• 04/11/2012
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Cloud Storage Decoded

Based on 14 vendor responses to our Buyer's Guide, we unravel services for backup, file sync, and more.
The 14 participants in our buyer's guide span the cloud storage spectrum. We sought to separate features into categories: those common across various types of services, relevant to business users and consumers, and those of most interest to enterprise IT. We asked about platform support--which devices and operating systems can access the service; access method, whether a Web-based API, WebDAV, NAS protocols, or FTP/SFTP; user and group management and integration with enterprise directories like Active Directory and LDAP; file size limits, if any; support for mobile devices; data security, both encryption of data at rest and use of SSL or an alternative secure network protocol; data redundancy across multiple data centers; types of backup jobs, including full, incremental, and differential; scheduling options; and more.

All of the business-oriented products feature a central management console, with support for individual user accounts and AD integration. Eran Farajun, executive VP at Asigra, a backup software company that supplies a variety of cloud services, says that integration with pre-existing credentials systems should be table stakes for any enterprise cloud storage or backup offering, and we agree. Most services mirror data across sites, but some don't or charge extra; pay attention to this if you need top-notch service availability and disaster recovery protection.

Decision Points

When selecting cloud storage, do an apples-to-apples TCO comparison. Specific areas to check include the ease with which you can move data between the cloud and on-premises systems, particularly if you may need to pull stored data back in-house. Also look at data availability and the service-level agreements different vendors offer, as well as security and support for customized information management and retention policies. We discuss these in depth in our full report.

For purposes of comparison in our pricing scenario, we assumed a 500-GB data set for companies with no capacity cap. Not surprisingly, all the vendors responding to our guide use a monthly subscription model, often discounting annual commitments, with usage and capacity-based pricing.

However, some vendors offer unlimited storage for a set price, averaging about 25 cents per gigabyte per month, while others allow for capping or throttling bandwidth usage at the client, helpful for those worried about clogging undersized WAN circuits. Carbonite automatically cuts upload speeds once a particular backup job exceeds 35 GB or 200 GB, depending on the service plan.

Three Ways
To Use Cloud Storage
1. Want off-site backup? If so, do you need to protect PCs, Macs, mobile devices, servers--or all of the above? Ensure your VMs and hypervisor platform are supported.
2. Want a file sharing platform or collaboration and cross-device synchronization? Decide if you need a local copy of data or can restore directly from the cloud. Opt for services with at least iOS and Android support.
3. Want an off-site data repository for a custom app or DIY backup? Cloud backup means adopting a new set of software and processes. If you're happy with the system you have, consider integrating a service like Amazon S3 into your existing stack.

Align the price of a backup service plan to the value and timeliness of the data. Active, recently used data needs a service with higher reliability--for example, replicated to two or more physical sites--and shorter guaranteed RTOs. If using the cloud for long-term archiving, look for services that automatically migrate older, less-used data to less-expensive storage tiers, with associated lower monthly rates.

Finally, don't forget the growing importance of mobile devices for both ad hoc file sharing and backup. Before signing up for a cloud backup service specifically tailored to mobile devices, check your mobile device management suite. MDM systems, which manage everything from device configuration to security policies, often include a backup component sourced from one of the cloud providers we've profiled.

Conversely, if you've settled on a cloud backup provider for PCs and are shopping for an MDM suite, ask whether the product's backup capabilities can be integrated with the cloud service you use for PCs. And when evaluating cloud file sharing--in contrast to backup services--opt for those with a mobile client. The more you can simplify the service and give users one provider to deal with, the better your adoption rates.

Let's face it, drop-shipping mobile and home-office-based employees external disks and expecting them to be diligent about backing up their data was always a risky proposition. Just as music and movies have migrated online, cloud storage has evolved and matured to the point that many users see it as just another location for their data. This is one area where consumerization can benefit IT.

chart: Do you use cloud storage services?


re: Cloud Storage Decoded

Is anyone else starting to see duplicate file bloat?
What I mean is, the problem with these cloud sync services that are based on you putting your files in there own sync folder...
Well, if you are like me and have a SkyDrive, DropBox, now Google Drive... each requiring you put the files you want synced into there individual sync folders...
Now I have THREE duplication's on an already full C drive (yes, I am able to put SkyDrive and DropBox on D drive. But that's not really my point).
Three duplication's! Really? Why can't these sync services do like SugarSync (and I only mention SugarSync because they don't care where your files are, which is a GREAT model. I don't particularly like SugarSync as a company) and let you select the folders you want to sync from anywhere on your local system. Obviously it is possible. Is there, possibly, an issue with version control or some other head-butting that could happen between services? If so, it is because there have not been any standards established yet. There is no one protocol for working nicely together. We need a 'third-party' to establish some protocols!