The advantages of cloud storage are flexibility, lower maintenance costs, lower energy bills and freeing up on-site servers.
Flexibility comes from cloud storage customers paying only for what they use. But the key drawback of cloud storage is the latency in accessing data held by the service provider, which depends on the bandwidth available between the customer and the cloud.
If bandwidth is insufficient the cloud can be unsuited to online, business-critical data that requires fast access. A bank would never put its key transactional data in a public cloud, for example. But that does not rule out using cloud storage for less critical programmes for many businesses, such as office productivity apps.
The cloud is suited to less time-critical operations such as backup and archiving although, even here, if a large amount of data needs to be restored, it may be quicker to retrieve it on disk via a courier rather than over the wire.
One way of mitigating the latency inherent in cloud is to stage data to local disk as well as copying it to the cloud, the so-called hybrid cloud storage option. This allows the user to retain a local copy for fast access while backing it up to the cloud for longer term storage.
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IT architects Codento backup and build in the cloud
Helsinki-based IT architect Codento helps customers build and deploy software projects, and has partnerships with cloud platform Eucalyptus, as well as with Amazon. Its customer architectures are increasingly cloud-based.
For its own data, Codento uses a cloud-based service that automatically backs up its laptops, and what it costs them in extra internet pipeline, it has more than made up for in time-saving, says CEO Petri Aukia.
One mistake small businesses make, says Aukia, is to work too hard to find the best deal. “There are maybe five to 10 reasonable choices you could go with. Don’t pick some fly-by-night organisation for your data.”
Crypho prioritises security
Crypho is a Norwegian software-as-a-service company that lets businesses communicate securely on the fly. Customers get their own dedicated servers and manage their own backup and archiving with data tightly encrypted.
“The biggest advantage is flexibility,” says CEO Geir Baekholt. “Having a virtually unlimited pool of predictable processing resources is a huge advantage. To many companies, not having to relate to hardware is a big win too.”
To Crypho, security is the key concern and Scandinavian businesses need to ensure they are compliant when seeking a cloud provider.
“If a Norwegian company stores its data with Amazon, which jurisdictions apply?” asks Baekholt. “US law states that the supplier is not allowed to inform the client if the data is accessed, whereas European Union (EU) law states that the supplier must inform the client.”
Behaviosec relies on cloud for convenience
Luleå-based Behaviosec offers behavioural biometric solutions for information security. It spent a few years relying on its own servers for everything, but recently switched to a series of off-the-shelf cloud services, only paying for what it uses.
“It’s your instinct as an engineer to do it yourself, but you’re better off doing it this way,” says CEO Neil Costigan.
Behaviosec uses Microsoft 365 and SugarCRM, which allow it to collaborate from anywhere – an important feature for a distributed team frequently on the move.
It uses Amazon cloud services for private demonstrations, but many of its clients are banks and are concerned about leaking data. “It’s not so much user privacy, but metadata is competitive intelligence and they’re concerned about that,” says Costigan.
Behaviosec considered Swedish cloud providers, but felt Amazon would better serve its global customer base with its network of datacentres. “We lost a little in local support, but we really gained in worldwide availability,” says Costigan.
Many companies in the Nordic regions use the larger cloud suppliers. Mainly, it’s Amazon Web Services for development and storage, Dropbox (built on Amazon), Google Apps and other international providers.
Organisations in Scandinavia are particularly concerned about security and privacy. In Sweden and Norway, public institutions are required to make sure any contracts they sign comply with their country’s data protection laws.
Companies such as IT-services provider Tieto, which operates across Scandinavia, have built security and operational flexibility into their storage solutions and also have their own datacentres. Its self-service portal and template-based configuration allow users to configure servers easily, which means that, if a marketing department wants to set up a project that needs a dedicated server, they can do so without going through an IT department.
There’s also Bahnhof, which is based in the former headquarters of the Pirate Party, in a nuclear bunker under central Stockholm. This was the company that hosted Wikileaks.
What should CIOs/IT managers look for?
In addition to cost, scalability and usability, Kai Roer, president of the Norway-based Cloud Security Alliance, says customers should ask questions about cloud security. “A general challenge is complexity,” he says. “Although cloud services are usually easy for end-users, they do require well thought-out security controls.”
If looking for a cloud provider, he suggests IT managers ask if it is possible to change terms of service to suit the client company’s needs, then follow up with questions about future supplier changes to terms of service. He stresses the importance of assessing their transparency.
Nordic cloud storage
Nordic countries are normally eager to embrace new ideas, and cloud storage uptake is strong. It’s partly because the security concerns, along with the climate (both in weather and innovation) are bringing growth in Scandinavian data storage systems.
“If you position us into the US mindset,” says Codento CEO Petri Aukia. “I think we’re somewhere west of Chicago. We’re not as early adopters as either US coast, but compared to European capitals, only London is an earlier adopter than the Nordics.”