Federal agencies are making productive use of cloud storage, and for good reason. Like many businesses, agencies must handle a relentlessly growing volume of data.
This growth is poised to accelerate dramatically as social media, the Internet of Things (IoT), streaming video and other sources generate even more information.
Not only is this data growing, but it is also becoming more important to agencies’ operations, as advances in analytics generate insights that enable them to engage with citizens, adapt to changing mission priorities and make better decisions.
Federal IT leaders who want to make sure their agencies thrive in this data deluge face three central challenges:
- How do they scale up data capacity within budget constraints?
- How do they fulfill intensifying requirements for analytic performance, security, compliance and business continuity?
- How do they develop the flexibility they need to meet the demands of a future that no one can precisely predict? Many agencies are arriving at an innovative answer to these storage questions: hybrid cloud.
What Is Hybrid Cloud Storage?
As the name implies, hybrid cloud storage combines storage in the cloud with storage that’s not in the cloud — that is, on-premises in a data center. In a true hybrid environment, data is managed as a common whole regardless of the location or medium on which data is stored (such as conventional spinning disks, solid-state flash media or even tape drives).
In a hybrid environment, agencies can store their data wherever it makes the most sense operationally and economically at any given time. And it can be moved whenever it makes sense to do so. To deploy hybrid cloud storage with capabilities that deliver value into the future, IT teams also require an intelligent storage management solution.
“Everybody wants storage that is cheaper, faster and more scalable,” says Steven Hill, senior storage analyst at 451 Research. “But the key to achieving those goals is intelligence — the intelligence to use the right storage resource at the right time for the right reason.”
This unified approach to storage represents a significant contrast to the way many organizations typically handle storage.
At many agencies, various silos of storage have emerged over time. Core workloads such as enterprise resource management data may reside on one disk array. Documents — including those created in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint — may reside on another storage device. Graphics files may be kept on still another device.
Finance and legal personnel may upload data and documents to a secure private cloud for safekeeping, while other kinds of non-sensitive data may be maintained in a public cloud environment managed by a Software as a Service partner.
This fragmented approach to data storage is economically inefficient because it limits economies of scale and forces IT staff to perform redundant tasks for each silo.
The fragmentation of storage can also be dangerous because it increases the odds that a staff member will fail to apply a critical security, compliance or backup policy to one of the silos.
These pain points and others are driving IT leaders to adopt a unified hybrid model for their data storage, especially as they face the prospect of having to store more data and get smarter about how they use and protect it.
How Agencies Can Benefit from Investing in Hybrid Cloud Storage
Hybrid cloud storage pays off in many ways as data volume, variety, velocity and uses keep growing:
Superior storage economics: By aggregating storage, hybrid cloud environments improve economies of scale. Hybrid cloud also enables IT managers to continuously migrate data to the least expensive appropriate storage option — which in many cases is a cloud-based service.
“At most companies, 80 percent of data is inactive,” notes Bob Fine, director of product marketing at Dell. “So it doesn’t make sense to leave that data on high-performance media that has relatively high total cost of ownership.”
Unified management of all storage components also drives down day-to-day operational costs, since it enables IT staff to operate much more efficiently.
Flexible scalability: The cloud enables agencies to avoid spending large chunks of their capital budgets on storage infrastructure and eliminates the need to guess exactly how much capacity they will require at any point in the future. Most agencies would rather opt for storage as they need it, explains Deni Connor, founding analyst at SSG-NOW. Further, he adds, most smaller organizations “don’t have IT pros in-house who can spend a lot of time planning and strategizing about their long-term storage needs.”
Automated, policy-based management: Effective hybrid cloud storage uses management intelligence to automatically migrate less utilized data to less expensive infrastructure. This automation does more than save on raw storage costs; it also enables an IT team to greatly increase the size and diversity of its storage environment without having to increase staff head count.
“Every organization needs multiple tiers of storage that fulfill its varying requirements for performance, cost and availability,” says Hill. “The question is: How do you make sure you’re putting the right data on the right tier at the right time?”
Enhanced business continuity: Many IT organizations still rely on numerous separate backup mechanisms to ensure business continuity. In the event of a disaster, their ability to recover data depends on these mechanisms. This fragmented approach to business continuity slows the time needed to recover and increases the risk of failure. Hybrid cloud environments can be engineered to more efficiently and reliably ensure that all essential business data is replicated to the cloud, where it can quickly be accessed for business continuity.
More trustworthy compliance and governance: Because intelligently automated hybrid cloud storage enables IT staff to define and reliably automate data storage policies, it greatly eases compliance with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. Automated policies also help agencies to ensure that they don’t retain certain types of content to the point where retention becomes a drawback.
“Anyone who’s ever been involved in legal discovery can tell you that you don’t want to retain unnecessary data for too long,” says Hill.