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Moving all or part of a customer's storage to the cloud can be a real boon in terms of reducing the cost and increasing the flexibility of their IT environments.
But solution providers that take the plunge into this new technology will find one benefit specific to them: cloud storage can be an easy first step into the nascent cloud computing business.
The goal of cloud storage is to move part or all of a company's data from its own IT infrastructure to another infrastructure where it can be separately managed. Data can be stored and accessed over the Internet on a storage infrastructure owned either by the company or by a third party, and with that infrastructure housed either on-site or at a separate location.
Because capacity in storage clouds is paid for on a per-gigabyte basis, it can be considered an operating expense rather than a capital expense. The total cost of storage stored in a cloud typically depends on the capacity, and so in theory can rise and fall as capacity increases or decreases. However, capacity seldom decreases, unless part of it is used for specific temporary projects such as testing of new applications.
While the cost-per-gigabyte of using a storage cloud sometimes seems low when the total amount of data stored is low, the costs can add up quickly as capacity increases, and can exceed the cost of storing the data in a company's own infrastructure. However, outsourcing the management of that data, a feature of cloud storage, could result in significant cost savings for many customers.
A Storage Cloud For Everyone
There are several different types of storage clouds available.
- Basic direct-to-user service: A host of cloud storage providers sell basic cloud storage service direct to consumers and businesses, which can upload data files and sometimes directories over the Internet to a shared infrastructure, recover or restore those files as needed from anywhere, and in some cases share their data with authorized users via some sort of electronic key.
- One common feature of these basic services is automated backups, which are important because the biggest weakness in any backup process is ensuring a backup is actually done.
- Customers may pay a flat monthly or yearly fee, a per-gigabyte fee for the storage, or a combination of flat fee for a certain amount of storage followed by a per-gigabyte fee for storage beyond that amount.
- Basic backup services for resellers and service providers: Several of the basic cloud storage providers allow solution providers or managed service providers to resell the services either using the cloud provider's or the reseller's brand name. Examples include two of the more well-known business storage cloud providers, Mozy and Carbonite.
- Solution providers reselling such services do so in exchange for a portion of the monthly or yearly fee or for a one-time finder’s fee. Such an arrangement gives the service providers access to a wider range of potential customers. For solution providers, the primary benefit will be recurring monthly revenue with little or no up-front investment in IT infrastructures.
- Cloud storage appliances: A number of vendors, including the likes of eFolder, provide an appliance or software to build an appliance that solution providers can use to build their own storage cloud, along with the software necessary to provide the service to customers and automate tasks such as billing and monitoring customer data usage.