Know Your Cloud Storage Options: Public Cloud Vs On-Premise Object Storage Advantages

Varun Chhabra
Director, Product Marketing, Advanced Software Division at EMC

In order to exploit a range of new opportunities and deal with data growth, ‘object storage’ is an important data storage model that enterprise organizations need to understand.

Many organizations are led to the impression that ‘object storage’ automatically means ‘public cloud’. Certainly, public cloud storage can have quick and easy benefits. But every enterprise should have choices. So let’s walk through the key choices and tradeoffs associated with object storage.

Object Storage—A Cloud Approach For Today’s Data

‘Object storage’ has emerged as an important data storage option for enterprise—alongside the traditional file and block storage platforms that have been the bedrock of the data center for decades. Object storage is perfect for quickly and easily storing large quantities of unstructured data.

Object Storage Advantages...

The ‘cloud’ nature of object storage comes partly from its ability to be accessed ‘online’ via modern web technologies (like HTTP and REST APIs), rather than traditional complex networking protocols—this has enabled it to be offered as a service by public cloud providers. Another cloud aspect of object storage is that your data can be geographically distributed and mirrored across more than one site, improving resiliency, protection and performance.

Object Storage Gives You More Enterprise Advantages...

  • Multiple use cases enabling new opportunities
  • Multi-protocol data access for modern applications
  • Multi-site mirroring for data resiliency and performance

In the public cloud, object storage is offered by a range of providers—including Amazon Web Services S3 and Microsoft Azure Blob Storage. However, as we’ll see, your organization also has the attractive option of ‘on-premise’ object storage, creating a private cloud (or hybrid cloud) storage environment—with a solution like EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS). An important benefit is that the new generation of private cloud object storage delivers many of the benefits of public cloud—including self-service and agility—but with the reassurance and control of on-premise storage in your organization’s data center.

Consider Your Object Storage Options

So, if you’re feeling ready to dive (or dip a toe) into object storage, do you go with public cloud or an on-premise solution? Consider the needs and priorities of your organization, the nature of the data, your specific project, your people, your customers, and your stakeholders, in the context of a range of issues...

Cost and Ease of Setup

Public cloud is a popular choice for organizations when they want object storage in a hurry—it’s quick to set up, easy to manage, and there’s no need to buy, install and manage physical infrastructure. With most public cloud services, for just a few dollars you can go from nothing to a fully-functional object storage bucket in minutes—the most time-consuming part is often entering your credit card details.

From then on, public cloud object storage offers a ‘pay-as-you-grow’ model, charging usually just a few cents ‘per gigabyte stored each month. This is an initially attractive model—particularly when your stored data is still on the scale of gigabytes or terabytes.

But as you get nearer to the scale of big data, the pay-as-you-grow model can become very costly. For example, storing 1 petabyte (1 million gigabytes) at a typical public cloud rate of 2.8 cents per gigabyte would cost you $28,000 per month. And many public cloud storage tariffs charge a data retrieval or egress fee to get your data out of storage again—at a typical rate of 1 cent per gigabyte, your petabyte of data could cost you $10,000 to access or transfer to another platform.

With an on-premise object storage solution, there is an upfront investment in on-premise storage hardware and management software. With a solution like EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS), you can use low-cost commodity infrastructure to keep those costs relatively low—and from then on, you avoid those potentially painful public cloud fees. The on-premise approach with EMC ECS can mean big cost savings as your object storage requirements grow.

An on-premise solution also requires your organization to manage its own object storage infrastructure. With the smart software intelligence in EMC ECS, much of this management is automated, and the provisioning of storage is a simple point-and-click action—as quick and easy as the best public cloud solutions. Plus, with a pre-configured turnkey commodity infrastructure solution like the EMC ECS Appliance, you can deploy your private cloud in just a few hours.

Control of Your Data

When using public cloud storage, you unavoidably give the cloud provider a degree of control over your data. Individual users may not be too concerned about exactly where and how their data is physically hosted in public cloud storage—but an enterprise organization has a corporate responsibility (and imperative) to protect and fully control all of its sensitive data and valuable intellectual property.

An on-premise solution will always give an organization more control, because the data does not need to go outside the organization’s data center or firewall.

So, in a given object storage deployment scenario, if the data you are storing is not mission-critical or sensitive, and you’re happy with delegating some control over it, public cloud may be a good option—but if you have absolutely, positively have to maintain total control, on-premise is your only way.

Security and Compliance

When using any storage platform, your organization needs to protect data against accidental loss or malicious cyber-attack, fulfill its regulatory obligations, and act within legal requirements. Your organization may be required by regulators—such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)—to store sensitive and personal data to certain specified or certified standards. Similar issues apply to all kinds of organizations in sectors like health, financial services, government, and so on.

Of course, today’s public cloud providers can have excellent levels of data security and reliability, earning the trust of many large organizations. In October 2015, Amazon Web Services reported it now has over one million corporate customers using its public cloud offerings, including enterprise, government and healthcare organizations.

If your cloud provider claims they can meet your specific requirements—and you’re confident that they can—then public cloud may be fine. If not, but you still want the advantages of object storage, you need to deploy on-prem and behind your firewall.

Another common regulatory or legal factor is the geographical hosting location of your data. If your data needs to be kept within a specific region, country or territory, and a provider doesn’t host in that location, on-premise object storage would be better for your business.

Availability and Reliability

Here’s where you ask yourself—how mission-critical is your usage scenario for object storage? Most public cloud providers have a good uptime and reliability record—but no one is infallible. From the smallest to the biggest, just about every public cloud provider suffers service interruptions at some time. An example is the major Amazon Web Services outage of September 2015, which reportedly impacted major organizations like Netflix and Airbnb.

If you plan to have applications using your stored data, what would each hour of downtime cost your business? How quickly would you need to recover? How would the slower data retrieval times in public cloud (compared against on-premise storage) impact your operations? What is the provider’s SLA—do they even have one? Then consider what availability and reliability you could gain with your own on-premise solution.

EMC Elastic Cloud Storage can use its distributed storage architecture to store and protect your data across a number of enterprise locations. This on-premise approach to object storage can also increase performance for your applications, with lower latency for employees or customers, compared to a public cloud provider’s geographically remote hosting location.

So—here’s our summary of object storage advantages and considerations...

Object Storage—The Choice Is Yours!

Object storage...

Advantages: Ideal for storing large amounts of unstructured data, as it can scale elastically.

Considerations: Not made for busy enterprise databases or active file editing—use block or file storage instead.

Object storage in public cloud...

Advantages: Public cloud can offer a quick and easy object storage solution. The pricing can also be attractive—your organization only pays for the space it uses each month.

Considerations: Small prices per gigabyte can add up to big costs as you reach big data scale. Many public cloud pricing models also charge you extra each time your data is accessed or transferred.

Object storage in on-premise private cloud...

Advantages: With on-premise object storage you can get the scalability, cost-efficiency and simple management of public cloud—AND you retain full control over the location and protection of your sensitive and valuable data.

Considerations: Some up-front investment required, and management of the physical infrastructure.

Keep Your Cloud Options Flexible

For most organizations, the choice between public cloud and on-premise object storage will not be a “one or the other” decision—both will play a valuable role in different use cases. Often, organizations choose a ‘hybrid cloud’ strategy to leverage the benefits of both public and private cloud. The important thing is—you have options!

The latest generation of on-premise object storage solutions like EMC ECS give enterprise organizations an attractive alternative option to complement public cloud. Organizations exploring on-premise object storage and wanting the reassurance and confidence of a turnkey solution can turn to a partner like EMC for end-to-end software, support and pre-configured commodity hardware—with the EMC ECS Appliance.

Get your organization in position to seize the opportunities enabled by on-premise object storage—it’s easy to start small and scale up as storage demands increase.

EMC ECS software is available to download free.

Learn more about on-premise object storage and EMC ECS.