How Cloud-based Storage Works
Data stored in the cloud makes the storage location transparent to the user and applications. The end user saves their data onto a local folder, however, the folder points to a logical namespace that is internally mapped to an end point that could be anywhere in the world. The user can access the storage remotely with an internet connection—which means they can retrieve or view their data from anywhere or any device.
When an application needs to access your data in the public or private cloud, it can do so through traditional storage protocols, such as Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI), Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), or Network File System (NFS) or Server Message Block (SMB). Or, it can access your data directly using an application programming interface, or API such as S3 or Swift.
The storage system that stores your data is a software-based unified storage solution built upon clustered, shared-nothing nodes to create a pool of resources. Storage controllers are virtualized and provide access to block distributed data, files, and objects. This helps in scale-up non-disruptively by adding virtual resources to storage controllers and scale-out non-disruptively by adding physical nodes for predictable resource and performance growth. From there, deployment is automated. Enterprise-grade backup, ready to back up any workload.
The data you store on those off-site storage systems is often shared, or copied, to one or more sites. This creates redundancy and ensures that you can still access your data even if one of those sites malfunctions or shuts down for maintenance. In addition to protecting your data with multiple copies, features such as WORM (Write-Once, Read-Many) and immutability protect critical data against ransomware attacks.
Cloud Storage Requirements
Some key requirements are needed when looking for cloud storage. You want to ensure that your data is safe, secure, and available when needed. Here are the top three requirements to look for:
- Durability - data should be stored across multiple facilities and multiple devices. Natural disasters, human error, or mechanical faults should not result in data loss.
- Availability - all data stored in the cloud should be available whenever needed. The ideal cloud storage will deliver the right balance of retrieval times and cost.
- Security - all data should be encrypted, both at rest and in transit. Permissions and access controls should work both in the cloud as well as on-premises. The shared storage needs to be protected against malware and ransomware attacks.
- Scalability - unstructured data such as PDFs, videos, audios, images, etc are growing exponentially and the storage needs to scale easily while retaining the application performance.
Features of Cloud Storage
The features offered by cloud storage providers can differ, depending on the type of storage you use and the provider themselves. However, most cloud storage services include most of the following features:
- File versioning – helpful during collaborative editing, with the ability to access a previous version if the latest is lost or deleted
- Retention of deleted files – keeps deleted files for a certain time period or indefinitely
- File previews – you can view certain types of file formats, often including images and video
- File archiving – preserves older versions of files for later access, if necessary
- Automatic synchronization – enables users to share files, or make changes to a document and then access those changes from another device
- Multi-site data backups – this keeps cloud data protected and accessible at all times; often includes automatic, incremental, and open file backups
- Security features – these include multilayered security networks, data encryption (at rest and in transit), zero-knowledge authentication, two-step verification, and more
- Storage snapshots – create a reference of the stored data at a particular point in time for data replication and protection
- WORM & immutability - WORM (Write-Once, Read-Many) and Immutability (data cannot be modified even by the data creator) features to protect data against cyber threats and ransomware attacks
- Scale-out - storage has to scale easily without compromising application performance
Benefits of Cloud Storage
The two biggest advantages of cloud storage are remote access to data from anywhere and near-infinite scalability. But those aren’t the only advantages. Others include:
- CAPEX cost savings – eliminates the need to buy and manage on-premises data storage infrastructure. Instead, pay for storage as you use in an OPEX Storage as a Service (STaaS) model
- Overall cost efficiency (TCO) – delivers capacity on demand with a pay-as-you-go pricing model
- Increased agility and speed – provides elasticity, so you can scale up or down as needed and meet peak demands without having to permanently purchase resources you might not need later
- Reduced administrative burden – frees your IT team from the daily tasks of procuring, installing, administering, and maintaining storage infrastructure
- Business continuity (Backup and DR) – because your data is stored off-site, it’s available in the event of an outage or natural disaster in your local area
- Increased accessibility and collaboration – users can share data and collaborate on files even when geographically separated
- Advanced analytics - leverage SaaS-based data analytics tools to perform artificial intelligence (AI) / machine learning (ML) based on the structured and unstructured data that is stored in on-prem or cloud storage
Cloud Storage Use Cases
There are many reasons to use cloud storage today. The main one being you don’t want to store your data on one single device, but rather access it from any device, at any time. Here are some other key use cases for cloud storage:
- Backup and recovery - sends a copy of a physical or virtual file or database to the cloud for preservation in case of equipment failure or other disaster.
- Data archiving - moves data that is no longer actively used to a different storage area for long-term retention. It typically consists of older data that may be important to the user, but not at the moment, so is saved for future use or for regulatory compliance purposes.
- Disaster recovery - is similar to backup and recovery, but takes it a step further. Almost all applications, tools, and infrastructure can be replicated to the cloud for safekeeping. It helps protect resources and ensures business continuity. If a disaster hits, enterprises can restore all data from backed up versions to either on-premise or other cloud environments.
- Test and development - environments can be built up, tested and torn down quickly within cloud storage solutions. There is no need to wait months for the provisioning of a new environment, a new tool can be spun up in a matter of minutes within the cloud.
Potential Challenges of Cloud Storage
While cloud storage has many advantages, it also comes with some potential challenges that should be considered. It’s worth it to carefully vet any cloud storage provider to learn how they mitigate or work around these challenges, which can include:
- Lack of administrative control – while some enterprises will appreciate the reduced administrative burden on their in-house IT staff, others might not like having a third party in possession and control of their data.
- Reduced performance – traffic congestion in the public cloud can sometimes result in increased latency, or the time it takes for data to be transmitted.
- Regulatory issues – some highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and finance, have strict guidelines around how and where they store their data. GDPR is another regulatory constraint in the EMEA region that the cloud provider needs to address.
- Vulnerability to attacks – data that is transmitted across networks to remote locations is going to have a degree of vulnerability that data housed in a locked-down data center doesn’t have. Shared storage is a prime target for Cyber Security and Ransomware attacks.
- Unexpected downtime or poor internet connectivity – in some ways, you’re at the mercy of the cloud storage provider; if their system crashes or their internet goes down, you can’t access your data.
- Vendor lock-in – some providers make it difficult for you to use other providers’ services, due to factors such as platform incompatibility.
- Lack of insights – since the data is stored in third-party systems, it is a challenge to perform analytics and get valuable insights into usage, performance, costing and other metrics.
Free vs Paid Cloud Storage
The benefit of free cloud storage is that it is obviously free to use. However, the amount of data you can store is typically small, offering a few GB versus TB. It’s great for individuals that store most of their data locally or for new businesses just starting out that may want to give cloud computing a try without much, if any investment in it. Paid cloud storage offers more data storage, higher security solutions and other features such as an easier user interface and sharing capabilities. Once you’ve outgrown the free storage you might consider paying for one. Nutanix Unified Storage offers unlimited storage capacity for 60 days with the trial and thereafter customers can keep 1TiBs of free storage for Files and 2TiBs of free storage for Objects.
Examples of Centralized Cloud Storage
When it comes to centralized cloud storage, today’s industry leaders are AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud—but these providers are also getting into the distributed cloud storage scene. Centralized cloud storage is a database where data is stored and maintained in one place. On the other hand, distributed data storage stores data in multiple databases across different physical locations and connects them together. The big public cloud players mentioned above offer both types of data storage.