Cloud Storage: A Complete Guide in Simple Terms

September 7, 2021
Cloud Storage: A Complete Guide in Simple Terms

Are you wondering about cloud storage? We discuss what cloud storage is, why you need it, and everything you need to consider for your business cloud storage solution.

What is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage is a way for organizations and individuals to store their data online accessible from any location securely. Cloud storage offers many benefits, including the following:

  • Flexibility
  • Scalability
  • Disaster recovery
  • Rapid deployment

What Is Cloud Storage and Why Is it Important for My Business?

Cloud storage is a model of storage as a service (STaaS) where users can keep and access data on a collection of third-party or on-premise servers, commonly called “the cloud.” What makes this model unique from traditional client/server data access models is that cloud storage supports several capabilities like web access, computing features, security measures, and resilience through storage redundancy.

Unlike a server-based infrastructure where storage and data access are predicated on users accessing a single server (set of servers), cloud infrastructure uses a pool of shared storage and computing resources to distribute access and processing power associated with storage. This means that storage can function as a “service” rather than a feature. The cloud platform breaks down barriers to access and allows storage to operate in several new contexts, including web access and remote syncing to local machines.

Furthermore, cloud storage is much more cost-effective than using on-premise solutions for the most part because cloud infrastructure offers several clear advantages in several categories:

  1. Flexibility: Cloud storage is configured for access across several platforms and, typically, through web interfaces. This same feature is somewhat possible through browsers with FTP capabilities, but those don’t come with the features and ease of use accompanying cloud servers.More importantly, cloud storage facilitates access through automation and API calls. When data is stored in the cloud, those cloud providers will usually provide extensive, secure methods to access data through a variety of means, including authorized third-party apps and high-performance computing algorithms situated in the cloud.
  2. Scalability: Cloud “servers” are distributed, shared resources and data can be stored across them. It’s much easier to add or remove storage as needed, which makes it much more feasible to scale storage capacity in a short period.
  3. Resilience and Disaster Recovery: Cloud storage is robust and resilient, and it can support several layers of backup and recovery. This means that your data isn’t bound to the challenges of past, server-driven infrastructure—namely, potential loss of data due to error, physical damage, or lack of backups. Additionally, if local systems fail, storage can facilitate rapid recovery of all data, configuration settings, and system logs.
  4. Costs: Cloud infrastructure is, in most cases, less expensive than an on-premise system of comparable size and scale.
  5. Availability: Storage almost always provides ways to sync data across computers, devices, and other systems in real time. A change to a file or a directory will propagate across devices no matter where they are so long as they are connected to a network. Following that fact, data is usually readily available to almost any user authorized to access it. It also allows you to use granular access controls to control where and to whom data syncs.
  6. Compliance: Compliance is complicated, particularly in high-risk industries like healthcare, defense contracting, or payment processing. Managing compliance internally calls for a dedicated IT team, dedicated compliance experts, and quite often one or more executives focused entirely on compliance issues. Third-party cloud providers can mitigate this because they allow their customers to outsource compliance’s technical and administrative demands. For example, a provider can configure their servers and operations to meet HIPAA requirements, offer a standard Business Associates Agreement, and sell cloud storage to hospitals and other covered entities who must adhere to HIPAA.

With these advantages in mind, cloud storage isn’t perfect and does have a few limitations:

  1. Network Connections Required: To get the full benefit of cloud storage, you must have a persistent network connection. In modern times, this doesn’t seem like much of a problem. But if the network goes down due to an emergency or other issues, then access to the cloud is essentially cut off (unless there are on-premise backups).
  2. Security: Cloud platforms are secure, and providers often go to extreme lengths to implement the highest possible levels of security. At the same time, storage systems can become centralized targets for attacks. If an attack on a cloud application is successful, it can theoretically propagate to connected systems or customers building apps on that infrastructure. This is typically less of an issue for storage, but it bears mentioning. However, more relevant to storage users are network-based attacks like DDOS attacks that can cripple file access.
  3. Slower for Certain Functions: Cloud storage is often relatively fast, but it can be slower when compared to on-prem servers. Cloud backups can be slower to create and restore than local ones, which is why many organizations use hybrid cloud and on-premise backup solutions.

In our modern computing context, however, storage offers many more advantages than disadvantages.

What Is Cloud Storage Architecture?

You may hear terms like “the cloud,” “cloud servers,” or “cloud infrastructure” interchangeably. More accurately, cloud storage (or anything deemed cloud-based) is a network of components that form an architecture supporting storage, access, and security.

Generally, you can think of a ‘‘cloud” as a collection of components that cover the following:

  1. Front-End Platforms that control user interfaces, access, and other public-facing functions.
  2. Back-End Platforms that handle the logistics of user requests, automated processes, file management, and so on.
  3. Databases handling the storage and retrieval of the data in the cloud, often distributed across multiple physical servers.
  4. Applications that hold the cloud together. This can include cloud file systems, automation for specific user and system actions, and even user-facing apps that provide those users with different ways to leverage the cloud storage.

With this in mind, we can broadly divide cloud architecture into three main categories:

  1. Public Cloud: Public cloud is well known and what many of us think of when we think of cloud storage. Services like Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud are all public clouds in that they provide access to cloud infrastructure for multiple “tenants” or users. This means that when your organization signs up for cloud services, those services are restricted from other users through software and file systems. While you’ll have your own storage instance, that instance will share physical space on networked cloud servers with other users. This is often referred to as “multi-tenant” architecture.
  2. Private Cloud: As the name suggests, a private cloud offers you what public cloud infrastructure doesn’t: dedicated server space in a single-tenant environment. This can provide additional security, customization, and performance depending on your needs—but at what typically amounts to much higher costs.
  3. Hybrid Cloud: A blend of public and private, hybrid cloud infrastructure allows organizations to use private cloud services where needed (either for compliance, security or performance demands) and public cloud for everything else.

Why Is it Important to Have a Cloud Strategy in Place?

Cloud storage isn’t simply something that you drop into your business and hope for the best. This strategy might work for basic needs (short-term user storage of unimportant files) but not for actual, enterprise-level use.

A cloud strategy can help you situate storage in a way that maximizes efficiency, usability, and security across your organization. A hybrid cloud strategy might include considerations like the following:

  • What are you using the storage for? Are you performing high-performance cloud computing? Are you relying on cloud backups for compliance? Do you need to support a remote workforce? All of the above? The type of storage you need will dictate what platforms or architecture you use.
  • What are the demands of your industry? Do you face strict regulations or privately-imposed compliance standards? How rapidly must data be made available and to whom? Most importantly, what kinds of data are you managing, and how can you best leverage the cloud to keep it accessible?
  • What is your budget? Different types of storage call for different budgets. How much can you allocate for applications or additional features like backups or priority access? Can you afford (or do you need) private cloud infrastructure? What are the business implications of cloud storage infrastructures?
  • What kind of workloads must you support? If you’re moving to or expanding your storage, it’s most likely the case that it isn’t just to let employees grab files from the web. Are you looking to build complex and high-volume web applications? Do you regularly run high-performance algorithms on your data for analytical or business intelligence purposes? Are you building machine learning or AI programs that call for specific capabilities?
  • How vital are interoperability and hybrid systems? Resilience and disaster recovery are critical to most businesses. The most effective way to maintain resilience and elasticity is to have responsive systems that support short- and long-term storage goals. That could mean hybrid cloud storage or a mix of cloud and physical on-premise servers.

High-Performance Cloud Storage with WEKA

Cloud storage is often inseparable from cloud computing. The best way to make the best use of your storage is to integrate it into computing functions like analytics, audit logging, and other processing. As your storage infrastructure scales and becomes more complex, it is integral that you have a file system in place that can handle rapid access, transfer, and compute without sacrificing security or flexibility.

WEKA is a cloud-native platform that provides all of these features and more to support your machine- and deep-learning workloads.

These features include the following:

  • Autoscaling storage for high-demand performance
  • On-premises and hybrid-cloud solutions for testing and production
  • Industry-best, GPUDirect Performance (113 Gbps for a single DGX-2 and 162 Gbps for a single DGX A100)
  • In-flight and at-rest encryption for GRC requirements
  • Agile access and management for edge, core, and cloud development
  • Scalability up to exabytes of storage across billions of files

Cloud storage is an integral part of complex computation and research workloads.It isn’t enough to have a cloud provider that just gives you volume without speed and scalability. To learn about how WEKA gives that to you, contact us to learn WEKA.

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