Saturday, November 15, 2008

Overcoming Fear of Cloud Storage

Dr. McCloud here once again with another installment of Overcoming Fear of the Cloud. This time we're looking at the fear of cloud storage.

Concern about storing data in the cloud is one of the first objections to cloud computing that is raised by some who work in the enterprise. Usually the expression of concern is followed by a gentle but firm explanation of how vital, proprietary, and utterly irreplaceable this information is. The message is clear: the data is critical to the operation of the business; the data must be protected; and maintaining its integrity and availability is paramount. The enterprise goes to great lengths to ensure this.

The first thing I will say about this is, you may be right in some cases. Some data does belong in the enterprise, depending on the nature of the data and the organization and the regulations it is subject to. But that's a far cry from saying no enterprise data should ever go into the cloud. That's why I think Microsoft's vision, called Software + Services, makes a great deal of sense for the enterprise. S + S is all about recognizing that some software and data is best kept local, while other software and data is best placed in the cloud. Rather than dictating what the split should be, S + S says you are in the best spot to make that determination. Dr. McCloud likes to call this writing your own prescription.

We can use the existence of the hosting industry to demonstrate the idea of putting your data "out there" can work for businesses. The idea is neither new or unproven and is used successfully today by businesses of all sizes. For sure, you need to have a strong comfort level about the vendor, the storage practices, the fail-safes, the data protection policies, the service level commitment, the security arrangements, and the degree of control you have. Dr. McCloud prefers sound methods of treatment and so do his patients.

Learning more about how the cloud infrastructure handles storage should also encourage you. Let's look at Windows Azure specifically. When you store something in the cloud, it gets simultaneously written to several different places, each in a different fault domain. SQL Services and cloud blob/queue/table storage are designed to scale supremely and automatically. Many things that are commonly needed in the enterprise are also very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to get right, such as high availability, sufficient scalability, disaster recovery, and dynamic adjustments to changes in traffic levels. These things come "for free" with the cloud platform every time you use it.

One last point, putting data in the cloud does not necessarily mean it vanishes from the enterprise. We'll likely be seeing some interesting patterns develop for synchronizing and safeguarding data that lives in more than one place.

Cloud storage is a good thing, and you don't have to feel like you're taking some tremendous risk to try it out as long as you exercise a little common sense. Dr. McCloud thinks this makes for an excellent prognosis.

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