It's no surprise that interest in storage in the cloud has been rising: Storage in the cloud can be less expensive than storing data yourself, and it can be more scalable, more efficient and more secure.
Of course, that assumes you do everything right. Done wrong, cloud-based storage will gain you little. Worse, it could get you and your organization into a lot of trouble.
With a cloud storage solution, you send your data to a storage provider and let the provider manage it. It sounds simple, and, in concept, it is. On your end, cloud storage means that you determine what needs to be stored, encrypt that data, and then transmit it across the Internet (or another network) to the provider's site, where there is a repository that's shared among many companies. The provider keeps track of where your data is and makes it available to you when you need it.
It's unclear exactly how many companies are offering cloud storage services because the number changes almost on a daily basis.
Adding to the complexity of picking a provider is the fact that there are different types of providers for different storage tasks. Some providers, such as Iron Mountain, focus on storing enterprise data that would otherwise reside on an on-site SAN. Others, such as Mozy and Carbonite, focus on individual desktop computers and servers for small businesses. (With that said, Mozy's biggest customer is General Electric.)
Enterprise-class storage providers such as Iron Mountain provide very high performance, significant scalability and high levels of security.
Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, Vt., uses Iron Mountain to store medical images older than five years. The hospital is still migrating X-ray, MRI and other images, but is already pulling down some images from the cloud. According to IT Team Leader Dennis Boucher, performance is "pretty amazing."
Boucher said that because his data must meet a number of compliance requirements, including HIPAA, security was also critically important. "[Iron Mountain is] highly secure, they have very secure sites, they use encryption, and they're using a VPN tunnel to secure the transmission," Boucher said.
But not every enterprise works the same way. When General Electric signed on with Mozy (a division of EMC), the goal was to have a reliable means of backing up employee desktop computers.
According to Dave Robinson, Mozy's vice president of marketing, about 300,000 GE employees use Mozy, with the company managing the process via a Web-based administrative console.
Most of Mozy's and Carbonite's customers are small and midsize businesses, and the services are publicly available for individual use. Carbonite just announced that it's offering a new service aimed at larger businesses. The new service, Carbonite Pro, will back up servers and network-attached storage.