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Getting data in and out of a cloud service

Check those pre-nups

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Two problems with getting data in and out of a cloud service: the technology, meaning bandwidth and networking protocols, and contractual obligations.

There are limits to what can be done to download terabytes of data faster, but the right tools can certainly make things simpler. And as usual when taking on contracts, cloud customers need to have their wits about them.

Think of your bank account. Chances are it is the first one you opened. You could probably get a better deal if you moved it, but that is a hassle and your bank may work oh-so-politely to make it harder.

Now think of your company’s data and IT services. If you take them off-site and put them in the cloud, how do you make sure sure you can get your data out as easily as you put it in?

“No one really wants to go into a new contract thinking about how it will end, but you have to,” says Steve Green, Office365 technical specialist at Microsoft.

End of the affair

It is a bit like making sure you sign a pre-nup. Check contracts carefully for how access to your data will be managed at the end of the service.

The data should be stored for long enough after termination to download it all, but you might have full online access only for a short period. It may be stored after this but access won’t be immediate.

You can’t show up at Amazon’s data centre and demand to drive a nail through its hard drives

Similarly, you need to have a way of checking that the data is safely disposed of. You can’t very well show up at Amazon’s data centre and demand to be allowed to drive a nail through its hard drives. We’ll go in to this aspect in more detail another time.

Bandwidth is another issue. If you have your company’s email in the cloud and have up to 25GB of data in each inbox, even for a modest number of users it will take a long time to download that data.

Andy Dunbar, head of sales and marketing at the IT consultancy Polymorph, observes: “Technically, it is pretty much the same wherever you go. To get data off the cloud, you have to download it. But the process, and how it is managed, makes all the difference.”

As cloud services mature, he argues, on-premise and cloud versions of software are coming closer together. This makes moving data much simpler because version control is taken care of and all the migration techniques are familiar.

Moving story

Dunbar adds that the end of a cloud service is not the only reason to move data. For example, you might have a hybrid cloud set-up and need to take some data back in-house, keeping your data all on one platform.

Green explains how this would work with an Office365 deployment, the in-beta successor to Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS).

“The mechanisms are all there if you want to terminate the service,” he says. “Set up an Exchange server on your premises and move it across. It is a lot of data, but the process is as simple as we could make it. All the tools you expect are there.”

Users will be able to manage their Exchange administration as usual, and on the same screen see their Office365 set-up. Migrating a mailbox from one to the other can be done will no loss of data and with no need to rebuild the OST file, Green says, although you might have to restart Outlook.

In the cloudy version of Exchange, users can still create PST files, copy content and reattach to another mailbox. You can migrate through PowerShell if you so desire.

One day at a time

Whether moving data from one platform to another or to and from the cloud, the value of the content is important thing, according Steve Marsh, product manager at Metalogix.

“This is not just about going to a command line to move things, or looking at the way they are structured on the server. IT isn’t always the content owner, and we think the content owner should be involved in the migration,” he says.

Marsh believes cloud providers too often take an all-or-nothing approach to migration, and even to upgrades.

“The change management of that can be a nightmare. It is much easier for a customer to be able to move bit by bit, to consider the arrangement of data. How you have it arranged in the cloud might not be how you want it once it goes offline,” he says.

Cloud will be successful if it can be flexible. “Moving to and from the cloud is often overlooked as an issue, and cloud vendors need to address that,” he says. ®

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