Storage pros worry about putting data in the cloud

Cloud computing still in its infancy, according to storage experts

Cloud storage platforms need to mature before they are enterprise-ready, particularly for customers in highly regulated industries, IT professionals attending Storage Networking World in Phoenix, Ariz. this week said.

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Security, legal issues and portability of data are potential roadblocks cited by customers.

“It still has some maturity issues,” said Basant Agrawal, enterprise architect with APS, an Arizona utility company. “Number 1 is security. Also, the vendors have to be big enough to handle legal issues. It’s not just about technology. It’s about the whole infrastructure, and legal issues and regulations. Then the technology has to be seamlessly integrated.”

Agrawal said APS uses software-as-a-service platforms such as Salesforce.com, and has looked into cloud services for disaster recovery. But because APS is a highly regulated organization “there is always a concern about data getting lost or stolen, and then getting sued,” he said. Vendors need sufficient insurance in case of a security breach, he said.

“Today the lawyers feel comfortable if the node is inside the perimeter,” Agrawal said. “If we get to the point where the node can be anywhere in the cloud and they can be assured the same level of security as if it was inside the perimeter, that would raise their comfort levels.”

Brett Daley, another SNW attendee who works for Early Warning Services in Scottsdale, Ariz., a bank fraud prevention vendor, said his firm wouldn’t adopt cloud storage because it is a custodian of financial data.

“Being a custodian of bank data, we couldn’t do it,” Daley said. “Would you want your checking account stored out [in a cloud service]?”

Daley said he gets the sense that most customers are still trying to understand the pros and cons of cloud storage.

“It’s still very new, most people don’t have their arms around it yet,” he said. “I’m still grasping it myself. It’s very object-oriented. It’s a way of storing things as objects as opposed to bytes and bits, so it’s a different way of thinking. … Financial institutions probably can’t do it because they have so many restrictions with what they can do with their data and how they have to secure it. Other companies may choose to do it, but time may tell.”

David Royer, president and CEO of Royer Systems Integration in Dallas, Texas, said his clients include a number of Fortune 500 companies and none of them have adopted cloud storage yet.

“We’re looking at ways that we can make it applicable to customer environments,” he said. “Part of the challenge is finding the right applications and the right functions that customers are wanting to get out of the cloud.”

Enterprises are interested in the services, and the cloud may ultimately help the healthcare industry increase use of electronic medical records, he said. But in addition to security concerns related to multi-tenant data center environments, customers are worried about portability.

The concern is, “if I go into the cloud, how do I get out of the cloud?” Royer said.

Royer is also involved in the Storage Networking Industry Association, which this week announced a cloud storage initiative that involves development of Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI), an API designed to allow interoperability between cloud storage offerings.

Royer hopes the new initiative will ease some of the concerns related to cloud storage.

“We’re looking at working with the CDMI specification to see how that can help resolve some of the problems in terms of security,” Royer said. “How can I implement security at a data object level? How can I implement other data such as backup at a file level?”

Several speakers at Storage Networking World discussed cloud computing, including Gordon Peterson, director of IT for the city of Carlsbad, Calif.

Carlsbad is using cloud-based e-mail and other office tools hosted by Microsoft, rather than cloud storage, but Peterson offered some advice to customers looking at any type of cloud service.

Customers need to evaluate what services are best provided internally and which can be more effectively outsourced, and then carefully choose a vendor that can offer strong support and not be at risk of going bankrupt.

“I’m sure there will be stories of selecting a cloud vendor and then maybe you read in the paper that they close their doors,” Peterson said. “Just choose wisely. This is a growing industry. Will they perform as advertised and what is your recourse?”

Because cloud platforms are relatively new, vendors sometimes don’t have the answers when a problem first crops up, Peterson said.

“We’ll place a trouble call,” he said, “and sometimes, it’s the first time they’ve heard of it.”

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