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Cloud archiving: A perfect use case, but beware costs and egress issues

The advantages of cloud archiving are ease of use and being well-suited to potential latency issues, but IT teams need to be aware of costs and issues around moving data from and between clouds

A little over a decade ago, the notion of cloud storage would have been alien to the vast majority of the population. It has now become so much part of our vocabulary that people talk glibly about storing their personal data in the cloud.

It is, therefore, no surprise that enterprises are eagerly adopting the cloud as a storage technology. Amazon Web Services (AWS), by far the leading player in the public cloud service sector, launched its S3 storage product 15 years ago, and the company quickly established itself as the pace-setter in this new market.

Many companies looking to move to the cloud for the first time do so by exploring storage options – currently, about 50% of corporate data is held in the cloud, and this is growing all the time.

Archived data is particularly suited to the cloud because many of its disadvantages do not apply. For example, many organisations shy away from cloud storage because latency is an issue. They have applications that cannot exist in a geographically remote location. But this does not apply to archived material. Historical data need not be delivered so quickly that a few seconds delay matters.

Cloud archiving cost structure

The big plus point for cloud archiving is cost. AWS’s S3 was launched with the aim of simplifying the cost of storage, but the company has since introduced Glacier and Deep Glacier as storage options taking the cost to a lower level. For example, AWS’s Deep Glacier option can be less than a dollar per terabyte for a month’s storage. And such low costs aren’t unique to Amazon. Microsoft Azure’s archiving option, LRS, is a similar price.

As a guide, AWS’s S3 is nearly 200 times more expensive (and again, Microsoft and Google’s costs are very similar). It’s clear then, that any company looking for a cost-effective long-term archiving option will find the cloud an attractive option.

Future-proofing storage media

But there’s another dimension to archiving in the cloud and that’s to do with the technology itself.

Anyone who’s been in the corporate world for any length of time will have seen many changes in storage media. There have been multiple form factors and, given that archiving is a long-term project, any CIO will have to make a choice about what medium to use, while also making sure the company has the equipment to read it. It may be a simple choice to install a DLT library, for example, but will the hardware to read it be around 20 years down the line?

By transferring data to a cloud provider, archiving is future-proofed and organisations can be reasonably content that everything will be archived for years into the future

It’s a choice that’s been moved to the forefront of decision-making since the passing of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Companies that have been content to hold long-term data on hard-to-reach tape have suddenly had to make sure everything is now readily available. It’s something that has concentrated IT managers’ minds.

Moving to the cloud solves this legacy hardware issue. Companies don’t need to keep an inventory of old hardware. By transferring data to a cloud provider, archiving is future-proofed and organisations can be reasonably content that everything will be archived for years into the future – which would be good news for any data protection officers struggling to meet GDPR obligations.

Change in work practices

GDPR is not the only factor that has prompted moves to the cloud. The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the increasing number of people working from home or remote locations has also had an impact on the way employees access corporate systems.

The closure of many offices to stop the spread of the virus has made physical archiving to tape libraries more challenging and off-site archiving to the cloud a more attractive option. It’s also become far easier to access archived data from anywhere and, as the signs are that there will be a growing number of people home working in the future, cloud archiving will become an automatic choice for many organisations.

Disadvantages of cloud archiving

However, there are many companies that remain fearful of off-site archiving. There are still concerns over security, despite the many millions of pounds that cloud companies invest in top-of-the-range security systems. It’s true that users are far more confident about cloud security than they used to be, but there are still some die-hards fearful of anything not on their own systems.

While security is fading away as an issue, there are two other factors that are still in play.

First of all, there’s cost. As we have seen, archiving costs are low and falling all the time. However, there’s been a slow realisation among IT managers that cloud costs don’t always match expectations and what has been sold as a cheap option can end up costing far more than expected.

The other issue is the concern about getting data out. This is particularly relevant for archiving when managers have to take the long-term view and want to ensure their data is available for a considerable length of time. There have been instances where data is held by a provider that has gone bust and has become inaccessible to customers, which is a nightmare for any manager with compliance responsibilities.

Making the choice

According to Bryan Betts, senior research analyst at Freeform Dynamics, these are definitely the two areas of most concern. “CIOs are savvy that cloud is not the cheap option and are concerned they could be caught up by terms and conditions and find there’s a problem getting data out. There are also difficulties in moving between clouds,” he says.

However, he cautioned that there is a definite gap between reality and expectation. “People are more fearful about costs and terms and conditions than is justified in reality. Managers who have actually made the move don’t show these concerns,” adds Betts.

“People are more fearful about costs and terms and conditions than is justified in reality. Managers who have actually made the move don’t show these concerns”
Bryan Betts, Freeform Dynamics

There are still issues that may inhibit the move to the cloud. While there are many examples of companies that want the move to boost operating expenditure and cut down on capital expenditure, there are instances of organisations that want to maintain the latter for accountancy reasons. And, says Betts, there are organisations that have pulled everything back from the cloud because it’s easier to control costs.

Some companies have been reluctant to move to the cloud for off-site archiving because of a perceived lack of cloud skills – this may apply particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But, as Betts points out, there’s still a need for skills if they’re going to implement an on-premise policy, so it’s not such a straightforward swap. SMEs may well lack some of these specialist skills too, and may find it particularly the case when adhering to GDPR compliance.

It is clear there are plenty of advantages to archiving in the cloud. By freeing CIOs from the pain of choosing a hardware medium for long-term storage, moving to the cloud offers greater flexibility.

But that’s not to say that it’s a pain-free choice. Close attention must be paid to cost and there’s definitely a need for companies to ensure they’re not left high and dry with restrictive terms and conditions that can lead to difficulties in accessing data.

However, as we move further away from nine-to-five, office-based work, cloud archiving looks, for many firms, to be the best way forward.

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