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Navigating cloud-based data storage requires some caution

Cloud services are economical and easy to use -- if you know the ropes. Approach cloud computing issues with caution; you just might run into familiar on-premises storage problems.

"The fog comes on little cat feet," Carl Sandburg wrote way back in 1916. But a hundred years later, a similar atmospheric disturbance -- the cloud -- has hoofed its way into data centers far less delicately. Cloud-based data storage, cloud computing and a whole bunch of services ending in aaS have made their presences felt, casting a shadow over on-premises infrastructure.

Today, the hype has cooled a bit, and scores of cloud services have proved their utility or, in some unfortunate cases, failed spectacularly. In other words, there are winners and losers, and the cloud storage and services market is starting to look pretty normal.

Another 'place' or state of mind?

To assuage IT pros suffering from cloudaphobia, many experts said the cloud concept is quite simple: It's just another place to put data and run apps, like another data center or remote site. That might've talked some antsy data center hacks off the ledge, but in truth, the cloud isn't so familiar, and cloud services are likely to change traditional IT roles and responsibilities.

I think everyone gets that now. But what's interesting is that even with this major realignment of the data center, in the age of cloud computing, many traditional IT concerns haven't changed. They might require new solutions given the changing distribution of infrastructure resources, but the basic chores are certainly reminiscent of the pre-cloud world. That doesn't mean what worked in the past will work now in a cloud services environment.

To further confound things, business units are getting into the act. With a buffet of services tempting them, they're just as likely to help themselves to the cloud as they are to ask IT for assistance.

Storage is tough, on-premises or in the cloud

Data management company Primary Data conducted a survey at VMworld 2017. Thirty-six percent of respondents cited data migrations as "a headache," and half said that at least 60% of their companies' data was cold -- meaning untouched lately, unused or just occupying space.

Given what Primary Data does and sells, I expect they looked at some of these numbers and saw opportunity. But after perusing the survey results I thought, "What's new?" These issues are all classic storage problems that storage pros have always needed to solve. But the difference today is that with cloud as part of the picture -- a big part for some companies -- it may not be prudent to deal with time-honored issues such as data migrations and cold data using traditional means. The cloud kind of twists that old saw around, and the more things seem the same, the more they've actually changed.

To assuage IT pros suffering from cloudaphobia, many experts said the cloud concept is quite simple.

Cloud must be considered as the solution, or at least part of it, for just about any data center dilemma. That's particularly true for storage, as it's the most mature of the cloud services and usually represents the biggest data center expense and real-estate hog. No wonder then that Primary Data's survey also revealed 35% of respondents felt budget challenges and 27% were concerned about cloud adoption.

Cloud smarts

Another survey from Rackspace is, arguably, equally as self-serving as Primary Data's or any other vendor survey. Nonetheless, there were some revealing stats.

Storage pros know you can't just go out and buy cloud-based data storage, as it comes in as many flavors and varieties as the kind of storage you uncrate and install in the data center yourself. You have to do the same work and research to determine the best storage for the apps it will serve just as you normally would. It gets harder when storage is located in the cloud, however. You must consider data migrations, bandwidth, latency, ingress and egress charges, the cost of cold data and so on. For other IT disciplines, the issues might be different, but they complicate processes just the same.

Forty-four percent of Rackspace's survey respondents said they spend more time maintaining cloud services than expected. That's kind of disappointing when you consider our own TechTarget research shows cost is by far the most critical consideration for engaging a cloud-based data storage service for more than 70% of our survey respondents. Saving money and spending more time doing something don't seem to jibe very well.

Perhaps the most telling result from Rackspace's survey was that 62% of respondents said they wish they had the chance to improve their cloud skills, to hone their expertise.

Mind the gap

I'm not suggesting cloud-based data storage or any other cloud service should be avoided. Rather, I think they should be approached with some caution and the understanding that the problems you're trying to solve may be familiar, but the methods to solve them in the cloud may be different.

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