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Storage-as-a-Service – An underestimated remedy

IDC is forecasting an increase of more than 60% in the number of terabytes required for the years to come. This is not a surprising trend. Employees produce more e-mails and more electronic content in larger documents. In addition, IT managers see a secondary effect of the digitalization of business: Rapidly growing indexes from internal search engines as well as more frequent and comprehensive backups. Governments around the globe require organizations to comply with a growing number of regulations. Regardless of the purposes these efforts serve, they all result in organizations having to store more data for longer periods of time.

IT managers identify two major areas of data growth which are more dynamic than others: e-mail and unstructured data. Both types of data are cost-intensive and underestimated:

1. Information management is expensive: From an IT and compliance perspective, all e-mail and office documents are affected by regulations. And e-mail and file servers do not help in classifying documents according to the different needs. This causes high costs in managing the information appropriately or, worse, organizations simply give up and keep all their e-mails and unstructured personal files forever.

2.The data do not seem to be revenue generators: Some data is not valued by the users: Every purchase order in an ERP System is considered high value for the business. Managers can see the business value in the data held in Sales Management Systems. This is not true for E-Mail databases or space occupied on files shares. Orders generate revenue, however e-mails and offices documents are vital for supporting the creation of it and required by Sales for closing deals.

Storage, clearly, in particular for file shares and e-mail including the required archives, is indispensable. Technical solutions have long since surpassed the basic requirements of being a business service. Whereas greater disks, faster access, Green IT concerns like less power consumption are still driving the industry, the biggest and fastest changing challenge of storage hardly plays a role: Simplicity.

Storage-as-a-Service – Make your data useful

Storage-as-a-Service has for several decades been a solid business with an excellent value proposition for IT departments. It originated from the needs for offsite storage of Backup tapes, accelerated to escrowing and validating software source code and made its way through all phases alongside the data deluge that determines storage requirements today. Storage-as-a-Service focuses around capturing, protecting, managing and using an organization’s information. Over time Storage-as-a-Service offerings have included and integrated more and more areas of IT storage: Backup Tapes, Online Server Backup, Data Protection for PCs, archiving, as well compliant records management.

All these elements fit into the three constituent pillars of a “Storage-as-a-Service” offering:

1. Capture: Feeding data into storage is the most widely used element of a “Storage-as-a-Service”- offering. It requires sophisticated ways to capture data of various kinds, from different applications and of different importance. Leading service providers supply an efficient transport mechanism. These leverage various data de-duplication methods at the capture point to reduce the amount transmitted. The data is encrypted before transmission. The openness of the capture interface is crucial for IT managers. A state of the art API allows integrating home grown applications so they can leverage the benefits of the Storage-as-a-Service offering for backup and archiving purposes. For archiving needs it is important to understand an organization’s roadmap and API strategy. Only this will allow the evaluation of potential hidden costs from mandatory adaptations to future versions of the API.

2. Store and Protect: This is a task internal to the service provider and critical for the costs, particularly regarding the future costs of the service. Hardware costs are decreasing rapidly and account for an ever smaller part of the overall costs. Administration and management are adding an increasing share to the bill. Only Storage-as-a-Service providers will be leading in costs over in-house storage by better mastering the operations of storage services. Therefore longtime market players in the Storage-as-a-Service business will have a distinct capability to constantly innovate and adapt needs to upcoming requirements leadership in costs.

3. Use: Capturing, storing and protecting data is a means to an end: use and re-use information. In a “Storage-as-a-Service” world we deal with occasionally used data, with summarized data and bulk retrieval operations. These characteristics usually apply to archived data, to unstructured data and to projects which demand a compliant fulfillment of legal requirements.

A typical scenario for long term storage is the need to review historical data in the framework of new regulations. Setting retention policies based on content based classification is as important in this regard as the ability to execute the planned destruction of data – including a plausible audit trial. A further scenario for re-using stored information is the need to retrieve know-how from previous projects to ensure progress, for example in the area of most industry specific applications: Some decade-old geospatial exploration data might be a brilliant resource for new methods for discovering crude oil reservoirs today.

In this context, only easy to use APIs allowing quick and secure usage of stored information and are mandatory not only to provide a service valuable in the future but also to respond to today’s flexibility requirements. Relying on the expertise of the “Storage-as-a-Service” provider for indexing and data classification services finally help reduce the complexity of the usage procedures.

How to find the right Storage-as-a-Service provider

One of the most important assets a service provider has to offer is experience – a vital prerequisite to make a Storage-as-a-Service solution a win-win situation for the customer. And efficient Storage-as-a-Service offerings do exist: The market leaders have been successful for over a decade. The emergency of numerous new vendors in this industry can be interpreted as a response to a need uttered by IT departments reformulating their value propositions to the business:

•Lower costs: An important benefit for Storage-as-a-Service is its cost advantage. Hardware costs are going down and administrative overheads from helpdesk staff to IT operations are becoming an increasing part of the total cost of storage. With their experience in operations and shared investments in state of the art automation, Storage-as-a-Service providers can sell storage services cheaper than the organization’s internal costs would be. An efficient Storage-as-a-Service provider factors in the downward spiral of storage prices and has sound strategies for cost reduction –benefits which are shared with the customer.

•Better leverage of IT skills: With the continuous uptake of IT services, new applications and high innovation speed in the data processing world, skilled personnel is getting rarer, and will remain in short supply. In commodity offerings like storage the best people will be hired by the prime service providers. Corporate IT departments will find it increasingly difficult to staff the appropriately skilled personnel.

•Tap into the Storage-as-a-Service Ecosystem – Open Capture and Usage APIs enable corporations to focus development efforts on value-added services and leave the basic functionality with the service providers. Data de-duplication, compression, versioning, indexing and a wide range of security functions will be provided by the service partner. Third parties will develop industry and regional applications leveraging the same basic services better and more cheaply.

In a nutshell, if you see storage primarily as a cost, burden and a chore, you have to look for a storage-as-a-service provider you can trust. We see this as an exciting service potential, and every organization no matter of its size deserves the best and most advanced services for their key asset – your organization’s information.

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