Storing Data in the Cloud? Here's What You Need to Know

According to Tech Target, between 44 and 48 percent of companies now use some form of cloud storage. That's a decent number, considering the pushback against cloud services from many IT professionals and C-suites alike; security, accessibility and portability all remain top concerns. In fact, the legacy of cloud reticence is obvious in low-storage volumes; most companies store only 15 to 32 terabytes of data — extremely low amounts given the promise of scalability and virtually unlimited capacity. Bottom line? If you're planning to store data in the cloud it's worth doing some prep work: Here's what you need to know.

1. Pick the Right Provider

Moving data to the cloud offers several benefits including ease of recovery in case of disaster, improved access, and the ability to leverage best-in-breed cloud-based analytics tools. As noted by CIO, however, one of the first mistakes companies make when it comes to cloud storage is choosing the wrong provider. While there are obvious missteps here — such as choosing a vendor with poor security or limited experience — it's also possible to reduce cloud storage efficacy by selecting a provider who's not familiar with your industry or vertical. Simply put, a great reputation or longevity alone isn't enough to ensure ideal performance; just as industries like health care and manufacturing have very different market priorities, their storage needs are unique.

2. Learn the Limits

It's also important to understand transfer limitations when you start talking about large-scale data movement. For smaller businesses this may not be an issue, but for enterprises or any company looking to use cloud storage as their primary backup service, bandwidth may become a problem. There are two likely bottlenecks: When you first set up your storage solution and every file you're earmarked for the cloud is transferred, and when local stacks go down and you need to quickly re-populate servers. Avoiding problems here means understanding the limits of both your own network and any bandwidth limitations between local stacks and provider locations.

3. Always Encrypt

Just getting your data to the cloud isn't enough — information must be protected both at rest and during transit. It's no surprise, then, that solid encryption is critical for cloud storage success. Ideally, you're looking for a provider who offers “zero-knowledge” solutions that encrypt data locally and in such a way that even provider admins can't access your data — local IT and select C-suite members should be the only ones holding the keys. Better still? Opt for a vendor that offers encryption while files are “in motion,” for example when uploaded or downloaded, and when they're at rest.

4. Don't Move Everything

Not all data needs to be in the cloud. As noted by Storage Asia, users now expect “LAN-like” file access, no matter if information is stored half a mile or half a world away.  As a result, cloud storage is the ideal environment for “inactive” or rarely accessed data, while information needed for day-to-day operations is better off in a local cache. This gives users the kind of access they're familiar with for common tasks while keeping the bulk of your data safely stored.

5. Prioritize Portability

It's also worth noting that not all cloud storage providers offer the same level of data portability. This is a critical feature, however — what if you decide to switch vendors or your current provider suddenly announces it’s shutting down in a month's time? Always spell out in writing how data will be stored, along with clear definitions of data ownership.

Cloud storage offers many of the benefits commonly associated with on-site servers along with the ability to scale up on demand. Making the most of this solution, however, means coming prepared.

Sheldon Smith is a Senior Product Manager at XO Communications. XO provides unified communications solutions and services including: SIP Trunk Services, VoIP Solutions, and Hosted PBX. At XO, Sheldon coordinates with a wide variety of functional areas to assess product opportunities and also define product requirements.