Cloud is growing at a faster rate than ever before. The proportion of worldwide cloud-related spend is predicted to reach 3.8tn this year. And I can’t think of many organisations that haven’t already migrated some of their IT requirements to the cloud or at the very least started to seriously consider it. We know the reasons behind this surge too – big data and the rapid adoption of multiple mobile devices. But with this faster, always-on approach to business, companies face one major challenge – what to do with cloud storage and how to manage it effectively.
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Who and what is going in the cloud?
The kind of storage organisations opt for is very much dependent upon the nature of the business and the market in which they operate their specific needs and regulatory requirements. For instance, Barry Runyon, a research VP for Gartner, who focuses on the healthcare sector, recently predicted that “…a significant percentage of the healthcare providers’ workload will move to the cloud in the next 5-10 years.” This is driven by several factors including user demand, supplying remote access to staff and patients and reduced budgets.
Cloud storage enables a far more responsive health service
Like any other business, healthcare staff use cloud services for everyday activities such as email, enterprise content management and mobile device management. But it is the other critical data such as medical image archiving, medical record systems, secure texting, clinical collaboration, transcription services, legacy decommissioning, and DR archives which require compliance with the strictest storage legislation and therefore present a challenge. Legislation such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) which requires, compulsory storage of records for decades, privacy and data confidentiality, secure data disposal and storage of digital healthcare records are a must in healthcare the world over. The Data Protection Act in the UK regulates, among other information, personal healthcare records, requiring mandatory disposal of electronic records after the retention period, accuracy of information, logging any changes and strict confidentiality. Cloud storage enables a far more responsive health service, but it is not without its headaches.
Areas of concern
At the other end of the spectrum smaller businesses are less affected by regulation but battle with their own fears as highlighted by the University of Greenwich’s recent findings that 66% of small businesses cite data security as their main concern. Researchers reported that only one in four firms have adopted cloud technology for business systems with even fewer (19%) making use of the cloud for financial accounting and less than a third (31%) using it for customer relationship management.
Our own recent research across almost 200 IT buyers highlighted that the most common barriers to buying cloud services are:
- Concerns around security (54%)
- Concerns about losing control of their systems, data and infrastructure (54%)
- Concerns that they have already invested too much in their current storage network (42%).
In addition to regulatory and data security concerns, businesses can also be affected by a flood or fire with some online studies suggesting that businesses without a well-structured recovery plan are forced to close within 12 months of an incident when data has been lost.
With more and more businesses embracing the cloud, there is an ever-increasing amount of data sitting off-premise that needs to be continually backed up and readily available. But the risks may be far less than those which threaten data sitting in an on-site server room with poorer measures to protect against fire, theft and flooding. With each DC home to lots of cloud providers, the availability of cloud storage has never been better – whether the business in question is a small accountancy firm, a large online retailer or a healthcare authority.
How to choose a cloud provider
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What are the key considerations any board should take into account when looking for a cloud storage partner? Peace of mind around cloud technology can only be achieved through a thorough assessment of the providers available. Cost and time saving are not the only key factors. We would strongly advise that businesses find a partner that can help them migrate at their own speed. Not everything needs to be migrated away from the existing infrastructure and in fact, there may be good reasons to select a ‘hybrid colocation’ solution, mixing the existing physical infrastructure with the flexibility of a virtual one.
It’s for this reason that the geographic proximity of a cloud provider to the existing business is critical – 58% of IT buyers say the location of their cloud provider matters.
Colocation, colocation, colocation
A local cloud provider not only offers speedy access to data and servers (for major upgrades or changes), but it provides optimal connectivity speeds (low latency equals better performance) as well as the reassurance that the business will meet any legal requirements to keep data within country borders.
75% of users want to solve issues via phone support
Communication and support are also crucial – 75% of users want to solve issues via phone support and 67% want to solve them via support tickets. So selecting a supplier who can meet tech support requirements, day or night, 365 days a year is a must.
One final, but vital point – data – where it’s kept and stored is critical. As more and more criminal and terrorist events occur around the world, governments will get tougher on meeting regulatory measures such as the Patriot Act. Even privacy-conscious France is considering new surveillance laws.
Don’t be seduced by cost savings from foreign cloud providers
We would strongly advise that all businesses are clear about where their services are being used and where the data resides. Don’t be seduced by cost savings from foreign cloud providers, as it could land the company in hot water with national regulators. Selecting a good quality, local cloud provider that offers support and access to virtual servers and data will reap dividends in the long run (as well as providing peace of mind). If they allow you to store your physical servers on-site (colocation) and plug them directly into their cloud infrastructure (hybrid cloud) then you could end up with the best of both worlds.