A Breakdown of Cloud Storage

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Do you find yourself getting the question, “What exactly is cloud storage?” Today, let’s breakdown what cloud storage is.

According to an article on IBM Cloud, storage software is predicted to overtake storage hardware by 2020, by which time it will have to manage 40 zettabytes (40 sextillion bytes) of data. From these stats, you can clearly see that cloud storage is definitely in your future if not already part of your day to day now.

First, IBM points out that “cloud storage enables applications to upload data to a network of remote, connected servers. Applications can then maintain that data and access it from anywhere.” There are a few varieties of cloud storage. There is personal cloud storage, which many may be familiar with. Personal storage services allow any individual the ability to store and sync data across multiple locations and devices.  At the enterprise and business level, the three break outs for cloud storage are public, private and hybrid.  When choosing public cloud storage, you are working with a provider who manages the storage completely offsite. Private cloud storage is on-site/on-premise storage within your data center.  Finally, hybrid cloud storage is a mix of both public and private features.

Why cloud storage? Also a good question and one your team may be getting. At the most basic breakout, cloud storage provides advantages around the following:

  • Accessibility – whether from multiple business locations or multiple devices data in the cloud can be more easily accessed when needed
  • Data recovery – some still associate cloud as a risky place to put data, but actually many businesses take their first steps into cloud for data backup and recovery.  The cloud presents more options (at more affordable prices) for data recovery, allowing any-sized business the ability to build a better business continuity solution
  • Cost – most businesses find themselves handling more and more data each day. Whether structured or unstructured, data sources are expanding and companies who learn to draw actionable insights have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  But, how do you store all this data without expensive hardware purchases? The answer is in the cloud

Finally, if you are are new to the cloud, first identify low hanging fruit or non-critical data that you could test in a cloud environment to gain experience not only with the cloud itself but also with how the cloud integrates with your company’s systems and processes.

We also invite you to contact us with your cloud questions and you can also check out our cloud webinars for helpful information on trends and cloud options.

Building a Successful Cloud Storage Strategy

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Cloud StorageDid you know that more than 80% of enterprises embarked on a hybrid cloud strategy in 2015? That is true according to a Rightscale survey reports Steve Uniack for IBM’s Thoughts on Cloud blog. This also took place in a world with ever-growing data – much of it unstructured – creating new demands on storage. So how do you now adjust your cloud storage strategy as your company’s data grows?

Mr. Uniack recommends that you evaluate your company to create a cloud storage strategy that enables you to be “agile” in order to tackle not only growing data but also new data sources. “Start with identifying the storage use cases for your workloads,” writes Mr. Uniack. Below are what he considers to be “high-value” storage opportunities:

  • Back up and archive
  • Disaster recovery or data recovery
  • Storage bursting
  • Collaboration
  • Unstructured data
  • Analytics

Each of the above utilizes the cloud to bring your company flexibility and scale as you need it. He adds, “A successful cloud storage strategy includes not just the use of public cloud storage, but also techniques that reduce costs and provide business agility using private and hybrid cloud approaches.” Mr. Uniack also gives specific examples of effective cloud storage strategies. Here are a few of note:

  • Virtualizing on-premises storage environments to drive utilization and provide a foundation for automation
  • Automating the placement and movement of data to the right storage platform at the right time based on demand and service levels
  • Employing compression and deduplication solutions to store and do more with less

Cloud storage has the ability to offer your company more agility to move, plan and react to changing data demands but it first starts with developing a solid strategy.

Protecting Your Data – Cloud SAFE Backup

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Data protection has become a core part of IT, but as a small or mid-sized company you may not have the in-house expertise (or the budget!) to stay on top of the latest and greatest.   Also as our computing environments become more and more complicated, data begins to fragment, and it can easily become unclear which data is backed up and recoverable and which is not.

Here are some facts and figures we shared during a recent Cloud SAFE Backup webinar on the importance of having a solid data protection plan:

  • 60% of businesses do not have a fully documented or tested data recovery plan
  • 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster
  • 23% of companies have never tested a disaster recovery plan
  • 40% do not believe the data recovery plan they have is adequate for business needs or regulations

And finally, $50,000 to $5 million is the range in dollar losses experienced by companies due to a data loss incident.  The numbers are telling but there is a way forward for any-sized business to gain the data protection they need. The cloud offers an opportunity to gain access to affordable yet powerful data backup and recovery.

What do we need to keep in mind when looking for a cloud backup solution?  Below is what we like to call “The Pillars of Successful Cloud Backups.”

Successful Cloud Backup

Take note of the SAFE Backup data principles:

  • Secure – encryption and reporting of where all backup data is located
  • Accessible/Available – local cache allows for high performance of both backups and restores
  • Foundational – seamlessly fits into existing backup operations by becoming a disk storage unit (CIFS or NFS)
  • Efficient – allows for use of low cost cloud object storage for long term backup and archive requirements

Cloud SAFE backup solutions can offer the protection your business needs with less complication and even less cost.

If you would like to learn more, we invite you to attend our SAFE Backups in the Cloud seminar on March 24th at 6:30 pm in St. Louis Park.  Learn more about backups in the cloud and watch the premiere of Batman v. Superman before opening night!

Weather Report: Clouds and Data

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As many Minnesotans know the weather is a regular topic of conversation around home and around the water cooler at work.  Today let’s look at how cloud and big data are impacting weather forecasting.

A recent article on IBM’s Smarter Planet highlights the improvements The Weather Company (owner of The Weather Channel) has gained from using cloud and big data to forecast the weather and make decisions, “The Weather Company is partnering with IBM to deliver those forecasts in real-time for 2.2 billion locations across the globe – a feat that would have been unthinkable without the recent advancements in cloud, mobile and data analytics.” Here are some highlights from the article:

Big Data. Mark Gildersleeve president of The Weather Company’s business division explains, “Weather forecasting has become this great Internet of Things story. Customers use smartphones to request forecasts, and many – over 80% – also allow us to collect their location data, plus atmospheric pressure data, which improves our forecast modeling. In the future, user-generated content – photos and videos – will supplement this.” He further adds, “Mobile usage has created this massive ramp-up in the consumption of weather information, and cloud allows us to meet that demand.”

Cloud. Cloud has helped The Weather Company to forecast even faster and more precise, “It [cloud] allows us to do data analytics on the fly. It allows us to be more precise, more timely and everywhere. We used to create forecasts every six hours. We now update those forecasts every 15 minutes for 2.2 billion locations,” Mr. Gildersleeve also adds, “Cloud equals speed in many ways. It improves the user experience as well as the speed of our decision-making.”

Cloud can provide agility and speed and data can provide power to make better decisions. Cloud solutions are not one-size-fits-all so its important to understand your needs and consider what options and solutions will work best for you business.

Technology Showcase Part 1

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by James Keating III, Business Technology Architect, Evolving Solutions

One of the things I have found most striking having moved from being a customer of IT technology to an architect involved in the selling of IT technology is how often on the customer side of the fence, new and intriguing technology is overlooked due to the reality of operations and needing to keep things running. I am not talking about bleeding edge or strange niche use case technologies, but rather the mainstream software, hardware and services that many customers want and need, but due to time constraints, are not fully investigated until something big happens (read outage, data loss, change in business goals). Knowing this, I have decided to create a three part series that showcases some best examples of this type of technology.

The ground rules for this are as follows:

The technology must be something that the Evolving Solutions team has tested and verified the value and use cases
The technology must provide some type of value that is broad reaching and could be applied at both small business and large enterprise
The technology must be something that (speaking from my old Data Center Manager mindset) won’t create undue burden upon the data center team to implement into existing data center locations
For part 1, we will look at technology that has a physical component (something that needs to be installed into a location) so this won’t be cloud only or software only items for this edition of the showcase.

The technology showcase for category physical are:

AltaVault – Cloud Integrated Storage

What is it?

AltaVault is a physical or virtual appliance that allows one to utilize cloud object based storage for archival and backup purposes. All while providing encryption and deduplication benefits.

Unique Features

Ability to utilize low cost cloud storage for backups and archives without disruption to existing backup software or processes
Works with numerous cloud storage options (AWS, Softlayer, Azure)
Can work with on-prem storage as well
Supports boatloads of backup software as it appears as a disk target for the backup software and then manages the data and the cloud storage

Steelfusion – Branch office optimization and central storage cloud

What is it?

Steelfusion is a device that allows one to control all storage from the centeral data center and allows one to “project” LUNS to remote offices for LAN speed performance all while reducing the infrastructure investment at the branch office.

Unique Features

Ability to project LUNS from one location to another location
Ability to run compute on the edge device further reducing infrastructure requirements at the branch office
Can be integrated with object based storage (AWS S3 for example) to provide a highly available branch office solution
Centralizes storage administration and functionality to core data centers where skills for storage and backups are strong
Can provide WAN optimization services
As always if you want to know more information on either of these products feel free to contact Evolving Solutions.

Files, Collaboration and Sharing – Oh My!

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by James Keating III, Business Technology Architect, Evolving Solutions

Working with cloud solutions and being in the Midwest, I hear lots of the cloud urban legends.  The anecdotal stories about a guy and a company that did X with the cloud and were befallen by some horrible outcome.  These stories are a lot like the ones I was told as a child about a giant lumberjack and his enormous yet friendly blue oxen, in they all seem to be the same, yet no one has personal experience in them, just a story they were told or heard about somehow.  Further every time I hear the stories, the ox is more blue, or larger and the cloud calamity more pronounced.  This is part of the cloud landscape in 2015 in the Midwest, however the one portion of all of these stories that seems to remain consistent is the portion that always has a sentence like this in it:

    “And then the data ended up on Dropbox…..”

Yes, it seems the pitfalls of Dropbox real or imagined are now the unifying thread of the cloud legends of 2015.  So, knowing this I started to look into the issues that lead to the above sentence being real, why does data end up on Dropbox?  The answer is file sharing and collaboration services in most cases are burdensome, designed for a 20Th century workplace, not the workplace of today.  Further, the complications are not only to end users but to the administrators of the systems (storage, servers, security etc).  All of this burden is why when time is critical and something needs to get to someone now, Dropbox like it or not is there.  Why?  From an end user perspective it works, simply and without all the hassles of traditional IT driven file sharing services.  When under the pressures of time or money, often convenience wins out over security or data protection.

To understand this better, one needs to define what is the desired outcome of file sharing or collaboration services within IT.  The following list is my simple list for this, noting it may not be 100% complete for all companies, but it is what I would call “File Sharing 101″ in terms of requirements:

  • Ability to provide end users a place to securely store files
  • Ability to provide users the ability to share and collaborate with these files (both internal and external)
  • Role based access control to the files
  • Versioning and revision tracking of files
  • Auditable and traceable reports of access to files.
  • Multiple methods of access (computer, tablet, phone, etc.)
  • Prevention of loss of the above data

What this looks like in practice even in small companies is a mix of shared storage,  SharePoint repositories and local storage on each user’s desktop or laptop.  The problem is the practice doesn’t meet all the needs of the above list in a simple to use manner.  Some files are on SharePoint so they have revision control, the shared storage (home drives, department shares) may be secure and backed up, but are not easily accessible by outside sources when required.  The local storage may or may not be backed up and who knows what level of revision control is happening there.  Take this up to the enterprise level and this often involves a complex web of expensive Network Attached Storage (NAS), local storage and Active Directory controls all connected to replicated or backup storage and tapes.  What all of this complex jumble leads to is data ending up on Dropbox at some point.

So, what if  a business could eliminate all of the complexity, uncertainty and meet the above requirements list without investing in expensive software and storage arrays?  Would it be worth $7 to $15 per user per month to avoid the entire scenario above and more importantly keep company data under control and be able to audit and know when, who and how users access the data.  Complete version and revision control, ability to get to the data on multiple devices, but also the ability to control access based upon the role of a user?

If you would like to learn more about the solution I am writing about, it is a good time to call Evolving Solutions.  We can go through file/collaboration services that are designed for the 21st century and remove all of the cumbersome storage and server administration from the equation and allows your users to do what they should be doing, getting work done.