I'm considering adopting cloud storage services. What questions should I ask potential vendors before signing a contract?
Storage is an important and costly business need, so using third-party storage services can meet storage goals while managing operating expenses and freeing costly on-premises storage for critical business needs. There are countless questions you could ask a storage service provider, but instead, focus on the principal considerations involved with outside storage services.
The first consideration is always the service-level agreement (SLA). This document defines the relationship between your business and the service provider. It details the provider's responsibilities and obligations, as well as your duties to the agreement. It is essential that you take the time to read the SLA carefully, review it with your in-house legal department and thoroughly understand every term or clause -- every SLA inures to the benefit of the provider.
Cost is an obvious issue, and is usually measured in cost per gigabyte (GB) per month. But there are other cost and performance considerations. For example, storing data is one thing, but getting your data to and from the provider is another matter entirely. Look for additional costs or premiums for large data transfers. For example, will you get an extra bill if you have to move more than a certain amount of data over the course of a day or a month? And what happens to the data if the bill isn't paid?
Performance and accessibility are other issues to consider. Remember that off-site storage must be accessed across the Internet. Moving data -- especially large quantities of data -- over Internet connections can be extremely time-consuming. And think about what happens if there is a disruption to your Internet connectivity. Will you still be able to do business without access to the data stored at that provider? Will you be able to recover from data loss in a timely manner if there is a connectivity problem?
Understand how to access the data. For example, cloud storage services may use an application programming interface (API), a cloud storage gateway appliance or some other software. This must be compatible with your current applications or infrastructure. In addition, how can you take the data back? That is, if you choose to move the data back to your own data center or shift it to another provider, can you do that without difficulty?
Understand the security implications and your regulatory exposure. Some data simply should not be stored in the cloud. Many businesses are bound by government regulations that prescribe geographic or other physical boundaries for data storage. Since cloud storage does not adhere to such boundaries, just storing some types of data in the cloud may breach regulatory compliance regulations. Know what you can store in the cloud and what should be left in-house. Also be sure to implement strong encryption to protect data in flight and at rest.
And finally, know the provider's history, reputation and future business goals. Remember that companies are not permanent, and their services can change over time -- not necessarily in a way that benefits your data storage needs. The iron-clad contract that you have can wind up worthless if the provider goes out of business, gets bought out or suffers a catastrophe themselves.
About the Author
Stephen J. Bigelow, senior technology editor in the data center and virtualization media group at TechTarget Inc., has more than 20 years of technical writing experience in the PC and technology industry. He holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, along with CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+ and Server+ certifications, and has written hundreds of articles and more than 15 feature books on computer troubleshooting, including Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference and PC Hardware Annoyances.
This was first published in April 2013