How to Migrate Unstructured Data to the Cloud
The business benefits of using cloud computing for file storage-including dramatically lower IT management costs, unlimited scalability, and pay-as-you-need resources always on demand-are hard to beat. But the technology is still young and it's not yet practical for a company to give up custody of its entire corpus of information to the cloud. Issues, such as data protection, files subject to regulatory compliance and intermittent service outages, are reasons enough for companies to carefully scrutinize their cloud-based storage policies.
The fact is, not all files are equal. Business-critical files comprise about 20 percent of all information saved on corporate networks. Can companies risk storing them in the cloud? Are the other 80 percent cloud-worthy? The answer to both questions is yes and no.
Based on my experience with helping numerous large organizations develop and manage their file migration strategies, I have identified eight key issues companies should consider when flushing out their cloud storage strategies.
Issue No. 1: Uptime requirements
The first thing to ask is how strategic are specific files to the business? How would it affect the business if they weren't continuously available? If files require five nines (99.999 percent) availability, they're probably not good candidates for the cloud. But for some files, 99.9 percent (which represents a few days' worth of downtime a year) may be good enough; a cloud storage vendor can easily meet that requirement in their service-level agreement.
File availability requirements may sometimes vary. For example, availability of Excel files required by CFOs for financial reporting will be critical when they're racing to close their end-of-year or end-of-quarter books, but much less so after the reporting period. However, since the timing of a cloud-computing outage is unpredictable, these are probably not good candidates for cloud storage outsourcing.
Issue No. 2: Bandwidth requirements
Companies need to consider file size and how much bandwidth specific files consume when they traverse between the enterprise and the cloud, as well as how often those files are accessed. Large, frequently-accessed files could become a cost issue since one of the largest expense items from a cloud service provider is network bandwidth.
Issue No. 3: File age
Files that lay dormant for extended periods-such as those that haven't been modified for 60 to 90 days-are probably good candidates for the cloud. Approximately 80 percent of files are not modified past 90 days of their creation date. Aging files may comprise good candidates for cloud storage, but keep in mind that file volumes may be high without proper housekeeping to eliminate duplicates or files with no business value.
It makes sense to keep newly created files local on the desktop or server since many are probably works in progress. Set policies in your storage management software to automatically move files that haven't been accessed within 90 days to the cloud, while keeping recent files local.
Issue No. 4: Chargebacks
For companies looking to implement chargebacks of storage costs to specific groups within the organization, the cloud has this capability built in. Cloud providers can track and bill file storage with fine granularity, allowing companies to accurately bill back to a particular department or even individual user. This criterion enables businesses to determine which groups and file types in the organization are the most cost-effective candidates for cloud storage.
Take Inventory to Estimate Costs
Issue No. 5: Take inventory to estimate costs
When planning for your migration to the cloud, start by using a file-discovery tool on your file servers to identify which files fit the cloud-worthy criteria mentioned above. With this knowledge, you can get a good estimate of what your cloud storage costs will be and compare it for different cloud storage providers.
Issue No. 6: Separate files from applications
You'll probably want to separate applications from their user-created files, keeping the applications local to minimize network bandwidth consumption. File discovery tools can you help you winnow these files from their applications.
Issue No. 7: Software or operating system migration
Upgrading to the latest version of Windows or Microsoft Office? File and application compatibility is a big enough challenge for local enterprise networks; files and applications stored in the cloud only compound the challenge. When upgrading your desktop software, make sure to employ file discovery and remediation tools on your cloud-based data to ensure your files will continue to work. Rather than trying to remediate potentially problematic files in the cloud, you'll want to pull them to the local network to perform the remediation (or remediate them before migrating them to the cloud).
Issue No. 8: Compression and encryption
Tools are available to enable you to compress, encrypt and single-instance your files (eliminate duplicate copies) when they are moved to the cloud. These tools are designed to significantly reduce the file-storage footprint required and improve security. Use them.
It costs roughly $3,500 per terabyte per year to manage your business data. (The cost of storage is extra.) Moving a big chunk of your storage requirements to the cloud can cut those costs by half or more-not to mention all the other compelling benefits gained by embracing the cloud. But cloud storage is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Businesses need to carefully plan their cloud storage strategies and identify which files will deliver the best value when stored in a cloud environment.
Chip Bates is director of product development for ConverterTechnology and has been in this role since 2008. Since June 2006, Chip has been SQA (software quality assurance) manager for ConverterTechnology, as well. In this role, he has established and managed all aspects of SQA. In addition, Chip manages the customer assessments process, provides customer support, and defines and schedules product enhancements. Chip brings 10-plus years of experience in SQA and management at GreatPlains and, most recently, Microsoft. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.