Criteria for selecting a cloud storage provider

Who is searching for secure and enterprise ready options for Dropbox should have a closer look to the vendors. The quest for a cloud storage vendor depends in most cases on the individual requirements. These decision makers previously need to debate and define. In particular, this includes classifying the data. Here is defined which data is stored in the cloud and which is still located in an own on premise infrastructure. During the selection of a cloud storage vendor companies should regard the following characteristics.

Configuration and integration

The storage service should be able to integrate in existing or further cloud infrastructure in a simple manner. Thus users are empowered to expand the existing storage through a hybrid scenario cost-efficient. In addition, data can be migrated from the local storage into the cloud in a self-defined period. This leads to the option to disclaim an own storage system for specific data in the long run. It is the same with the straightforward and seamless export of data from the cloud that needs to be ensured.

A further characteristic is the interaction of the cloud service with internal systems like directory services (Active Directory or LDAP) for a centralized collection of data providing to applications. For an easy and holistic administration of user access to the storage resources this characteristic is mandatory. For this, the vendor should provide an open and well documented API to realize the integration. Alternatively he can also deliver a native software.

Platform independence to access data from everywhere

The mobility for the employees become more and more important. For companies it is of vital importance to appoint their working habits and deliver appropriate solutions.

In the best case the cloud provider should enable a platform independent access to the data by providing applications for all common mobile and local operating systems as well as an access over a web interface.

Separation of sensitive and public data

To give employees data access over mobile and web applications further security mechanisms like DMZs (demilitarized zone) and right controls on granular file level are necessary. A cloud storage provider should have functions to separate data with a higher security demand from public data. Companies who want to provide the data from an own infrastructure need to invest in further security systems or find a vendor who has integrated these type of security.

Connection to external cloud services

A cloud storage can be used as a common and consistent data base for various cloud services to integrate services like software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS). The cloud storage serves as a central storage. For this purpose the vendor needs to provide an open API to realize the connectivity.

Cloud storage – Eco- and partner system

Especially for storage vendors who exclusively dispose cloud solutions, a big ecosystem of applications and services is attractive and important to expand the storage service with further value added functions. This includes, for example, an external word processor to edit documents within the storage with multiple colleagues.

Size of the vendor – national and international

The track record is the most important evidence for the past success giving a statement about the popularity based on well-known customer and succeeded projects. This aspect can be considered for a national as well as an international footprint. Besides its available capacity and therefore its technology size, for a cloud storage vendor the international scope is also vital importance. If a company wants to enable its worldwide employees to access a central cloud storage, but decides for a vendor who just have data centers in the US or Europe, not only the latency can lead to problems. Insofar the scalability regarding the storage size as well as the scope are a crucial criteria.

In addition, it is interesting to look at the vendor’s roadmap: What kind of changes and enhancements are planned for the future? Are these enhancements interesting for the customer compared to another potential vendor who does not consider this?

Financial background

A good track record is not the only reason while choosing a vendor. Not least the drama of smashup storage vendor Nirvanix has shown that the financial background must be considered. Especially during the risk assessment a company should take a look on the vendor’s current financial situation.

Location and place of jurisdiction

The location where the company data is stored becomes more and more important. The demand for the physical storage of the data in the own country increasingly rises. This is not a German phenomenon. Even the French, Spain or Portuguese expect their data stored in a data center in the own country. (http://research.gigaom.com/report/the-state-of-europes-homegrown-cloud-market/) The Czechs prefer a data center in Austria instead of Germany. More relaxed are the Netherlands on this topic. Thereby the local storage of the data is basically not a guarantee for the legal compliance of the data. However, it becomes easier to apply local laws.

Most of the US vendor cannot fulfill a physical locality of the data in each European country. The data centers are either located in Dublin (Ireland) or Amsterdam (Netherlands) and just comply with European law. Although many vendors joined Safe Harbor which allows to legally transfer personal data into the US. However, it is just a pure self-certification that based on the NSA scandal is challenged by the Independent Regional Centre for Data Protection of Schleswig-Holstein (Unabhängiges Landeszentrum für Datenschutz Schleswig-Holstein (ULD)).

Cloud storage – Security

Regarding the topic of security it is mostly all about trust. This, a vendor only achieves with openness. He needs to show his hands to his customers technologically. Especially IT vendors are often criticize when it’s about talking on their proprietary security protocols. Mostly the critics are with good cause. But there are also vendors who willingly talk about it. These companies need to be find. Besides the subjective topic of trust it is in particular about the implemented security which is playing a leading role. Here it’s important to look on the current encryption mechanism a vendors is using. This includes: Advanced Encryption Standard – AES 256 for encrypting the data, Diffie-Hellman and RSA 3072 for key exchange.

Even the importance of the end-to-end encryption of the whole communication rises. This means, that the whole process a user is running through the solution, from the starting point until the end, is completely encrypted. This includes among others: The user registration, the login, the data transfer (send/ receive), the transfer of the key pairs (public/ private key), the storage location on the server, the storage location of the local device as well as the session while a document is edit. In this context it is to advise against separate tools who try to encrypt a non-secure storage. Security and encryption is not a feature, but rather a main function and belongs into the field of activity of the storage vendor. He has to ensure a high integrated security and a good usability at once.

In this context it is also important that the private key for accessing the data and systems is exclusively in the hands of the user. It also should be stored encrypted on the user’s local system. The vendor should have no capabilities to restore this private key. He should never be able to access the stored data. Note: There are cloud storage vendors that are able to restore the private key and are also able to access the user’s data.

Certification for the cloud

Certifications are a further attribute for the quality of storage vendors. Besides the standards like ISO 27001, with which the security of information and IT environments are rated, there also exist national and international certificates by approved certification centers.

These independent and professional certificates are necessary to get an honest statement on the quality and characteristic of a cloud service, the vendor and all down streamed processes like security, infrastructure, availability, etc. Depending on how good the process and the auditor is, a certification can also lead to an improvement of the product, by the auditor proactively gives advices for security and further functionality.

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About the Author

Rene Buest is Gartner Analyst covering Infrastructure Services & Digital Operations. Prior to that he was Director of Technology Research at Arago, Senior Analyst and Cloud Practice Lead at Crisp Research, Principal Analyst at New Age Disruption and member of the worldwide Gigaom Research Analyst Network. Rene is considered as top cloud computing analyst in Germany and one of the worldwide top analysts in this area. In addition, he is one of the world’s top cloud computing influencers and belongs to the top 100 cloud computing experts on Twitter and Google+. Since the mid-90s he is focused on the strategic use of information technology in businesses and the IT impact on our society as well as disruptive technologies. Rene Buest is the author of numerous professional technology articles. He regularly writes for well-known IT publications like Computerwoche, CIO Magazin, LANline as well as Silicon.de and is cited in German and international media – including New York Times, Forbes Magazin, Handelsblatt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Computerwoche, CIO, Manager Magazin and Harvard Business Manager. Furthermore Rene Buest is speaker and participant of experts rounds. He is founder of CloudUser.de and writes about cloud computing, IT infrastructure, technologies, management and strategies. He holds a diploma in computer engineering from the Hochschule Bremen (Dipl.-Informatiker (FH)) as well as a M.Sc. in IT-Management and Information Systems from the FHDW Paderborn.
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