Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Backing Up Your Business: How to Successfully Tier Data in the Cloud

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by Devon Cutchins

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to data storage. Most of the companies I talk to have accepted that utilizing cloud-based storage should be a part of any well-crafted data management plan.  While many companies dive into the cloud by choosing one solution that meets the minimum requirements for all of its data, I would argue that a more prudent approach is to segregate that data based on the requirements for use of the data.  In doing so, you can leverage multiple cloud solutions to provide the best performance and value for your company.

Cloud Storage and Backup Benefits

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Understanding the difference between hot and cold data

As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, “Fast, cheap or good.  Choose two.  You can’t have all three.” Data solutions naturally fall along a performance and cost continuum. Solutions on the “hot” end of the spectrum feature high performance and high availability, which are ideal for mission-critical data that needs to be accessed quickly and frequently with zero downtime. Solutions on the “cold” end of the spectrum are more cost-effective per GB and are ideal for data that is rarely accessed, or that can afford to be accessed with higher latency.  

Why even keep cold data if you don’t access it, you ask? Often, cold data is kept to meet specific and important industry regulations and compliance requirements, such as HIPPA. Organizations that choose not to keep their cold data often open themselves up to regulatory infractions and possible fines.

The first step in choosing your cloud storage solution should be to determine where on the spectrum your data lies, i.e. how to “tier” your data.  To do this, it’s important to understand the different solution tiers and how they differ in performance.  Considering what storage tiers best meet your needs is the best approach to achieving a successful, ongoing storage strategy.

Tiering your hot, warm and cold data in the cloud

Tier 0 – Tier 0 is relatively new, since the cost and reliability of solid state drives (SSDs) has only recently made them practical in the mainstream market.  In terms of hot and cold, this storage option is smokin’ hot.  Solid state drives can deliver up to 30 times the performance of the fastest spinning hard drive, while using a fraction of the space and power.  In Tier 0, you’ll experience extremely high input/output operations per second (IOPS) and extremely low latency, which results in accelerated online transaction processing and shortened batch processing, for example.  Unfortunately, SSD’s still come at a very high cost. Tier 0 is the fastest and the best, which means it is also the most expensive per GB.  

Tier 1 – Tier 1 is usually comprised of redundant, high performance drives, offering quick response times and fast data transfer rates.  These solutions offer very high IOPS and very low latency, but high cost. Tier 1 solutions should be used sparingly, but are typically an essential element of any enterprise-class company’s portfolio.

Tier 2 – Tier 2 is your primary tier for active data, and probably is where most of your data should live.  It typically features enterprise SATA drives that favor capacity over performance, with medium IOPS, medium latency, and medium cost.

Tier 3 – Tier 3 storage should be used for data that is rarely accessed but still needed. In other words, Tier 3 is your first tier for archiving and can be classified as warm storage on the spectrum. These solutions feature low IOPS and relatively high latency, but hopefully low costs.  The performance of Tier 3 solutions still crushes that in Tier 4.  This is perhaps the most underserved tier in the marketplace with vast price ranges.  There are, however, several affordable Tier 3 solutions available with excellent archiving performance.

Tier 4 – Tier 4 is your final line of cold data tiering, and should be reserved for your “offline” data since it’s almost always stored on tape or off-line drives. There are very low to no IOPS, extremely high latency (order of days), and extremely low cost. This tier should be reserved for data that is being kept for backup or compliance purposes only.  Watch out for recovery costs if you plan to use a Tier 4 solution.  Although this can be the cheapest storage on the market, many Tier 4 solutions have a high cost associated with recovering your information.

Storing data in its optimal tier

To best optimize your data, your organization must agree on storage requirements. This is the final frontier in achieving and implementing a cloud storage strategy that best fits your company’s needs. You must also consider the importance of disaster recovery, energy consumption, IT manpower – and the related cost implications. For example, not every file needs to be encrypted or de-duplicated, and implementing those features on every file will only raise costs and lower performance.

At the end of the day, by taking the time to understand the data you want to store in the cloud, which tier it best fits in, how often you’ll need to access it, its place among your business activities, and the features you require to store it, you’ll be on the path to successfully backing up your business assets and utilizing the cloud to its fullest potential.

Devon Cutchins is the SVP and CLO of Markley Group

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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