6 steps for a future-ready cloud storage strategy

Blame it on poor copy data management, compliance requirements or the internet of things (IoT), but data storage volumes are growing exponentially, and that growth shows no signs of abating. Managing skyrocketing storage demands on limited resources is a top challenge for many enterprises. To alleviate the burden, many organizations have turned to the cloud.

A survey of 451 Global Digital Infrastructure Alliance members illustrates the extent to which businesses are growing their off-premises storage footprint. Thirty-five percent of the 647 enterprise technology and IT professionals surveyed said are considering cloud-based storage for immediate purchase. While currently only 20 percent of storage is in the cloud, survey respondents estimate that within two years one-third will reside in either the public cloud or a SaaS environment.

There are multiple reasons for this growth. Many organizations turned to cloud storage as an efficient or less-expensive location for inactive or archived data, situations where latency and security are not of primary importance. But as cloud usage in general has grown, so too has interest in cloud storage.

However, as is typically the case with cloud, much of this growth and expansion has been on an ad hoc, as-needed basis. Many cloud migrations were a result of SaaS deployments or shadow IT, and cloud policies were formulated as an afterthought in bits and pieces. In addition, a typical SaaS deployment features little interaction with infrastructure, and the IT group’s involvement is often limited to security. With the underlying complexity abstracted out to the SaaS provider, little thought is given to policy, Steven Hill, senior analyst for storage technologies at 451 Research, tells CIO.com.

The result is a hodge-podge of reactive approaches to cloud storage that has left many traditional businesses without a single strategy for managing growing volumes of critical data stored in the cloud.

Independently assess cloud and storage needs

Today, only 16 percent of respondents have more than half of their of their total storage capacity residing off-premises, according to the 451 Research survey. But that number is expected increase to 26 percent over the next two years. Taken together with the with the overall rise in storage volumes, this is significant growth.

The current haphazard approach to managing storage no longer suffices, and as more mission-critical data and applications find their way to the cloud, analysts argue that firms must adopt longer-term strategies that examine cloud storage in the context of the broader business goals.

“A cloud storage strategy in and of itself wouldn’t stand alone,” says Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA, an industry trade group. He goes a step further and argues that storage and data must go hand in hand, so while a storage strategy is important, equally important is an understanding of the data being stored. That underscores the need for a strategy for data management, Robinson says, especially as companies increasingly turn to big data analytics.

Once a basic strategy is in place, it is time to evaluate cloud storage needs. Hill recommends using a cloud storage decision tree to determine whether it is optimal to locate storage in the cloud, on-premises or a combination of the two.

Start with three questions:

  • What is the application you are supporting (is its SaaS, cloud-based or on-premises?), and what is the extent of your support?
  • What are the performance requirements and other needs for the application? For example, latency is a big issue that can directly impact whether you hit your service-level agreements (SLA).
  • What other factors are involved?

With these questions answered, you can determine whether it makes more sense to bring the application to the data, or the data to the application.

Hill recommends looking at the cloud strategy as well. Certainly, the cloud has hit all of the milestones of what makes for a mainstream technology — CompTIA’s 2016 Trends in Cloud Computing study, for example, found that well over 90 percent of respondents are turning to cloud computing to meet enterprise needs, and one-third are using the cloud in full production. However, in many respects the cloud still lags in maturity, having taken hold quickly and often organically in the enterprise.

“We should not be looking at the cloud as a binary decision. Choose it when right. Define what cloud and on-premises can do for you,” Hill says.