Moving Data to the Cloud: Options for SMBs and Small Enterprises7:18 AM EST Wed. Oct. 03, 2012
Mike Nikzad, chief operating officer at Iomega, explains the risks involved with cloud data storage, and offers tips for VARs who are moving in that direction with their SMB customers.— Jennifer Bosavage, editor
The decision to manage data, applications and websites in the cloud has developed an impressive track record of success. By keeping IT overhead low, this flexible, efficient and scalable method of storing and accessing corporate data from nearly anywhere would seem like a silver bullet for small businesses and enterprises alike.
[Related: How To Help SMBs Meet Their Cloud Storage Needs ]
Yet outsourcing IT to the cloud is not risk-free. Recent high-profile outages and data vulnerabilities provide a sobering reminder that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to a successful installation. The following experience-based tips are meant to aid VAR/Integrators in helping small business and enterprise customers in moving data to the cloud.
1) Evaluate your customer's current and future storage needs
To steer your SMB customer toward the right cloud-based storage solution, take these points into consideration:
• Price/performance: Large-scale solutions can scare off a SMB. Customers will aim for the best performance/space for the least cost. This is where you need to consult; make your customer aware of options that will meet (or exceed) their space capacity needs at a price they can afford.
• PC or Mac? Be ‘environmentally’ friendly: Is your customer operating a mixed environment (PC and Mac, perhaps Linux)? If so, you will need to look at options that support this environment. If you are considering a network attached storage (NAS) device, make sure it’s agnostic and supports PC and Mac files alike, because not all do.
• Back it up: If you decide to use a network attached storage combined with the cloud, once you get your data on the device, consider how to back it up and where redundancy is needed. You can deliver data to a cloud-based NAS device on a remote site using a private cloud, or stream it to a public cloud like Mozy or Atmos.
• Automate: You’ll want to automate the process of moving data to the cloud alleviating the need to change tapes or move hard drives. Secure your customer’s NAS appliances in facilities where nothing can get lost due to theft or natural disasters.
• Contingencies and expandability: Rather than continually adding storage capacity with supplemental USB hard drives, consider using a NAS device. Some NAS solutions can expand up to 36 TB or more, enabling storage capacity to grow with the business.
2) Private vs. public cloud storage
After you and your SMB customer have determined that a cloud-based storage solution will be part of their go-forward strategy, you need to direct them toward the type—private or public—that will best fit their requirements and budget. Business critical applications, regulatory concerns, required service levels, workload usage patterns and integrating applications with other enterprise functions are all considerations that drive a decision toward private or public cloud storage.
• Private cloud: In a private (or internal) cloud installation, the company installs its own server and storage hardware; they have the flexibility to shift workloads among servers to account for usage spikes or new application deployments. Though more secure, a private cloud could be cost-prohibitive due to the need to purchase servers and software. Businesses with highly critical applications, which operate in heavily regulated compliance environments like banking and pharmaceutical, typically choose internal private clouds.
• Public cloud: Public cloud companies, like Amazon Web Services and Mozy, appeal to companies that want to immediately start using storage and other services via an online portal. These companies have relatively few regulatory limitations, a need to go-to-market quickly and data that doesn't need to be tightly integrated with other parts of the business. Storefronts, bank branches and franchisees without dedicated IT resources also find a public solution compelling because it eliminates the need for onsite servers, operating systems and a large support staff. A word of caution: the more you store in the cloud, the more that storage capacity costs. Encourage your SMB customer to be focus on business critical files that need to be backed up in multiple places.
3) NAS-based cloud storage options
Many SMBs still use tape, hard drives or a basic server for their storage needs. While these storage options may be cost effective, the data is not secure and rotating and backing it up is a struggle. Resellers usually have a story or two about a customer who spends hours every week changing tapes out and moving hard drives to a secure, off-site location.
NAS-based cloud storage addresses protection and portability while providing a simple and virtually instant backup solution, too. With a combination NAS and cloud storage approach, small businesses can use the device for local storage for quick access to data. With integrated apps included on many leading NAS devices for popular public cloud services such as Amazon and Mozy, the NAS also serves as an “on-ramp” to the cloud to archive the data and back it up offsite.
By accessing a NAS device through the cloud, your customer has the advantage of retrieving and storing information at any time regardless of the data’s physical location. They’ll find value in no longer being subject to location-based network issues that can hamper the performance of the entire enterprise.
Remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs) can also reap the benefits of a hybrid NAS and cloud storage solution. Many NAS devices are available with built-in Atmos agents so branch offices can efficiently access and back up data through the internet or a wide area network connection, to store on a private cloud solution.
4) Moving day: tips to help move the data quickly and painlessly
• Analyze: Analyze bandwidth usage, replication times and mission-critical applications that will be affected to ensure you don’t adversely impact your customer’s business. For example, if you bring your B2B customer’s email to a crawl, it may cost them business.
• Expedite: To expedite data transfer, your customer will need sufficient bandwidth to move the data to the cloud storage provider. If they don’t have it, an intermediary device, like a NAS unit, can trickle data to a cloud solution provider.
• Replication window: Be sure to evaluate how much data your customer moves on a regular basis and if this will allow them to fit inside the replication window. A hybrid model can provide a strong balance of speed and cost effectiveness, maintaining a local data cache on a NAS for immediate access, while regularly pushing data to the cloud to be accessed for disaster recovery.
• Phases: A phased approach might begin by transferring productivity applications (e.g. Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Microsoft's Office 365) and email to the cloud. Mission-critical functions and sensitive business data would be done in the second phase, once you are comfortable with the data transfer process. Local IT backup to the cloud service could also serve to mitigate initial jitters.
5) Evaluating your customer's ROI
Because there are many factors to consider, calculating a firm ROI can be difficult.
• Are you going 100% to cloud-based storage?
• Are you using a hybrid cloud, with NAS and cloud together?
• What is the cost of the storage in the cloud?
Understand how charges accumulate for storage access and bandwidth. Public cloud services like AT&T, Atmos and Mozy charge according to gigabytes of storage, so you need to be sure you have all the costs accounted to avoid surprises down the road.
6) Recurring revenue from your cloud installations
Added value comes when the reseller positions itself as a consultant, providing and packaging services around: a) installing a NAS solution; b) helping set up the network infrastructure; c) ensuring sufficient bandwidth; d) transferring data onto the NAS appliance, e) teaching best practices for delivering data to the NAS; and f) streaming it to the offsite cloud service.
Some cloud vendors have partner programs where integrators receive a recurring revenue stream. Also, VARs can invest in Atmos connectors (a service provider) to create their own cloud-based storage and add recurring revenue from this option.
The Silver Lining
As cloud-based solutions continue to emerge, SMB customers are anxious to benefit from gains in efficiency, flexibility and scalability promised by this storage option. Use these tips to get a ‘silver lining’ of competitive advantage for your customers, realized by cloud access and storage.