5 Important Cloud Storage Questions

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve heard a lot of buzz about cloud-based products and services. But if you’re like most hosting customers, you’re not sure if “the cloud” is just hype or if it could actually benefit you … and when you decide to give it a chance, choosing a provider can be difficult, since many hosts are offering a service that is as new to them as it is to you.

Cloud service providers market the platform on its low entry costs, scalability and usage-based billing, and that’s generally the extent to which hosting customers understand it. The Planet did a little research about what every hosting customer should consider when evaluating cloud storage, and we created a quick checklist of questions:

1. Do I need my data in a specific location?

While many providers present “the cloud” as though it is a location, it’s actually a platform that will be hosted in specific locations. Most cloud providers do not offer the ability to specify the physical location of the data in the cloud, and that may be important for hosting customers with specific needs.   If you are building a disaster recovery plan, working to reduce download times for a specific customer, or attempting to pass strict security audits, then where data resides is critical, and you should look for a provider that allows you to control the location of the cloud.

2. How difficult is it to integrate?

Even the best platform can be crippled by a difficult integration process. Many cloud storage products require the use of proprietary APIs for integration, so you would need to specifically develop for that cloud storage platform to implement the solution.  These kinds of requirements mean you or your developers will have to devote time to learning the proprietary system to take advantage of everything the platform has to offer. When you’re evaluating the switching costs of moving to a new cloud storage platform, remember to factor in these development costs, as they can add up pretty quickly. To minimize switching costs, some platforms offer standards-based integration software so you can use common protocols like CIFS, NFS, FTP or HTTP to get your content online without the proprietary API learning curve.

3. How will it perform in production?

Just because data is not bound to a single piece of hardware doesn’t mean that it is free of all restraints when it comes to performance, so it’s important to test the platform against your application’s performance needs.  Many cloud storage platforms only provide 2-3 Mb/sec of transfer speed – that’s fine for most backup and archiving use cases but likely is not sufficient for application data in production.  When evaluating platforms, schedule multiple tests with varying traffic and load scenarios to gauge the consistency of service for your critical information.

4. Is it really as flexible as they say?

One of the most appealing features of cloud storage is its flexibility. Scalability and elasticity are the driving factors in this on-demand design.  Most cloud storage products free you from capacity planning, hardware budgeting and upgrading, but it’s not always as cut-and-dry as it seems. Watch out for minimum-usage commitments that can negate the inherent benefit of capacity being available on demand. Be sure your cloud storage platform provides true elasticity – the ability to grow and shrink provisioned resources on the fly – as that characteristic will likely be more important than scalability when you get started with the platform.

5. Will I really save money?

The primary aspects on which to judge the pricing of a cloud storage product are simple: how much storage capacity will you use and how much bandwidth will you need?  Keep a sharp eye out for “hidden” fees, because in many use cases, they can add up quickly to be as much or more than the primary elements of your bill.  “Hidden” fees to watch out for include: connect fees, account maintenance charges, and charges for “puts” and “gets.”  Cloud platforms should offer simple and predictable monthly bills. If you have relatively constant storage needs, you may save money with a dedicated device or a cloud product that offers discounts for commitments on usage, so be sure to take those options into account when considering your purchase.

On The Planet’s web hosting blog, we’ve posted a few articles about the hype and buzz surrounding “the cloud” to help customers understand the inherent values of the system. The platform has incredible potential and can play a great role in your hosting infrastructure right now, but it’s not going to completely change the game just yet. The industry landscape is shifting. We’re not just focused on dedicated servers and managed hosting anymore. We’re adopting new technologies, and more importantly, we’re trying to understand where those technologies fit and what real-world benefits they provide to hosting customers.

This post was guest blogged by Kevin Hazard of The Planet.

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