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Evaluating cloud storage options for businesses

The rapid growth of cloud services has revolutionized data management for businesses, offering businesses enhanced security, scalability, and accessibility. By 2024, over 45% of IT spending will transition from traditional to cloud solutions, marking a major disruptive shift in technology.

This shift, driven by the inherent advantages of cloud-based solutions, has become increasingly vital for small businesses due to the growing volume and complexity of data traversing the internet. Cloud storage providers, with robust data centers and advanced security measures, are a practical solution. When selecting a provider, prioritize data security and consider features like access controls, versioning, and snapshotting. In this article, we will delve into types of cloud storage, basic technical aspects to look for, and criteria to evaluate cloud storage options for businesses, enabling an informed decision aligned with your specific requirements and budget.

What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage, also known as storage as a service, is a solution in which cloud vendors provide storage capacity to users, and perform the required maintenance for the storage infrastructure. Using a virtual infrastructure, cloud storage excels in accessibility, scalability, and data customization.

Unlike physical storage, which requires businesses to manage numerous devices and servers across locations, cloud storage utilizes virtual servers. Data, transmitted and stored in multiple servers for accessibility, can be customized for stakeholders through a user interface. Multiple servers ensure data replication and backup for unforeseen server failures.

Several types of cloud storage align with different infrastructure setups:

  1. Private cloud storage Built for private use within a specific organization, private cloud storage provides heightened security and control, making it ideal for industries with stringent compliance requirements.

  2. Public cloud storage Leveraging shared resources from a third-party provider, public cloud storage delivers cost-effective scalability and accessibility for businesses with fluctuating storage needs.

  3. Hybrid cloud storage Merging private and public cloud storage, hybrid cloud storage model combines control and flexibility, allowing organizations to optimize performance and resource allocation based on specific requirements.

  4. Community cloud storage Shared by multiple organizations with similar interests, community cloud storage fosters collaboration while providing a dedicated environment tailored to specific industry needs.

  5. Multi-cloud storage Employing services from multiple providers, multi-cloud storage ensures adaptability and mitigates risks associated with dependency on a single vendor, allowing businesses to meet diverse computing requirements seamlessly.

Types of cloud storage

Cloud storage comes in various types, each tailored to specific data needs. Object storage excels with unstructured data, block storage provides fixed-sized blocks for structured information, while file storage organizes data hierarchically. These solutions cater to diverse applications, from media storage to database management. Listed below are three broad categories of cloud storage solutions:

1. Object storage

Object storage is the prevalent solution for users dealing with unstructured data like documents, images, and videos that don’t align with relational databases. Widely applied in content delivery networks (CDNs), backup and archiving, and data lakes, object storage is used in several sectors:

  • Media and entertainment: The industry heavily relies on object storage to effectively manage and store large media files, such as high-definition videos and audio recordings.

  • Data analytics: Object storage functions as a pivotal storage layer in data analytics platforms. This facilitates organizations in storing and analyzing extensive datasets critical for informed business decision-making.

  • IoT data: With the surge in IoT devices, organizations accumulate substantial volumes of sensor data. Object storage proves to be an efficient solution for handling the massive influx of unstructured IoT data, ensuring streamlined storage and retrieval processes.

Object storage offers flexibility, scalability, and streamlined data access with simplified permission management, making it a versatile storage solution.

2. File storage

File storage is a method of organizing and managing data as individual files within a hierarchical structure, akin to the arrangement of files and folders on a personal computer. This cloud storage type is well-suited for applications reliant on shared file systems, such as document management and file-sharing platforms. The examples below illustrate the practical applications of file storage:

  • Configuration files: Software applications and systems often store their configuration files in file storage systems for convenient access and management.

  • User home directories: In enterprise settings, file storage systems host user home directories, ensuring users can access their files and personal data seamlessly from any authorized device.

  • Software development: Developers utilize file storage for storing source code, libraries, and project files. Version control systems like Git also depend on file storage to effectively manage code repositories.

File storage enables hierarchical data access, providing a straightforward method for storing and retrieving well-organized data files.

3. Block storage

Block storage is a data storage system that oversees data in fixed-sized, individually addressable blocks. In contrast to object storage, which integrates data, metadata, and a unique identifier, block storage treats data as distinct blocks of a predetermined size, typically ranging from a few bytes to several megabytes. Notable applications of block storage include:

  • Storage Area Networks (SANs): SANs leverage block storage to furnish centralized and high-performance storage for servers and applications. This solution is prevalent in enterprise environments supporting mission-critical applications.

  • Databases: Relational databases like Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server commonly employ block storage to manage data files and log files. Given the structured nature of database systems, block storage aligns well with their requirements.

  • Big data and analytics: In big data and analytics environments, block storage finds utility in storing large datasets that necessitate high-speed access and processing capabilities.

Block storage dedicates equal-sized storage blocks, creating a high-performance storage and retrieval system due to their modular nature, helping ensure efficient and organized data management.

Technical requirements to look for in cloud storage

Determining your functional needs and outlining potential uses is just the first step. There are also several technical areas you should pay attention to when choosing your cloud storage provider.

1. Data structure and storage unit architecture

Data structure significantly influences storage methodologies—object storage uses unique identifiers for flexible data organization, file storage employs a hierarchical structure, and block storage divides data into fixed-sized blocks. The concept of a ‘storage unit’ distinguishes these methods. Object storage accommodates diverse-sized data objects, ensuring adaptability, while block storage relies on fixed-sized blocks, and file storage handles variable-sized files. The chosen storage unit profoundly affects data management and cloud storage requirements, highlighting the distinct capabilities and limitations of each architecture. This choice shapes how data is handled and accessed within the selected storage framework.

2. Data durability and reliability

Durability and reliability of data storage are crucial criteria in selecting data storage solutions. Object storage solutions are designed for exceptional durability, often offering a 99.99% uptime SLA. In contrast, the durability of file storage solutions relies on individual backup and redundancy strategies, demanding an understanding of the storage solution and its capabilities, often specific to the cloud provider. Similarly, block storage durability is contingent upon the provider’s implemented measures. Understanding these distinctions is imperative as they directly impact data reliability.

3. Access (control) mechanisms

File storage solutions employ conventional file-sharing protocols like SMB for Windows and NFS for Linux-based systems, enabling access to files and directories. Administrators wield control through quotas, script execution restrictions, or file size limitations, offering nuanced management options. Block storage functions at a more fundamental level, engaging applications with block storage devices at the block level via protocols like iSCSI or Fibre Channel. In contrast, object storage necessitates access via standard HTTP(S) or RESTful APIs. To fortify data security, administrators must craft and implement precise access policies and permissions, crucial for maintaining control and confidentiality within the storage environment.

4. Data redundancy strategies

Object storage solutions typically integrate inherent redundancy mechanisms by dispersing data across multiple nodes or locations. In contrast, ensuring redundancy in file storage necessitates interventions at the file system level or additional backup strategies, lacking simplistic, readily available solutions. Block storage commonly relies on RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) technology to bolster data safety in case of unforeseen issues. Each storage type presents distinct approaches to redundancy, with object storage offering native replication, file storage demanding deliberate implementations, and block storage leveraging RAID for resilience against potential data loss scenarios.

5. Scalability framework

The ability to withstand peak traffic is essential for managing intensive queries or accommodating a substantial user base, as in website traffic. Block storage achieves scalability through vertical (additional capacity to existing devices) or horizontal (adding more storage devices) scaling, typically achieved seamlessly in the cloud without downtime. File storage scalability involves adding storage devices or capacity to file servers, a process feasible without disruption, though manual intervention may be necessary. Notably, object storage solutions offer fully automated scalability, enabling seamless up- and down-scaling on demand, presenting a user-friendly and efficient solution for dynamic data volume adjustments in the cloud environment. Evaluating the scalability frameworks of block, file, and object storage is crucial for choosing a cloud storage solution that adapts effectively to varying application needs.

6. Security protocols and measures

Key security measures include data classification to align with sensitivity and regulatory standards, enabling the implementation of tailored controls such as encryption, and access management. Employee training on data security best practices, encompassing awareness of threats like phishing and social engineering, is imperative. Preventing data losses entails employing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) methods to detect and block unauthorized transfers. Establishing comprehensive data backup, disaster recovery, and incident response plans is essential for ensuring data availability in diverse scenarios. Compliance with regulations, network security implementation, and addressing additional facets like vulnerability scanning and data retention policies contribute to a holistic approach to security for cloud storage in business.

Criteria for evaluating cloud storage options for your business

In addition to the above technical requirements, additional factors to evaluate when looking at the right cloud storage solution for your business include:

  1. Industry compliance and accreditations Evaluating cloud storage options requires a thorough examination of industry compliance and accreditations. Ensuring that a provider aligns with regulatory standards and possesses relevant certifications is paramount. Compliance not only safeguards data but also mitigates legal and operational risks, making it an essential criterion for businesses seeking reliable cloud storage solutions.

  2. Innovative solutions and data governance When assessing cloud storage, focus on providers offering innovative solutions coupled with robust data governance frameworks. Innovative features contribute to enhanced functionality and efficiency, while a well-structured data governance strategy ensures data integrity, security, and compliance.

  3. Data transfer and bandwidth costs When reviewing the cost of a cloud storage solution, pay specific attention to data transfer and bandwidth costs. Understanding the pricing models and fee structures associated with data transfer ensures transparent budgeting. Comprehending these expenses is crucial to ensure that your chosen cloud storage solution aligns with your financial objectives.

  4. Vendor lock-in and exit strategies Guarding against vendor lock-in is crucial for maintaining flexibility and avoiding dependencies on a single provider. Assess cloud storage options by examining exit strategies and migration support. A provider that facilitates seamless data migration and offers transparent exit paths ensures that your business retains control over its data and can adapt to changing needs without undue complications.

When evaluating cloud storage options for your business, consider both technical requirements and business needs like cost and support. Validate certifications and standards adherence while also exploring customer perspectives through case studies and testimonials. This dual approach ensures a comprehensive assessment that combines industry benchmarks with real-world experiences.

Scale your business with DigitalOcean’s storage solutions

DigitalOcean’s storage solutions empower you to build a resilient and scalable storage infrastructure tailored to your specific needs. Whether you require high-performance block storage for critical applications, cost-effective object storage for massive data, or adaptable solutions for Managed Databases, DigitalOcean provides the tools and flexibility to navigate your storage journey with confidence.

  • DigitalOcean Volumes Block Storage leveraging NVMe technology, outperforms conventional HDD and SSD storage, excelling in speed with low-latency read and write functions. Data encryption at rest and during replication ensures robust security. Transmission to Droplets via isolated networks further fortifies data integrity, guaranteeing heightened security and reliability.

  • DigitalOcean Spaces Object Storage is a scalable, cost-effective S3-compatible solution featuring an integrated Content Delivery Network (CDN). Engineered for superior performance and reliability, it ensures secure data transfer with HTTPS encryption. It also allows customization of file access with options for public and private access, offering a versatile and efficient storage solution.

  • DigitalOcean Scalable Storage offers adaptable and cost-efficient solutions for Managed Databases, making it a crucial asset for growing businesses and changing industry demands. Explore our documentation to delve deeper into Scalable Storage and seamlessly integrate its advantages by updating your existing Managed Databases.

By leveraging these diverse offerings, you can optimize your infrastructure for performance, security, and cost-effectiveness, ensuring your data is always accessible, protected, and ready to drive your business forward.

Sign up for DigitalOcean today or connect with a DigitalOcean Partner for guidance on architecture reviews, deployments, and infrastructure assistance.

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