Five capabilities to look for in a cloud storage provider

Cloud providers vary when it comes to management capabilities, which expert Phil Goodwin said should be a key deciding factor for storage pros.

Over the past decade, IT organizations have been working diligently to break down storage silos. Yet as organizations

embrace hybrid cloud deployments, storage silos are again popping up due to a lack of visibility into cloud storage. While one cloud storage provider offers solid management capabilities, another offers almost none. Here's what's possible and what to look for when considering public or hybrid cloud storage deployments.

The saying "knowledge sets us free" wasn't coined to apply to storage management, but it does anyway. Old adages aside, keeping tabs on where storage resides, how much it costs, what's happening to it, and forecasting trends is as important and difficult as ever. Just as storage managers were getting a solid handle on storage in the data center, cloud storage came along and threw a veil over large quantities of data. In the emerging era of hybrid data centers, storage management tools remain critical to providing the knowledge needed to keep one's data "close." In turn, this sets us free to move data to the most appropriate location at any time and reduce provider leverage.

The simplest (and least expensive) cloud storage providers may provide very little in the way of storage management portals or dashboards. In some cases, this is limited to a Windows view into the disk hierarchy and file directory. From the viewpoint of a user accessing a simple file repository, this may seem to be enough. However, it doesn't give the IT group insight into the nature of the data type, growth rates and cost control. Although these providers may position their services for enterprises, they may be more suited to consumers.

Enterprise-class vendors will provide reporting mechanisms or portals that give customers insight into the storage repository. Most often, this is limited to physical-level measurements, such as consumption (e.g., capacity, bandwidth), uptime or other service-level agreement (SLA) measurements. These are key measurements for billing and governance, but do little to help manage storage more effectively.

Within the data center, many IT organizations have implemented extensive storage management regimens to consolidate storage towers, forecast requirements, optimize capacity and deliver performance. Consequently, there's a significant gap between the storage management delivered by cloud providers and the in-house capabilities managers have come to rely on. From a practical standpoint, this has created siloed storage, where managers are forced to deal with each type of storage separately. These hidden costs blunt much of the business case behind public (hybrid) cloud deployments.

Hybrid storage management capabilities remain nascent, but are advancing rapidly. Until these capabilities mature, IT organizations should add management integration to their list of evaluation criteria when selecting a cloud storage provider. Early integration points will focus on authentication and global permission management, but will evolve to include consolidated views of the hybrid physical estate. This integration will be enabled by application programming interfaces (APIs) that provide third-party software vendors with the ability to gather and report cloud-related data.

IT managers can use the following capabilities as discussion points in future cloud vendor evaluations:

In the short to immediate term, few cloud providers will have much in the way of delivery beyond the basics. However, providers should have a solid roadmap they can articulate with credibility. The market may be evolving, but the leaders will be anticipating customer requirements.

This was first published in February 2014

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