Getting off the data storage treadmill

Disk drives are relatively cheap, but storage systems and networks are not

Now that hoarding has become fodder for reality television programming, it might be appropriate to address “digital” hoarding and how the cloud can help you cope with the avalanche of data accumulating around you in your organization.

In wasn’t too long ago that having a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of data in a business was only something that large corporations accumulated. Today, laptops and PCs can be purchased with a terabyte disk drive installed. With so much storage available, just what are people using it for?

The answer is they are using their storage devices to accumulate “unstructured” data — for most people, that means emails, photos, videos and music files. Organizations also accumulate unstructured data in the form of emails, scanned documents, images, test data, backup data and office files like text documents, worksheets, drawings and presentations.

“Unstructured” refers to the fact that the data files are not “structured” or contained in the form of a database. They are just files sitting on spinning disks, and there are a lot of them.

Currently, unstructured data accounts for 80 percent of the data that resides within an organization. The estimated growth rate for unstructured data is 10 times to 50 times that for structured data. With that kind of growth rate, something has got to give.

But wait a second — what about all of those cheap terabyte disk drives? Yes, a bare disk drive is relatively cheap, but everything else that goes along with it is not. Disk drives are one part of the technology to store and manage data.

Storage costs

Historically, the more sophisticated and expandable the storage system, the more it costs. IT staff must be trained and experienced in the management of things like disk drive arrays (RAID), Storage Area Networks (SANs) or NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices. Premises data storage requires floor space and must be supplied with power and located in a suitable environment. And every three to five years, it will need to be replaced and/or upgraded at a non-trivial cost.

Yes, disk drives are relatively cheap, but storage systems and storage networks are not.

So how does the cloud offer relief from the treadmill of premises storage expansion needed to contain all of this growth in unstructured data? Cloud storage, like cloud computing, is a service. Cloud storage is an operating expense and not a capital expense. Cloud storage providers charge cents per gigabyte for storage on a monthly basis and for the amount of data transfers you make into and out of the storage provider’s cloud. Cloud storage is “infinitely” expandable, which means you never have to worry about having enough of it to meet your requirements.

Cloud storage providers build, manage and operate their storage service so you don’t have to. They also provide or locate their storage service in a secure facility that has adequate power, air-handling, fire-suppression and emergency power generation.

Your connection to a cloud storage provider could be over the public Internet or over a private connection, depending on what the cloud storage provider offers.

Tim Wessels, cloud navigator at Oort Cloud Computing, Rindge, has worked with small and medium-sized businesses for over 25 years.