When employees within your company hit that “save” button, where do their files go? In the old days, when technology was seen as a productivity tool, the only path for that document might have been to the user’s hard drive. Data and information stayed private and quite vulnerable to loss, theft, and equipment failure. Now, technology in the enterprise serves as critical infrastructure, using networks to connect and manage data from many sources. Now, when an employee saves a document or data file, it is rare that it is written onto a personal hard drive. More likely, that file will be transferred to a network server.
Servers help a company to control the location and maintenance of applications and files across the company as well as to business partners and consumers. From a server, software can be run, documents can be stored and web sites can be deployed to the public. A properly configured network is virtually invisible to users. But when things run amok, people notice. Why can’t they get their files for a project due in three hours? What happened to the video that a sales manager was streaming to a client? How IT dreads sending that email: “The server is down.”
Two Ways to Keep Your Networks Running Strong
To be sure, people talk when the server is down, but an even more important conversation for IT staff, operations managers and financial managers is where to put the network up. The choice used to be easy, networks were built and maintained on-site. A password-protected, temperature-controlled room became the nerve center of the company. Blinking lights and miles of cable represented the signs of life, the movement of files, and the operational success of your business.
Now businesses have another choice, and it’s a popular one. Some companies realized that using a third-party provider to host their data storage environment made a lot of sense. They left the technical aspects and capital expense of the architecture to the experts, got great access and availability, and even benefitted from other business continuity services like data backup and recovery. These companies found the cloud, and when it came to scalability, the sky seemed to be the limit.
Cloud storage is taking off. According to Cisco, Cloud workloads in public data centers is going to grow from 30 percent in 2014 to 56 percent in 2019. Also by 2019, Global cloud IT traffic will comprise 83 percent of total data center traffic. But when it comes to making a vital decision about where to store your company’s files, don’t look at which the wind is blowing. Stick to the fundamentals… what does your business really need?
Let’s start with more advantages of the cloud.
- As we mentioned, it’s hot. The industry analyst firm Gartner forecast that “at year-end 2016, more than 50 percent of Global 1000 companies will have stored customer-sensitive data in the public cloud.” There’s an upward trend in cloud adoption, but keep in mind, almost 50 percent of companies have not yet chosen the cloud as their preferred environment. There may be reasons why.
- It’s a great way to centralize data. No matter where employees are, what projects they are working on, or which devices they use, information can be stored in one location and accessed remotely. The provider takes care of storage needs from availability to scalability.
- Cloud providers are in business to focus on one thing – data storage in the cloud. To serve many companies in a shared data center, they need to get things right – like security, for example. They have the resources and attention to spend on making sure data is safe and secure.
- In addition to security, cloud providers provide IT expertise, saving you from filling those positions. You don’t have to maintain and expand an IT department skills pool as your company grows. You also don’t need the time and expertise required to procure complex technology, the constant monitoring and physical expansion of storage capacity, or the capital expense budget for facilities and equipment.
- Many cloud providers offer data backup and recovery services. They can assure uptime and availability through server redundancy and the ability to quickly restore data in the case of equipment failure, disaster or power outage.
Sounds great, right? But cloud-based storage isn’t right for everyone. Consider this:
- You might be in a highly regulated industry. Some industries, like financial services and healthcare, have stringent requirements for data privacy and security. The effort required to maintain audit and control over your cloud partners, including proof of regulatory compliance and negotiation of service level agreements – often a challenge with providers having a standard contract – can be burdensome and require expertise that you thought you wouldn’t need by outsourcing.
- You might have hidden risks/responsibilities if a breach should occur. Your legal team should be consulted when using a third-party cloud provider. Ensuring that agreements place responsibility in the right place and determining legal jurisdiction when a breach happens might be a larger burden to the company than simply absorbing the cost and risks by keeping information onsite. Trust in a provider is important and necessary, and the more data and apps that a company moves to the cloud, the more trust your company is putting into external stakeholders with their own businesses to protect.
- You may pay too much. Cloud-based storage must be cheaper, right? Not so fast. With recurring costs based on user access, cloud storage can be more expensive for some companies than hiring or contracting an IT specialist to run on-site storage. While many companies can benefit from the predictable cost structure and scalability of cloud-based storage, you may also be paying for a contract that includes “standard” features and capabilities that are not be used.
- You may want more control over your information. Barriers in cloud visibility can make it difficult to see where sensitive data resides. And while cloud providers may provide metrics and insight into storage utilization, you need to decide whether it is enough information to make good business decisions around data security, audit and compliance, and vendor performance.
- You might see accessibility suffer. The anytime, anywhere advantages of the cloud are highly touted as benefits. The provider likely has a strong bandwidth on their end, poor company bandwidth can transform these advantages into obstacles, slowing or even prohibiting access to data. “Last-mile” latency can affect the streaming of audio or video data over the Internet. In certain situations, the company’s needs or local environment might be better served by building onsite networks.
Which servers should you use?
When evaluating a cloud provider or determining which physical servers are right for your on-site deployment, one of the first considerations will be to understand your options.
Basically, there are two types of drives used to store data in a server environment.
- HDD (Hard Disk Drive). HDD drives feature mechanical operation. Data is stored to a spinning magnetic disk. It is an older but well-established technology. Physical parts are subject to wear and failure.
- SSD (Solid-State Drive). These drives have no moving parts (think “flash drive”). This newer technology tends to be reliable but is still susceptible to degradation over time. SSD may be more expensive for comparable storage capacity, but it boots more quickly and has much faster read and write transfer rates than mechanical HDD devices.
Some organizations choose a hybrid implementation model. To optimize cost and performance, a company may deploy HDD for high capacity archival data storage, RAID/backups, and shared storage. SDD devices are used for high performance application servers.
No matter what server configuration you choose, make sure to have good off-site backup and RAID protection.
It’s what you put on your server that really matters!
Of course a well-planned and strategic technology network for data storage is vital to your business. But leveraging the storage capabilities to serve the many activities of your distributed employees is noticed day after day. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) provides the business processes and end-user features to make sure information stays organized and gets stored properly. ECM gives you the ability to manage, share, store and dispose of content according to best business practices. As we’ve pointed out here, there are diverse paths to implementing storage environments that cater to the needs of your company. Ultimately, content that is created with purpose and stored securely can be the foundation of your operational success.
This article was first written by Jonathan Estrin and published as “Where do I Safely Store my Company Files?” on September 21st, 2016.