What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage is a virtual space for saving important data, files and other information within a secure physical server, typically managed by an off-site third-party provider or an on-premises administrator.
Robust off-site data centres
Cloud storage mimics the functionality of local storage devices, letting you save or access a variety of content types at any given time from a virtual environment. Any information uploaded to the cloud is stored remotely in robust off-site data centres. When users save data on cloud servers, that information becomes the responsibility of the managing third-party provider in exchange for a fee.
Third-party storage solutions
Popular third-party cloud storage solution examples include Google, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive (for individuals or small businesses) or Microsoft Azure (for larger enterprises). And like other forms of cloud computing, there are multiple infrastructures to choose from, including public, private and hybrid models.
Before mainstream cloud storage, users and organisations would typically build and manage their own storage area networks (SANs) in order to save their work and other data. When that storage space maxed out, any additional data would be saved or transferred to external storage devices. As storage demands increased, adding more servers or infrastructure became necessary.
How does cloud storage work?
Cloud storage is a virtual space (i.e. cloud server) created within one or more physical servers. The cloud server itself is made and managed by a hypervisor or similar software. Users can access cloud storage through an internet connection, web portal, intranet, cloud storage applications or other application programming interfaces (APIs). When a user uploads data or files to cloud storage, it is often copied to multiple servers to preserve redundancy, helping prevent complete data loss in the event of component failure and preserve business continuity.
How users upload and download that data, as well as how much storage capacity is allocated, is determined by third-party providers and any subsequent agreement or subscription terms. In essence, once a user pays a transaction or monthly fee, the third-party provider becomes responsible for managing and upgrading that cloud infrastructure. Users can then provision cloud storage to their own devices, through a web interface, or dynamically as needed.
Any data stored in the cloud is only accessible by authorised users and protected by any number of security features, including passwords, encryption and other credential verification methods.
In general, there are three types of cloud storage: public, private and hybrid. Public cloud storage is often offered as part of an as-a-Service model, with enterprises opting for a hyperscale cloud solution and smaller businesses choosing a subscription-based solution.
Private cloud storage is similar to public cloud storage in every way, except that the responsibility of cloud management falls on the end-user organisation rather than a third-party provider. Private cloud storage is a popular choice for businesses and organisations that follow strict security requirements or work with large volumes of sensitive data.
And as the name implies, hybrid cloud infrastructure combines elements of public and private cloud. This method is the ideal choice for organisations with specific workload demands, or that handle a wider range of data that requires varied levels of security.
The pros and cons of cloud storage
The benefits of cloud storage vastly outweigh its disadvantages. For one, cloud storage is simple and convenient to use anywhere there is an internet connection, often deploying an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. But beyond mere user experience concerns, cloud storage makes it easier to share files of all sizes, enabling near real-time editing and collaboration between users inside and outside of a business or organisation.
Compared to older forms of data storage, outsourced cloud storage is far less expensive, eliminating many costly and time-consuming management hurdles. In other words, third-party cloud storage lets enterprises and organisations focus more on their business goals than maintenance demands. Cloud storage is also offered as-a-Service, where users only pay for the storage they use.
Security is also enhanced in cloud storage. Many cloud storage providers include multiple built-in safeguards to protect data, ranging from passwords and encryption to automated backups on the provider’s servers. Plus, cloud storage reduces the need for external storage devices, which could become potential security risks if lost or stolen.
Perhaps cloud storage’s biggest drawback is also its biggest selling point: it requires an internet connection. Without one, users cannot access their data unless they have a local backup. This potential concern often requires users and enterprises to ensure they have a reliable and strong bandwidth to accommodate their needs and avoid excessive latency.
Second, while third-party cloud storage alleviates a lot of the day-to-day management headaches, it does diminish a user’s or organisation’s overall administrative control. Any setback or component failure requires working with that provider to resolve any issues. This lack of control is a key reason why many cloud storage customers opt for hybrid infrastructures, which offer additional on-site control.
Lastly, industries such as healthcare and finance require specific data privacy guidelines and regulations, which may limit cloud storage options for some organisations.
Modern applications of cloud storage
Thanks to cloud technology, data storage is quickly becoming more agile, scalable and cost effective. And for businesses around the world, cloud storage is being used nearly every day, helping them improve and optimise IT infrastructure, accelerate growth and power decision-making across any number of verticals. In other words, compared to traditional or hard metal services, cloud storage lets companies decentralise the data they create, collect and store, making it easier to access, share and protect data from any point in the world – as long as you have an internet connection.
You don’t have to look far to find cloud storage on the market. The most common and accessible types of cloud storage are public, with applications such as Google Docs topping the list. Here, users can compose documents and other content, save it, revise it, share it, and even work side-by-side with people in one virtual environment. Fewer physical roadblocks enable new levels of collaboration that wouldn’t be possible with bare metal servers.
But cloud storage has also become the go-to solution for general-, mission- and business-critical workloads, as well as for protecting the massive amounts of data that enterprises collect.
On mission-critical workloads, cloud storage can enhance the performance of applications in need of ultra-low latency, extreme availability, and scalability at a moment’s notice. For business-critical workloads, web applications that have service-level agreements (SLAs) can get the resiliency, availability and performance work functions needed for everyday operations and beyond. And for more mainstream needs, storage is readily available.
Cloud storage is also an active ingredient in data protection and data management, adding an extra layer of security while serving as a reliable backup in case of unexpected disaster.
HPE and cloud storage services
HPE offers a full spectrum of cloud storage services available through one of several consumption-based (pay-as-you-go) models. With the help of services and products such as HPE 3PAR StoreServ, HPE GreenLake, HPE InfoSight, Scality RING and many more, HPE has helped companies accelerate and optimise their virtual workloads based on their unique needs, mitigate common and unexpected risks, and reduce costs at the same time.
In retail, HPE helped Yoox Net-A-Porter Group (YNAP) transition from legacy storage servers to a more robust HPE GreenLake solution with flex capacity. By doing so, YNAP could maintain stable storage performance even during unpredictable surges in e-commerce transactions. Not only did HPE help YNAP to meet those demands, but they also doubled product development productivity and simplified budget management.
For Toyota Mapmaster, who make advanced map databases for Toyota car navigation systems, HPE helped integrate two all-new high-performance storage systems. In turn, Toyota Mapmaster drastically reduced heavy-batch processing times while speeding up inspection and validation processes.
Time and time again, working with HPE on cloud storage solutions yields consistent results, ranging from large capex savings and fewer wasted resources to extensive data and storage optimisation that unlocks new opportunities and innovation.