When a cloud is not in the clouds

With an average of 10,000 monthly search-engine searches to locate the cloud, it seems that many people are still a little in the dark about where the cloud is actually located.

In fact, if you discuss “the cloud” with someone, the chances are they will look up to the skies (or office ceiling) as if that’s where their precious data is residing.

The Cloud itself summons up visions of a simple solution, a clear and easily-accessible storage receptacle for data.

However the truth is far murkier.

Just as there are many different types of clouds from light cirrus clouds, to rain-heavy cumulus clouds or dark ominous thunder clouds… so there are many different styles of cloud storage.

And far from using just one simple clear point of storage, many of us end up with our data strewn all over the world.   Here’s how:

The book case metaphor

Imagine the internet as a book case. When you buy website hosting on the internet you buy space on a shelf.  Your book cover is your URL and your book contents are all your web pages. You buy storage from one host, you hope that you know where everything is being stored and you trust one hosting company to store it for you.

When you buy generic* cloud storage, you are entering into a different arrangement. It is still a collection of book cases.  Except this library is spread across the world. And rather than buying a small space on one case, the cloud means your documents can be popped on shelves anywhere and everywhere, all over the world. Often you may end up with your documents stored across Russia, USA, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, China. Etc.

So – the cloud is storage spread across the world –  what’s wrong with that?

There are a number of reasons why you could require your documents to be stored in a space that you are familiar with – and the top reason is probably security. Closely followed by copyright and privacy.

Storing highly secretive patents for a new product, with super-secure passwords, is simply no good at all if you’re storing these patents on a server in Russia and the Russian copyright laws means that they are accessible.

Writing confidential reports? Market-sensitive documents? Business strategies?  Any of these could be devastating if they are compromised. Even considering storing a novel on the generic* cloud, might mean your years of creative genius are lost, if the document is hacked and printed from another country where you simply don’t have copyright.

How to properly manage your Cloud space

Once you’ve decided that your business or personal data is too important to be left to chance, or that the copyright risks are too hairy, the next action to take is to identify a storage provider that fits your criteria.

Easier said than done?  Perhaps.  Here are a few questions to help you choose:

How secure will my chosen cloud provider be?

Your cloud security should be paramount to you – and to your provider! From the ground up, including the people who work for the company (yes, even temporary employees) you want to know that your cloud provider takes security very seriously indeed.

So go ahead and ask them about their employment policies, their physical security at the data centre, frequency of audits of staff, equipment and premises. And then you want to know that their cyber-security is at least as good as your own… anti-virus, firewalls, data encryption, multi-factor authentication, etc.   Remember these people are handling YOUR data.

Will it comply with GDPR?

You are probably already investing  heavily in GDPR compliance, before it comes into force May 2018. Despite this, you will probably still be worrying about the consequences, as it is one of the most robust data-protection regulations ever.

You are still going to be responsible for your organisation’s data, whether it’s held on the cloud or onsite, so you need to ensure it is totally compliant with GDPR.

Now, this is easier said than done, because suddenly it’s not just about the data security, but the locality of that data also matters.  For example, there are different regulations about data held in Russia or Ukraine, to that held in Europe or USA.

Furthermore, if data travels through unknown territories to reach its final destination, then the laws of those territories at the time it is travelling, come into force. They may have different copyright laws, different security laws, they may even have the power to seize your data and use it for themselves.   Nightmare? Yup.

So it’s vital to ensure that your data compliance is appropriate for the final destination of data storage, but also appropriate for its protection as it transits through other territories.

What’s the bottom line?

Rather than guessing how much storage you’ll need, or having to buy a pre-determined amount, it will be more useful to know exactly how much you’ll need to begin with.  Here’s why:

Some cloud storage providers operate on a pre-determined sale, which means you pay for a specific amount of data whether you use it or not.  You’ll also find that if you go over this amount you can end up paying a lot more for the extra.  Aim to only pay for what you actually use.

Can I mix and match? What are my options?

Some cloud storage providers offer a range of options. And if you don’t want to be 100% cloud, then a hybird solution might be the best way.

Here are your three options: All-cloud, on-site, or Hybrid options.

On-Site

If your organisation has concerns about storing sensitive data in the cloud, or if you have compliance issues, then on-site with high-security, is probably your best option.

If, however, you have vast amounts of data that fall outside your compliance/security concerns, then you might wish to go hybrid.

Hybrid?
For many reasons you may prefer not to put all your eggs in the cloud basket, and often the hybrid model provides the perfect combination.  This is particularly useful for organisations that have huge data storage needs, and some compliance or security concerns, or are concerned about storing corporate, customer or patient data in the cloud.

How fast will my cloud be? Will fellow users slow my access down?

As you’ll be sharing storage capacity with your cloud provider’s other customers, you may be affected if these customers are hogging all the available resource to themselves.

Too many services attempting to access the same cloud environment at the same time will impact on performance.  Will it impact on your business’s performance if your cloud is slower?

What types of data will need supporting?

Not all cloud storage providers are equal – and that includes the types of data they are able to store.

Check they are compatible with the data you require storing, and be clear on what you will need.  Here are a few data types possible: block, file or object; and  – Fibre Channel, iSCSI, iSER, NFS, CIFS, and Swift/S3.