Cloud Storage Illuminated

A bird's-eye view of the technology and the factors to consider before storing your data in the cloud.

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4. Who is using cloud storage today, and how are they using it?

Start-ups and new Web 2.0-based service providers, such as San Francisco-based Cloudize Inc., are among the biggest users of cloud storage, at least for the time being. Cloudize bills itself as the first SaaS-based file collaboration tool focused on small to midsize enterprises. CEO Edwin Fu says the tool was designed to centralize all of a company's files in a cheap, scalable and collaborative way.

One of Cloudize's Web 2.0-based applications lets users of -- the granddaddy of software as a service -- store and share data, such as big sales presentations and video, in the public cloud. San Diego-based Nirvanix provides the public storage cloud behind Cloudize.

Fu, a former employee, describes that company's users as "low-hanging fruit" when it comes to signing up cloud storage customers. "We picked the audience because they're comfortable with SaaS and SaaS-based storage," he says. "They already have their most sensitive contact data in the cloud. What we're doing is taking the next step."

On the larger enterprise side, cloud storage customers are fewer and farther between. "We are in the very early stages of adoption. Typically, when we're talking to customers, we're talking with classic early adopters," says Nirvanix's Ziernick.

These include strictly regulated financial services companies that are required by law to store client audio conversations and other large data files, and content delivery networks that store and then stream images, audio and video to customers. More and more, users within companies are tapping cloud storage for pilot projects and proof-of-concept initiatives, Ziernick says.

Schumacher Group, an emergency medicine management and staffing company based in Lafayette, La., stores a range of documents, including contracts and reports, on's cloud platform, It also houses all accounts receivable, general ledger and accounts payable data in a hosted PeopleSoft enterprise software system, and its employee benefit information on a hosted system from Workday Inc.

"We have over 50% of our processes living in the cloud currently," says CIO Douglas Menefee. "All are sizable data sets with thousands of transactions being performed on a daily basis," he adds. He anticipates that by the end of this year, 75% of the company's processes will be in the cloud.

5. Does cloud storage eliminate the need for in-house technical resources?

Public clouds remove the need for server and storage administrators, but not all technical resource requirements go away, according to ParaScale's Maxey. Many public cloud storage services use newer protocols, such as WebDav or REST, for access, he notes. If a customer's in-house applications don't support those protocols, the technical staff will need to make changes to code. Otherwise, Maxey says, "it's like being dropped in a foreign country and not knowing the language."

Newer software applications developed in a modular fashion will be easier to adapt for storage clouds, he says; older applications will be more difficult.

Eliminating IT staff was never the point for Rockville, Md.-based Forrester Construction Co. when it signed up with Iron Mountain for cloud storage service, says CIO Tom Amrhein.

"The real advantage," he says, "is the ability to align your IT resources to tasks that make a difference to the business."

Next: Cloud storage triggers security worries

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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