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What should I consider when selecting a cloud storage system?

Cost, manageability and risk assessment all must be analyzed carefully when selecting a cloud storage system.

What business factors should I take into account when selecting a cloud storage system?

The variety of cloud storage options meets a wide array of service requirements, but consider both the technical and the nontechnical attributes of these systems to find the appropriate match. While technical issues include reliability and accessibility, business needs center around cost, manageability and risk mitigation.

Cost. The cost of a storage service is generally correlated with features and performance. For instance, low-latency storage will cost more than high-latency storage. In many cases, however, costs will not be the main factor in choosing a cloud storage system.

Regardless of the low cost of archival storage, it will never be a viable option for interactive or even batch-processing applications. There are, however, situations where a lower rate of durability is worth a marginal savings in storage costs. For example, if data is easily reproduced or can be copied from the record of source, then lower durability storage (e.g., 99.99% durability instead of 99.999999999%) may be appropriate.

Cloud storage providers often do not charge for copying data into a cloud storage system, but they do charge for data egress. Providers may also charge for copying data between data centers.

Consider the full lifecycle of data stored in the cloud. Frequent, large transfers out of a data center can lead to substantial charges. Some cloud storage systems allow for automatic versioning of objects, which can lead to larger than expected charges if versioned objects are not managed properly. If you do use versioning, have an automated procedure in place to enforce your data-retention policy.

Management. Regardless of which cloud storage system you choose, there will be some management overhead. Cloud storage providers can help streamline management by offering the ability to define data lifecycle policies. Amazon, for example supports lifecycle policies that automatically migrate data from Amazon S3, where storage costs are about $0.095/GB/month, to Amazon Glacier, where storage costs are $0.001/GB/month.

Risk assessment. Data stored in the cloud is subject to a number of risks, including hardware failures, power disruptions and disputes with vendors. In spite of cloud providers' high durability claims, it is important to back up essential business data. To mitigate the risk of technical or business problems with a single vendor, you can use multiple cloud storage providers. Third parties, such as RightScale and Dell Multi-Cloud Manager, can help coordinate and manage multiple cloud providers.

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