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Cloud storage: Is the convenience worth the extra expense?

Weigh the benefits

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Steady and ready

The one thing I don't question is whether or not those services will be there when I need them. I can count the number of times I have noticed Windows Update to be down in the past decade on one hand.

Steam periodically blinks offline, but rarely more than a few hours a year. I have not noticed Teamdrive, Dropbox or Gdrive ever being unavailable and have simply taken their availability for granted.

Barring trips to the wilderness, I have always managed to find enough bandwidth

As a professional cynic and catastrophist (otherwise known as a systems administrator) I know better than that. I can dig up downtime statistics and spin you tales of how many different ways these services could be made unavailable.

In practice, however, they have proved to be there when I needed them. Barring trips to the wilderness, I have always managed to find enough bandwidth to get them.

This explains one very important value proposition of cloud storage, and by extension cloud backups. The infrastructure you are sending your files to just works. You still need two copies of any data you put in the cloud, but I think the arguments about the services being available when needed are done with.

Pipe dream

There is business value in having someone else take care of making a reliable cloud storage and backup point. Convenience has value and cloud providers can achieve economies of scale that individual businesses are unlikely to match. Where the economics of the equation play out is bandwidth.

Just as the dial-up user struggles with Dropbox or I avoid rebuilding my desktop, business data requirements stretch the capabilities of mainstream data delivery. You not only need to be able to back up your data every day, you need to have a plan in place to get the data back into production should a restore be required.

If I extend how consumers deal with this problem into the business world then bandwidth issues are simply a matter of finding someone with a big fat pipe and making arrangements to use it should things go sideways.

The obvious stand-by for me would be to rent a U of space at the local colocation facility and set a server up to be charged on a per-GB basis. If I ever need to get my cloudy backups quickly I can trigger a download of the information on the colo server. Then I simply drive over, pull the disks and take them back to my server room to perform a restore.

It may not be quite as convenient as letting Steam update all night but it gets the business up and running quickly and I do enjoy the convenience of offsite backups just working the rest of the time.

I think it is fair to say that this is something most of us are willing to pay a premium for. The better your cloud provider, the more options it will have for getting at your data more easily.

Incredible shrinking space

The legal issues surrounding putting our data online are being cleared up. Cloudy storage vendors are moving from new technology to old hat. One by one the arguments against cloud storage are being demolished.

If you are small enough then cloud storage makes sense. If you are so big that bandwidth is cheap and plentiful then cloud storage makes sense. There is a zone in the middle where it is of questionable value. This looks to be shrinking and the shape of this zone is increasingly not dictated by simple maths.

The cost of online backups may be higher than doing something more local; certainly the cost of restoring is. Bandwidth costs rather a lot and our data storage requirements are not going down.

But what is convenience worth? What value do you place on not having to engineer a solution yourself? The answers to these questions might surprise you. ®

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