Cloud storage is a service model in which data is transmitted and stored on remote storage systems, where it is maintained, managed, backed up and made available to users over a network (typically the internet). Users generally pay for their cloud data storage on a per-consumption, monthly rate. Although the per-gigabyte cost has been radically driven down, cloud storage providers have added operating expenses that can make the technology considerably more expensive to use. The security of cloud storage services continues to be a concern among users. Service providers have tried to allay those fears by enhancing their security capabilities by incorporating data encryption, multi-factor authentication and improved physical security into their services.
Cloud storage characteristics
Cloud storage is based on a virtualized infrastructure with accessible interfaces, near-instant elasticity and scalability, multi-tenancy and metered resources. Cloud-based data is stored in logical pools across disparate, commodity servers located on premises or in a data center managed by a third-party cloud provider. Using the RESTful API, an object storage protocol stores a file and its associated metadata as a single object and assigns it an ID number. When content needs to be retrieved, the user presents the ID to the system and the content is assembled with all its metadata, authentication and security.
In recent years, object storage vendors have added file system functions and capabilities to their object storage software and hardware largely because object storage was not being adopted fast enough. For example, a cloud storage gateway can provide a file system emulation front end to their object storage; that arrangement often allows applications to access the data without actually supporting an object storage protocol. All backup applications use the object storage protocol, which is one of the reasons why online backup to a cloud service was the initial successful application for cloud storage.
Most commercial cloud storage services use vast numbers of hard drive storage systems mounted in servers that are linked by a mesh-like network architecture. Service providers have also added high-performance layers to their virtual storage offerings, typically comprising some type of solid state drives (SSDs). High-performance clouds storage is generally most effective if the servers and applications accessing the storage are also resident in the cloud environment.
Companies that use public cloud storage need to have the appropriate network access to the hosting service.
Cloud storage considerations
To determine whether using cloud storage will realize operational efficiencies and be cost-effective, a company must:
Compare the one-time and recurring costs of purchasing and managing storage capacity in-house versus the ongoing costs of storing and accessing data in the cloud.
Determine if additional telecommunications expenses will be required for the appropriate access to the service provider.
Decide if the cloud storage service provides adequate security and data governance.
Develop in-house procedures for access and use of cloud storage to maintain effective management of data and control expenses.
Cloud storage uses
The most common use cases are cloud backup, disaster recovery and archiving infrequently accessed data. A greater number of customers also use cloud storage services for DevOps as a capital cost-cutting measure. They can just spin up the compute and storage resources for the duration of the project development and testing, and then spin them down when it ends.
Increasingly, organizations are moving key applications to the cloud as the service providers have improved performance and tightened security.
Companies that experience substantial seasonal fluctuations in their data creation volume, can tap into cloud storage to handle these bursts of data creation activity.
For small to medium-sized companies, some specialized cloud storage services, such as file sync and share, may be useful on an individual server or user basis. The file syncing features of these services ensure that the versions of files stored locally on the sync client — a server or end user’s PC — and in the cloud are consistent. Versioning and file sharing capabilities also are often included.