Cloud Storage Isn't All Blue Skies Just Yet
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Cloud storage boasts a relatively low price point and advantages like scalability, flexibility, easy access and increasing vendor choices. But as the nascent technology continues to attract attention, its growing prominence means that its shortcomings are also being brought into the limelight
Even as the technology has grown over the past two years, experts warn that its success has been tempered with occasional problems like performance, reliability and support -- highlighting issues that cloud storage vendors are working to address.
One shortcoming came to the forefront as a result of recent outages on Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud storage offering. The most recent outage in late July knocked S3 offline for three hours.
"One downside is you get what you pay for, as performance isn't for Tier 1 applications," Bob Laliberte, an Enterprise Storage Group analyst, told InternetNews.com. "Service should at least be predictable, though reliability isn't on par with enterprise arrays," he said.
Amazon did not respond to a request for an interview for this story by press time.
While Laliberte said the issue of network latency may always be an issue depending on a cloud's connectivity strength, he still stressed that Web-based applications shouldn't necessarily be expected to perform like applications running in the corporate datacenter.
Instead, advancements like cloud storage are meant to provide cheaper, easier-to-manage options for enterprises.
That difference is the heart of cloud storage's current state: It isn't a panacea for every need, but it continues to gain favor -- and attracts new vendors, like Google -- because it can help companies cope with increasingly expensive storage infrastructures and mounting capacity, protection and retrieval requirements.
Part of the appeal is that while storage hardware costs may be dropping, they're often not enough to offset growing energy expenses and the cost of physical datacenter space. Those budget concerns are prompting more managers to consider cloud storage for non-mission-critical data, experts have said.
Another reason for increasing adoption is the flexibility aspect, Laliberte said.
"The ability to have access to my personal and potentially work information in any location and with the best possible connection can be a huge attraction," he said. "I don't have to wait to get home and fire up my PC to share files."
Yet many aren't fully aware of the challenges, they added. One problem revolves around support and service-level agreement (SLA) expectations.
"Everyone wants affordable, accessible storage, but then they complain when there is an outage or they need support," Greg Schulz, a senior analyst at StorageIO, told InternetNews.com.
Schulz points to Amazon's S3 outages that peppered its initial growth as a characteristic problem. While both he and Enterprise Storage Group's Laliberte acknowledge that Amazon's foray into cloud storage has done great things in pushing the concept into the mainstream, its initial stumbles also hurt the cause.
In particular, they said that Amazon's lack of SLAs at the time -- nor dedicated user support beyond online forums -- compounded the problems facing enterprises that found their data inaccessible for hours.
Amazon has since instituted both SLAs and support via e-mail.
Page 2: Sunnier skies ahead?