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Cost-Benefit of Cloud Storage

May 24, 2010
by Joe Marion
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Last week I was contacted by a Cloud Storage vendor asking my opinion on the use of private connections to cloud storage as opposed to the Internet. It seems they have several clients who are concerned with Internet connectivity reliability, and the impact on performance. This raises some interesting aspects of cloud storage and its cost-benefit.

My initial impression was that the user was concerned with the security of using the internet. As far as security, if people trust the internet with banking and shopping transactions, is there really that much difference with PHR’s? But further discussion emphasized that the concern is with internet performance and reliability, such as when a celebrity situation (Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson) causes increased access to a specific web site, or when a large number of hits overwhelms a smaller website (the SlashDot effect In such an instance, the performance is not as much the internet’s fault as that of the overwhelmed server. There are also performance examples of unsuspected internet usage, such as when employees attempt to stream sporting or other social media. These can inadvertently impact legitimate company activity.

Relative to reliability, the internet can be perceived to be more reliable than a point-to-point connection, as the internet can dynamically reroute traffic, whereas a point-to-point path may need to be administratively rerouted.

Internet bandwidth is another matter. I use a cable modem for my internet connection and I know the cable company acknowledges that there are performance differences depending on the number of users on a particular segment, and the amount of usage, which means performance can vary at different times of the day. I recently had a router switch go bad which resulted in a significant drop in my internet performance – almost to dialup speeds! When it got that bad, it got my attention, and a new wireless router solved the problem. But, had I not experimented with it once I realized I had an issue, I would probably have blamed it on the cable company!

This leads me to wonder just where performance concerns with the internet might lay. Is it truly the internet service provider? Or, what impact does internal infrastructure have on performance? I once worked with a site that was implementing a PACS web server, and experiencing considerable criticism from the physicians about how long it took to sign on to use the system. Initially, the blame was placed on the PACS vendor. Further investigation however revealed that all of the firewall and other security aspects of the facility’s internet connection was the culprit. Resultant changes to their firewall significantly improved user connection time and satisfaction.

If one is concerned with an internet connection, is a private connection the answer? Certainly there is a higher cost for a private connection. And, private connections vary in terms of shared or dedicated bandwidth. So, is there really that much difference?

Perhaps the real issue is the intent of cloud storage. Should it be perceived as a cheaper alternative to local storage infrastructure? Is there a benefit to the remoteness of storage? How does one value an operational vs. capital cost? Is it a short-term or long-term solution? Is there incremental benefit to enabling remote access to the data via the internet? Is there value is segregating data from internal storage, such as for referral cases? Is the use strictly internal, or is the primary intended user external? Without a clear-cut strategy for the use of cloud storage, it may be difficult to determine the real cost-benefit. I can perceive of instances where the value of remote storage and accessibility based on a specific level of performance may warrant the additional cost of a private network. Certain mission-critical applications would fall into this category. But certainly there are a myriad of instances where cost-effective remote storage is of primary concern.

What about your situation? I welcome an open discussion of how many are concerned with internet connectivity performance issues, and are they an impediment to the use of cloud storage? Conversely, is the very nature of the use of the internet the justification for cloud storage? Your comments, please!

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