Tiered Storage

Google “Cloud Storage” and no shortage of results come back: Google Drive, Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, Dropbox, SugarSync, Mozy, Box, Crashplan, Carbonite, Zip Cloud, and on and on. While online storage offers are not yet at the saturation point, there is such a wide array of options that companies have begun to differentiate their offerings based on more than price alone.

Take Amazon Glacier, for example. This service by Amazon offers storage at a deeply discounted rate compared to their S3 storage service. However, Amazon knows that, just like gravity, what goes up into the cloud, must come down. And when you find that you need to download your data back from the cloud, this is where Amazon hits you with serious bandwidth charges. The idea is that business can use the service as a means of last resort – if all else fails, and all other backup options fall through, the price to get your data back from Amazon’s cloud will be worth it.

There are other services, Carbonite, Zip Cloud or Just Cloud in particular, that have begun offering an unlimited storage tier. These services charge a flat monthly fee and allow customers to upload unlimited amounts of data. The practicality of doing so depends on the speed of the service as well as the speed of your WAN link, but there are certainly advantages to being able to offload unlimited archives into the cloud. This approach does have its pitfalls: once you take advantage of a large amount of online storage capacity, you become permanently shackled to the monthly fees of such a service unless you are willing to let the data expire at some future point and time.

Other services offer added convenience, such as Google Drive, where the integration with the rest of the Google Applications as well as seamless desktop integration, make the offer of online storage extremely attractive. Because of the ease of use, these services are pay per Gigabyte only at this time.

All of the services above run between $50 – $150 per user per year. If you are considering offering such a service within your organization, make sure your budget allows for eventually supporting everyone within your organization as most organizations find it much easier to eventually roll out such services for everyone. This is the point where online storage becomes extremely expensive compared to equivalently sized shared local storage. If your company supports 30+ employees and provides such services, expect to pay at least $3000 per year at a minimum.

An alternative to falling for per user storage service fees is to setup a shared local storage with replication into the cloud. This provides the disaster recovery option that IT departments are looking for while at the same time cutting costs on per user fee schedules. A local shared storage server will provide better performance by avoiding WAN bottlenecks. At the same time, backing up your shared storage into the cloud provides insurance against a total site outage.

The last point to consider is that while some cloud storage services have begun offering encryption, the preferred method is still to encrypt the data locally prior to archiving it off-site. This ensures that no matter how the policies of the cloud service that you contract change, your data will never be exposed or compromised. Given the corruptible nature of online security, data encryption is still the best method to prevent data leaks in the public IT space.