Recent news of cloud storage fiascos with providers like SideKick and SwissDisk ought to be a concern to enterprises with data in the cloud, but they shouldn’t fear it, said one analyst.

“Don’t be scared, but look before you leap,” said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst with the StorageIO Group.

Schulz said applying basic common sense, like backing up your data, is the way to go, because cloud storage really is like putting data on any medium, whether it’s disk or cloud.

But many customers neglect to back up data, in part due to the mystique surrounding cloud storage, said Schulz. “There is the notion that I can just move my problems to the cloud,” he said.

Earlier this month, customers of Las Vegas-based cloud storage provider SwissDisk Inc. found themselves unable to access their data following what the company described, in an e-mail to users, as an “unplanned and unforeseen catastrophic hardware failure caused by multiple simultaneous events.”

“Don’t be scared, but look before you leap.”  Greg Schulz.

SwissDisk management also told customers it has since signed a contractual service agreement “with a $40-billion company” that will allow them to provide users with a 99.95 per cent service level agreement.

Also this month, users of T-Mobile’s Sidekick smart phone were told by Microsoft Corp. that their data – contacts, notes, photos – may not be retrievable after servers belonging to subsidiary Danger Inc. had failed. Danger provides service to the device users on T-Mobile’s behalf.

A data recovery tool has since been made available by Microsoft and Danger so users can restore their lost contacts.

Schulz pointed out that some cloud storage services are low- or no-cost offerings, meaning that corners are being cut somewhere to keep those costs down. The added risk is that customers are less likely to scrutinize a service they aren’t paying for, he added.

“Unless it is information you can be without for any period of time, you should be looking and asking and digging into what sort of disruptions can be expected and what will that provider give you in terms of availability and accessibility, and what are the levels of service that they are committing to,” said Schulz.

Whether there is a third party involved behind the scenes, as with Danger providing the service on behalf of T-Mobile, Schulz said that ought not to complicate the relationship.

“It shouldn’t matter who is providing it. It’s who you are signed up for,” said Schulz.

The recent problems with SideKick and SwissDisk are part of the learning process for cloud service providers as they build out their cloud infrastructure, said Henry Baltazar, analyst for storage and systems with The 451 Group in San Francisco.

Such issues result from the newness of the cloud environment, not necessarily the size of the provider, said Baltazar.

SideKick was using enterprise-quality technology, he noted, but had likely done something that failed to meet the enterprise-level requirements, like not having a way to roll back data.

Baltazar suggests using the cloud for non-mission critical activities like secondary-type storage.

Performing due diligence on the service provider before signing up should allay concerns for the customer, said Warren Shiau, lead analyst with Toronto-based IT research firm The Strategic Counsel.

Caveat emptor. Use the same rigour that you would apply to any major contract,” said Shiau.

Shiau thinks that from a technical standpoint, there is really no need to worry about the reliability of cloud storage. If the service provider can afford to invest in backup, failover and redundancy, then there really shouldn’t be an issue, said Shiau.

Drawing an analogy to credit card processing companies that have lost customer data, Shiau said currently available technology is adequate to prevent such problems, but it often boils down to bad process.

“With the technology we’ve got it shouldn’t happen, but it does because somewhere along the line a process broke down, something didn’t go according to procedure, a shortcut was taken, policy wasn’t followed. Take your pick,” said Shiau.

In the future, Baltazar said there will be a need for federated cloud environments where customers can sign up with two cloud providers such that if one goes down then they can continue to leverage the other.

“Right now there is a lot of work being done in terms of interoperability between cloud service providers,” said Baltazar.


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