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Cloud archive: What it is and what types of cloud archive services exist

Learn about cloud archiving, the difference between hybrid and full-service cloud archive offerings, and the key cloud archive vendors and offerings in the market today.

The aim of a cloud archive service is to provide a data storage environment as a service that is optimised for long-term data retention, security and compliance with data regulation policies.

Once in the cloud archive, data must be easily searchable via metadata; protected from overwrites or tampering; and provide client -- or legally specified, automatically applied data retention policies. You must also have confidence that your data is in safe hands and protected by sound disaster recovery systems.

The advantages of cloud archiving become clear when you look at the cost of implementation and maintenance of private mass archival storage, especially for organisations with large data retention obligations. Ownership of private archive infrastructure is a costly and management-intensive exercise. Due to the inherently long-term nature of archive storage, multiple hardware refreshes will be required throughout the lifecycle of the data, support contracts must be maintained, and staff turnover taken into consideration. With cloud archiving, by contrast, there are many choices available with regard to how and where archives are hosted and how users can access their archived data.

Hybrid cloud archiving vs fully cloud-based services

Hybrid cloud archiving is one step toward the cloud from the traditional in-house approach. Archived data that may require high-speed access is retained internally while lower-priority archive data is moved to low-cost, cloud-based archive storage.

A fully cloud-based archiving infrastructure, on the other hand, is a viable option that is especially suited to organisations that don't have the experience or resources to maintain private archiving storage infrastructure.

In deciding between hybrid cloud archiving and a fully cloud-based archive service, there are a number of questions arise that will govern your final choice. These include:

  • Are the data indexing, searching, retention and legal compliance aspects of the service compatible with our requirements?
  • Should the archive reside in the public or private cloud space?
  • What are the implications of this choice for data security and disaster recovery?

The best way to illustrate how archiving solutions address these questions is to take a look at some cloud archive products.

Vendor cloud archive offerings

Iron Mountain. The first company to offer a commercial cloud archiving solution was Iron Mountain with its Virtual File Store service. Virtual File Store set the foundation for the cloud data archiving market with full data retention policies, WORM capability, access control, and in-depth audit and reporting functions. 

The Virtual File Store system includes an appliance that uses encrypted disks to gather the initial content defined for archiving at the customer site. The disks are then shipped to an off-site data storage facility in the US and synchronised to the Iron Mountain private cloud.

Incremental archiving is achieved as customers transfer files to the on-site appliance, which then synchronises that data to the off-site archive. Since this service is tied to the Iron Mountain off-site storage infrastructure, it offers organisations a single point of contact for all aspects of the archiving process.

In the second quarter, Iron Mountain announced it would exit the cloud marketplace to concentrate on storage of physical assets and that it had agreed to sell Virtual File Store -- and the rest of its digital data storage business -- to Autonomy, although existing Iron Mountain customers will continue to be supported.

Atempo. The Atempo Digital Archive takes a different approach to file archiving. This software-based solution acts as a storage and data management gateway to provide archiving capabilities to the Atmos and Permabit cloud storage platforms and Nirvanix cloud storage services.

The Atempo solution runs on multiple server platforms and allows the addition of the archive as a bottom tier to selected primary storage systems, including NetApp FAS, EMC Celerra and BlueArc, as well as generic NAS-, Windows- and Linux-based storage arrays.

Users have the ability to archive data manually or by automated rules, and the product has extensive metadata capability to allow fast searching and data retrieval. It has the ability to handle millions of files and is used by, for example, the National Film Board of Canada to manage its huge film archives.

The Atempo Digital Archive also allows users to control how their data is archived, managed and retained and leverages a selected range of cloud storage services as a raw disk resource.

EMC. EMC, meanwhile, offers a hardware appliance-based solution called the Cloud Tiering Appliance. This product offers the ability to archive to cloud services based on the EMC Atmos platform, with support planned for non-Atmos-based services in the second half of this year.

This allows organisations to reduce their storage costs as public cloud storage is available for pennies per gigabyte and economies of scale can be had when dealing with large amounts of data. The Cloud Tiering Appliance is compatible with EMC's primary storage systems as well as those from NetApp. And it offers archiving to secondary internal storage including Isilon NAS and EMC Centera systems.

Autonomy. This company's Consolidated Archive is an example of a hybrid archiving solution that offers internally hosted and private cloud-based archiving options. Consolidated Archive includes the ability to archive 400 different file types, including audio and video from as many as 1,000 repositories. And an extensive built-in legal standards archive includes, for example, Data Protection Act and Basel II compliance.

Consolidated Archive also features an advanced search technology and the Intelligent Data Operating Layer (IDOL) single-instance storage algorithm, which provides real-time deduplication and storage optimisation. Consolidated Archive offers off-site cloud archiving services via the Autonomy Digital Safe service.

In addition to the above, there are many public and private cloud archiving solutions that focus on specific file-type archiving; the most common types are email and databases. Many of the services mentioned above also offer these services and have features that allow integration with on-site customer applications.

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