Sponsored Storage is a growth area in IT, as the volume of data generated by users and applications keeps on expanding at an increasing rate, while legislation dictates that organisations must retain some types of data for regulatory purposes and cannot just delete it all to free up capacity.
Traditionally, data would simply have been stored on-site, residing on hard drives inside the organisations own servers and PCs, but the development of cloud services over the past decade means that users now have the option to offload some of that burden to online service providers that have much greater storage capacity available.
For many users, including SME organisations, cloud-based storage is an attractive solution to the storage issues they face. It is always available, you do not have to worry about managing any hardware, and it makes it simple for workers to collaborate by sharing files and data with colleagues.
But this does not mean that cloud-based services should be viewed as a replacement for on-premises storage. There are good reasons why some data is best kept under the direct control of the organisation itself.
In fact, on-premises and cloud-based storage are best regarded as complementary. Each has strengths and weaknesses that make them suitable for particular use cases, and both should therefore be considered as essential parts of the toolkit available to organisations for meeting their storage requirements.
Smaller organisations are likely to turn to network attached storage (NAS) or a low-cost server in order to meet their primary storage requirements. A NAS device is often the simpler option, as this delivers an appliance-like box that is relatively easy to configure through a browser-based console. For companies with 25 users or fewer, Microsofts Windows Server Essentials platform provides a wizard-driven setup for configuring a local server.
Whether the choice is a NAS or a Windows server, the organisation gets the advantages of a pool of storage connected directly to the local network, where users can have folders for their own files as well as shared folders for groups of users to store and access data for collaborative working while in the office.
The chief advantages of such an on-premise solution are performance, because data is stored locally on a high-speed network, and security, because it is more difficult for anyone outside the organisation to access the data. Users also get the reassurance of knowing exactly where their data is located and can physically secure it.
For cloud-based storage, the advantages are convenience and ease of access. The convenience comes because you can simply sign up for a cloud storage service and get instant access to a pool of storage capacity, and the fact that it is located online makes it easy to access for users both in the office premises and off-site, while travelling or at a customer site, for example.
Another advantage of cloud-based storage is the available capacity. Services such as Box, Google Drive and Dropbox now offer unlimited storage in their business-focused plans, although in practice there are often limits such as fair use restrictions when you look at the small print.
The most common use cases for cloud-based storage services such as these tend to be as a platform for file sharing and collaboration, or as an online backup facility.
Backing up data to the cloud is widely used even by large organisations, as it provides a safe off-site repository in the event that your primary storage is destroyed or damaged, rather than just a file getting deleted or corrupted.
Many backup tools now support cloud storage services as a backup target, and this includes those bundled with NAS appliances. In the latter case, endpoint devices can be configured to use the NAS as their backup target, while the NAS can then back itself up using either another NAS as the target, or to a cloud storage service.
Some NAS appliances also support synchronisation with common cloud services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, so that files stored in public folders on-premises can easily be made available to users roaming off-site. Users can specify synchronisation of just the files and folders they want, while a one-way sync feature is often supported to only copy files from the NAS to the cloud, or vice versa.
Another potential application for cloud storage is archiving. This enables the user to migrate to cloud storage any data that is no longer used or seldom accessed, in order to free up capacity in their on-premises storage.
There are dedicated cloud archive services, such as Amazon Glacier, that offer very low costs, provided that users do not expect speedy access to data stored there. Some cloud storage services such as Box offer governance capabilities that implement data retention rules and support discovery of content for data governance and regulatory compliance purposes.
When it comes to the question of security, an administrator can easily set access privileges for on-premises storage such as a NAS by individual users or groups of users, while each user can have their own private folder as well as access to shared folders.
But many of the cloud storage providers are catching up fast, with some business-focused services offering user access controls, plus support for single sign-on, two-factor authentication and usage logs, as well as encryption to protect data stored on their cloud.
The question of whether data is best stored on-premises or in the cloud will depend upon a number of factors, such as whether easy access is required for collaboration, whether the data needs to be kept secure, or the costs of storing it in a particular repository.
However, both on-premises and cloud storage have their place in the storage strategies of organisations, and a smart IT professional will make good use of both in order to meet the demands of applications and users.
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