cloud storage is breaking down into two distinct camps: private and public storage clouds. Private storage clouds were discussed in a previous DCIG blog in terms of the attributes that they possess and what is motivating organizations to adopt them.

Public storage clouds are a bit of a different animal. They align more closely with the common definition of “cloud storage” but are developing their own set of characteristics that should influence which public storage cloud offering an organization selects. One such feature that an organization may not initially consider in their evaluation process is how flexible the public storage cloud solution is.

Understanding a public storage cloud’s flexibility is not as intuitive as it may sound. Most organizations assume they will fall into the category of being either a public storage cloud consumer or a provider. A public storage cloud consumer anticipates obtaining storage on demand from a public storage cloud provider. Conversely, a public cloud storage provider may only look to offer cloud-based storage services to subscribing clients.

A few organizations may even fall into a third category that both subscribes to and provides a public storage cloud. This category is primarily reserved for those few enterprise organizations such as telcos that may have the infrastructure, IT staff and business model to support offering a public storage cloud that serves both internal and external clients.

However a fourth category also exists that organizations may fall into sooner rather than later. Classified this way, an organization starts out as public cloud storage consumer but eventually decides to become a public storage cloud provider driven by data inaccessibility, increasing costs or inadequate capacity (network or storage) from its current public storage cloud provider. Once this scenario presents itself, suddenly an organization has a very real desire to go it alone only to find out that they are locked-in because the technology their provider uses is not available for them to purchase.

Already this issue is surfacing among those organizations that have subscribed to online backup offerings that are a forerunner of the current public storage cloud trend. The challenge that early consumers of online backup services are encountering is that as they store more data with a provider, their costs inevitably go up.

So while using an online backup service is initially more economical than doing backup themselves, as they store more backup data with an online backup provider, eventually it reaches the point that the annual cost of the monthly service now exceeds what it would cost for them to provide the service themselves. However they find themselves in a position where they can do nothing or minimally their options are extremely limited since they cannot purchase the online backup software. It is for this reason that some online backup providers are making their software available for purchase not just to service providers but to enterprises as well so organizations have the option to host online backup services themselves.

Organization should expect to eventually face a similar decision when storing their data with a public storage cloud provider. While they may initially want to store data with a public storage cloud provider for ease of startup, if data availability, increased monthly storage costs, or inadequate performance ever becomes an issue, having the option to bring their public storage cloud in-house can start to look very appealing. However that may only be a possibility if the underlying public cloud storage solution that the provider uses is available for purchase by the organization.

This is already happening to some degree. By way of example, Symantec is already thinking along these lines. It is designing its new FileStore product so either enterprises or service providers that wish to offer cloud storage services can procure it and do so. Designed this way, it gives organizations the flexibility to first use public cloud storage from a provider with FileStore as its underlying while giving organizations the option to purchase the FileStore solution directly from Symantec and implement it in-house should they ever decide to do so. (Note: As of the writing of this blog, FileStore in its first release is intended for use only as a private storage cloud though Symantec plans to offer a public storage cloud option for FileStore and make that functionality available in the future.)

Public storage clouds provide organizations with some exciting new options for lowering their upfront storage costs while also meeting immediate storage needs. However public storage cloud technology is no panacea and organizations should carefully weigh their options as they seek a provider for this service. As part of the decision, organizations need to determine if the flexibility to purchase the underlying technology that powers their provider’s public cloud storage offering will eventually become a requirement. Based on what DCIG has already seen occur in the online backup space, having this flexibility is an absolute necessity.

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