Consider tradeoffs if going cloud for data archival

Scalable and affordable cloud-based storage may be a good option for archival data that's inactive, but companies cannot ignore looking at the cost tradeoffs and implications.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Even when it comes to archival data that is meant to be inactive and stored for long-term retention, companies should not jump onboard cloud-based storage simply because it seems affordable, without thinking about the tradeoffs and implications.

Whether it makes more sense to store archival data in the cloud or stick with traditional disk and tape, boils down to how much value a company regards this data, said Alea Fairchild, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Regardless of its activity status, if a piece of data has business value, then it also has risk associated with its loss. Therefore, rather than just looking at costs, a data archiving strategy should be centered round the value of the data and then decide accordingly the best place to store it with minimum risk, she explained.

Fairchild added that data archiving is not all that simplistic, but a multi-faceted issue, with factors such as data backup, disaster recovery, application retirement and managing the operational performance of the database. All these activities mean different value propositions to the enterprise, she noted.

As such, reaching the decision requires a thorough analysis of the cost tradeoffs with business needs and requirements, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. This includes, for instance, whether the company wants to access the archived data at some point in the future.

Given that tape and disk backup can have "serious issues" in terms of finding and recovering data, then cloud may actually be a better option, provided the company feels the service is adequate, he pointed out.

Costs in other ways
Cloud-based archival storage may not be expensive, but enterprises should exercise discretion to see if service providers can meet the requirements of reliability and security, and give due diligence to commit to those requirements, Enderle advised.

While cost optimization is big part of the appeal of cloud storage, "the cheaper the service, the less dependable and secure it is typically", he highlighted.

Last month, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced its Glacier data archive service for businesses, starting from US$0.01 per gigabyte (GB) monthly.

Enderle called Glacier a "unique service designed specifically for archival data", but noted that AWS, as a provider, is "known more for strong value and not great reliability and security level" an enterprise might require.

Fairchild added that Glacier is relatively inexpensive scalable option without a capacity constraint, making it a cost-effective alternative to tape.

That said, she did not think disk and tape will disappear. "Just as there will always be mainframes, there will always be disk and tape, as they handle certain roles in the data archiving value chain."

The Constellation Research analyst said the pros and cons of using cloud-based archival storage service deal with management and stewardship of data by the intermediary, as well as data privacy and industry regulation.

Among the benefits are dynamic storage capacity and the shift from capital to operational expenditure. Manpower productivity also improves, since a company's IT staff spend less time on maintenance and troubleshooting, and more time on high-value tasks, she explained.

There are drawbacks to note, though, she highlighted. Cloud providers are susceptible to outages, and highly-publicized cloud outages have pushed enterprise interest in multi-cloud deployments to spread risk, she said.

Not all service level agreements (SLAs) guarantee 24-7 availability, so companies cannot neglect scrutinizing the contract for important terms and conditions such as how data is kept and the process and costs of retrieval during particular time periods, Fairchild said.

There is some loss of control over data when it is stored in the cloud, and while archival data may inactive, it could consist of sensitive personal information, for instance, of former customers, she cautioned.

Ultimately, companies therefore have to do balance the legislation of protecting the movement, privacy and handling of archival data, against the financial and efficiency benefits of using cloud-storage, Fairchild said.

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