What Is Cloud Storage?
Cloud storage describes the act of storing data in private, public, or hybrid cloud infrastructure. Private clouds include on-premises hardware managed by a user or business for their own benefit, whereas public clouds refer to public Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. These CSPs all offer cloud storage services, commonly referred to as Storage as a Service (STaaS). In a hybrid or multicloud model, a user or business would combine their own on-premises cloud functionality with CSP STaaS offerings. For hybrid use cases, you ideally want the private and public infrastructures to be compatible in order to facilitate an easy transfer of data from one storage solution to another.
For individual users and small businesses, cloud storage may also refer to the use of apps such as Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox to store files online and access them from any internet-connected device. For small businesses and home office storage, users may also invest in a network-attached storage (NAS)—sometimes referred to as a media server—which is a private, dedicated server for data storage. NAS hardware typically consists of multiple hard drives, which may include hard disk drives for cost efficiency or solid-state drives (SSDs) for faster data access, and a power-efficient CPU such as an Intel® Celeron® processor.
Benefits of Cloud Storage
Cloud storage is appealing to businesses because it’s cheaper to rent public cloud resources than it is to spin up new infrastructure, which requires a lot of capital investment. However, storing data in a private cloud infrastructure still provides value and other benefits. Some businesses face regulatory or privacy concerns that influence how they can store their data, and a private cloud infrastructure provides greater control to meet these needs. For businesses and individual users, cloud storage also offers the additional benefit of data portability. You can access, upload, and download files from any internet-connected device, anywhere.
Types of Cloud Storage
There are three main types of cloud storage. Knowing the differences between each type will help inform your decisions when planning out your private cloud storage infrastructure or navigating different offerings from STaaS providers.
- Block storage breaks data into blocks and then distributes them across a storage environment based on where it is most efficient to place the data. This type of storage relies on resources that are abstracted from hardware, so it works optimally in a cloud environment. Because this type of data storage allows for fast access, it’s a good choice for critical data systems and business operations. In terms of cost, it also tends to be on the higher end of the spectrum compared to other storage options.
- File storage organizes data into a hierarchy across directories with read and write capabilities. This is what most users are accustomed to on their PCs, through apps like OneDrive, or on a small business/home office NAS. A common characteristic of file storage is that it allows for creating, reading, sharing, and deleting files in a simple interface. Data is stored in a logical manner, making it easy for users to find what they need. The downside is that as you add more data, the hierarchy becomes more complex and difficult to manage. File storage is ideal anytime you need to share data or make it easily accessible to other users.
- Object storage is the most cost-effective way to store data. With object storage, data is converted into objects and assigned meta tags so that a system can recognize and retrieve it at any time. Object interfaces are not well defined, but they scale out easily because you can keep adding to the storage pool without limits. Object storage is ideal for unstructured data such as bulk multimedia files or large data sets.
Cloud migration describes the process of moving workloads and data from a private infrastructure to a public cloud service provider (CSP) and vice versa. It can also describe moving workloads and data from one public cloud to another public cloud. In cloud migration there are two elements: migrating data that is attached to compute, and migrating data by itself, the latter of which is typically carried out through data archiving or cloud backup.
Paired data-compute workloads are more tied to the frameworks that a business is currently using. For example, a business that uses VMware exclusively will be dependent on those tools when migrating data-compute workloads to another cloud provider. Likewise, a business that uses Kubernetes will be dependent on that tool chain.
Cloud Storage Security
With regard to cloud storage, security depends largely on who is granted access to the data and what type of access they are granted (read, write, and so on). Another factor is whether a business is simply storing data as cold data vs. storing and accessing data regularly as warm or hot data. Frequent data access requires businesses to consider protections for data in flight and data in use. In these cases, the CPU cache and system memory are both potential attack surfaces.
When engaging with public cloud storage providers, businesses should consider the following:
- Who at the business needs to access the data, how often do they need to access it, and who controls permission levels among users with access?
- For users with access, are they practicing good data security habits with strong passwords and two-factor authentication on their devices? This is especially important for small businesses and individual users.
- Are there any policies or regulations that impose additional requirements on the business when it comes to storing data and maintaining privacy? For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for financial institutions, or HIPAA for healthcare providers.
- If a business needs to add more cloud storage, will data security and permissions management become more difficult? If so, how can the business or the cloud storage provider help mitigate these challenges?
Cloud Backup and Recovery
Businesses looking for cloud backup and recovery can expect to find different types of storage available at different price points. The variance in price depends on how fast a business needs to access their stored data. Warm or hot data backups typically cost more, but they allow for faster and more responsive access patterns.
One of the primary use cases for NAS in a small business or home office environment is for data backup and disaster recovery. A NAS server is a low-cost option for backing up cold data files simply to provide data redundancy in the event of primary systems failure. Apps like OneDrive and Dropbox fulfill the same purpose here, but instead of initial hardware investment costs, users will have monthly subscription fees that scale up based on how much data they need to store.
It’s also possible to combine different storage tiers depending on data access or SLA requirements. This allows savvy businesses to optimize their cost for CSP storage. Regular daily backups can be set in warm or hot storage in the event that a business needs to quickly spin it up and alleviate interruptions to productivity. Full-scale business data backup or records archival, for use in the event of disaster recovery, can be deployed in cold storage.
Cloud Storage with Intel Products
Intel offers a number of hardware and software technologies that enhance cloud storage for both private and public infrastructure.
- Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX) provides hardware-enabled encryption to help protect data in memory.
- Intel® Optane™ technology, available in both Intel® Optane™ persistent memory and Intel® Optane™ DC SSDs, allows for fast access to hot storage to enable high service levels.
- Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU (Intel® VROC) with cache acceleration and a persistent write buffer enable RAID without the need for a discrete RAID controller or battery backup unit (BBU), thereby reducing platform complexity and cost.
- Intel® SSDs for the data center come equipped with power loss buffers, which preserves data in flight in the event of a system outage.
- NVMe technology integrated into advanced data center SSDs provides a PCIe interface to position data closer to the CPU for enhanced I/O.
- The Storage Performance Development Kit (SPDK) optimizes storage software performance to achieve higher I/O when using Intel® technology for network and storage solutions.
- Intel® Intelligent Storage Acceleration Library (Intel® ISA-L) delivers functions such as cryptographic hashing and erasure coding to optimize storage performance and efficiency with Intel® processors.
System integrators will be familiar with these offerings when helping businesses design their private cloud infrastructure. Generally, CSPs will speak to these capabilities in their marketing materials but may not disclose the specific components or technologies that enable their infrastructure. Building your awareness of the technology that underpins cloud storage solutions will help you understand how to best match workloads to offerings and optimize costs.
The Right Infrastructure for Storage
It pays to be strategic about data storage. Public cloud STaaS is a great option to avoid the high CapEx of new hardware, whereas private cloud investments can provide greater control to meet regulatory requirements. Stratifying your storage choices between hot, warm, and cold data can also help save on cost. Certain cloud storage options will be more expensive depending on how often you need to access stored data and how fast you need to access it. Choosing the right hardware or services can have a dramatic impact on total cost of ownership, which can free up resources for more projects and more growth.