Navigating through cloud services

January 6, 2017 00:23 AM The Week Bureau

News of the launch of 4G services in our country has been received with much fanfare. It’s all been taken as signs of our country’s progress in the internet and communication sector. Such advancement in these fields are bound to make various services more accessible to us, and one   the main buzzwords has been cloud computing.

Cloud computing technology has already become a popular practice abroad. It has helped increase efficiency, improve cash flow, flexibility and data recovery. Though lack of proper infrastructure has largely discouraged Nepalis from utilizing these services, slowly but surely, the trend is catching on here as well. Among the various types of cloud computing services, cloud storage, in particular, is gaining a lot of traction among the masses. 

Today, many Nepali businesses as well as individuals don’t feel the need to send their photo albums via email, use flash drives to carry docs or use hard drive for backups. With top services like dropbox, google drive, onedrive and iCloud to keep our files safe and accessible online, the cloud is poised to become a place where everyone meets and exchanges information with ease. The Week brings to you all that you need to know about getting started with cloud storage services.

Choosing the right cloud service

There are tons of data backup providers out there, far too many to introduce all at once, which naturally makes choosing a cloud storage service much trickier than expected. In these circumstances, it’s best to consider your needs.

Do you work on multiple devices like PCs, tablets, and smart phones? How secured do you need the data to be (encryption level)? How big is your data size? Do you need to keep multiple versions of the same documents (versioning) as you modify it? How often do you need the data to be auto-backed up? These are some basic questions to ask.
Depending on these deciding factors you can pick the right online storage service provider to suit your needs.

Know how much the cloud will actually cost you

All service providers only have a specific amount of free storage – anything more and the user will have to pay for their services. Pradeep Kandel, Consultant and Infrastructure solution specialist at Microsoft Nepal, shares that while free cloud storage services has always been easy to acquire in Nepal, when the requirements are higher and there is a need to pay, the situation has always been rather tricky. In fact, it was actually difficult till only a year and a half ago. But comparatively, these days the process has become much smoother.

So when pricing out cloud services, understand completely what is covered in your monthly service and what will cost you extra. Often there are additional charges for activities such as sending your data to the cloud and getting it back, DR testing associated with your service and boosting bandwidth beyond a specified limit. It’s best to do some costing models comparing your existing solution and the full costs of a cloud service before jumping into the cloud pool with everything you have.
Always determine the appropriate amount of storage for your organization’s current and future needs. The risk of overbuying storage is real as well.

Is my data safe?

The data storage process in the cloud is a simple, yet complex one.

Essentially, it involves your files copying to an external location at scheduled intervals to keep a backup record of your content. Quality back-up providers will reportedly encrypt your data using at a minimum a 128-bit SSL encryption technology – this protects your data during the transfer process. Once your data transfers to the external location the provider will take additional measures to further protect your housed data; 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) or 448-bit Blowfish encryption are the industry standards.

In cases where you wish for extra security, many cloud storage providers then also add an extra layer of protection via geo-redundant data centers, but this is often a perk not a given. So you will have to read the user agreement to find out how your cloud service storage works. In Kandel’s opinion, sometimes the best case is picking a provider based solely on reputation and longevity. Generally, they are the ones who know the industry and are also well prepared against the plausible risks and threats.

Make sure the cloud vendor is up-to-date on data center and industry certifications
The cloud storage provider you choose should be compliant with your industry’s privacy and security needs. Experts in the field warn users to always remember that if the service provider can encrypt our data, then the service provider can decrypt our data as well. So its best to make sure the vendor is in compliance with new regulations.

Understand the bandwidth limitations

If you are going to be using cloud as part of a backup strategy, you need to understand the bandwidth limitations both for the initial backup of a large amount of data, as well as what will happen should you need to restore a large amount of data. Does the provider offer bulk transfer capability? What are the bandwidth limitations to the provider’s locations? Understand its limitations beforehand and make a decision accordingly.

Make sure you can recover/restore your data.

When you’re looking for a backup provider, don’t forget to think about the other part of the equation – recovery. Before you commit your data to a vendor, find out how quickly you’ll be able to get it back in the event of data loss or disruption, what the restore process looks like and what kind of support you can expect to receive if you run into any issues. As experts point out, many services make backing up easy but restoring data quickly and efficiently can be difficult and costly.

Finally, have a backup plan

This especially implies to businesses, organizations or individuals investing on large cloud storage spaces and services. Should you decide to leave the cloud or the cloud provider decides to leave you i.e. goes out of business, you might need to have a plan. Giving some thought to this kind of scenario is always advised. You must have a plan ready to move to a new cloud with minimal disruption.

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