Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Storage in the Cloud

Many organisations are now looking to store their data in the Cloud to take advantage of the many benefits that Cloud storage can offer. However, this move is one that should not be taken without serious consideration.

Before moving any data to a Cloud Storage solution, customers should examine their data closely; check their internal security policy, and any compliance or regulatory requirements they may be subject to. Customers should ask themselves the following questions:

* Why move data to the Cloud?
* Are you trying to store data offsite for a specific reason – e.g. as a backup, for DR purposes, to allow remote access, to enable easy scaling of data?
* What is contained within the data – is it confidential information? Is it subject to regulations or compliance?
* How critical is this data – if it was irrevocably lost or compromised, would this affect your business?
* What data protection regulations are your data subject to?
* Are you legally able to store this data outside of the country your business is based in?
* Who do you want to access the data?
* How do you want to access this data?
* How securely do you need to store this data?
* Are you willing/able to encrypt this data?
* How will you move your data to the Cloud?

Cloud Storage has many advantages; not least of all is the utility pricing and on-demand scalability. Being able to store gigabytes of data for pennies and without ever having to worry about upgrading disks to cope with growing data is a huge draw. However, not all Cloud Storage solutions are created equal, so not all will be suited to every customer. Indeed, some customers may not be able to find a valid use for Cloud Storage within their organisation if they are subject to strict data protection regulations or compliance standards.

If the data being transferred the Cloud is simply a backup of your data, then software that transfers your data using AES-256 encryption and enables you to easily share your data with colleagues. Automated backups can be configured and fully customised, and users can simply drag and drop data to their Cloud Drive as easily as moving data between folders on their PC. The ability to access files remotely via a web portal means that as long as you have a PC or smartphone you are never without your files again!

If the data is simply being uploaded for DR purposes, then this type of backup software allows you to configure files and folders stored on local PCs/servers to be automatically uploaded to the Cloud as changes occur.

If transferring files for a website that will be accessed by users across the globe, then a Cloud Storage solution that includes Content Distribution Network (CDN) functionality should be considered. Some Cloud storage providers have partnered with some of the world’s leading CDN providers to give customers a global experience for their users without the usual headaches associated with such systems. A CDN caches data in end-points in most major cities across the world as users request it, giving them fast access to the files without being affected by peak usage in other areas. Data can also be uploaded to the Cloud using online control panels, desktop software or even programmatically via solution provider's API.

If the data that will be moved to the Cloud is confidential or is subject to compliance regulations (e.g. PCI DSS for credit card information) then Cloud Storage may not be the right solution. It is very difficult to comply with PCI DSS and other standards in the Cloud as most Cloud solutions are hosted on shared infrastructure.
The UK Data Protection Act states that personal information should not be “transferred to other countries without adequate protection”, so if the data that will be transferred to the Cloud comes under this regulation then encryption prior to transfer is one way of providing protection. Other countries may have different regulations in place that prevent certain types of data from being removed from their country of origin.

Storage in the Cloud can only be a good thing for most organisations, especially in these times of economic strife. However, look before you leap feet first into the Cloud. Encrypt your data, and make sure that you are able to access it and upload/download using the tools of your choice. Don't be afraid of the Cloud - as long as you protect your data, you could find some cost savings there.

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