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Cloud archiving: Choosing the best features from the best cloud service provider

Cloud storage and archiving continue to gain support, but which provider should you choose? Read about two popular options to help you decide.

The field of cloud storage continues to gain strength in enterprise data storage in areas such as available features, pricing and vendor choice. And the argument for using cloud storage for some portion of an organization's data continues to grow stronger. If an organization is looking for basic online data storage, there are many vendors to choose from depending on the service-level agreement (SLA) requirements and type of access required. However, if the purpose for considering cloud storage is to use it as a long-term data archiving platform for various types of data in the enterprise, there aren't as many options. In fact, there are only two online data storage providers that can even compete in the global data archive market based on standard features available in on-site archiving products:  Autonomy Zantaz and Iron Mountain Inc. (which recently acquired Mimosa Systems).

 features from these providers include capabilities such as search, immutability, data lifecycle management and the ability to store both structured data such as email or databases and unstructured data such as user files. By contrast, most cloud storage vendors are geared toward unstructured, random access data with no lifecycle management. This article will look at the two possible cloud archiving service providers most likely to meet enterprise-scale data storage requirements and compare and contrast their feature sets.

Iron Mountain's Virtual File Store cloud archiving appliance

The first contender in the cloud archiving arena is the data vaulting company Iron Mountain. Early in 2009, Iron Mountain introduced their offering into the cloud storage space called Virtual File Store (VFS). Iron Mountain has, for some time, allowed customers to send their data electronically to Iron Mountain to be stored online for retrieval in a disaster recovery (DR) situation or for data archiving, but with VFS they have introduced this capability to a broader range of customers.

Virtual File Store consists of an on-premise appliance that presents a CIFS or NFS share to the client's systems, and as data is stored on that share, it is catalogued with metadata such as ACLs, audit trails and checksums, and it is then shipped over a private circuit to Iron Mountain Digital's online data store. Some of the archive features that make VFS a viable player in the cloud archive market include the ability to mark data read-only/write once, read many (WORM) through the appliance, robust data lifecycle management through policies set on the appliance, strict access controls and a strong audit and reporting capability.

From a regulatory standpoint, VFS meets or exceeds the requirements for long-term, immutable file storage. However, VFS does not integrate with customer applications directly; the expectation is that the customer will have scripts or a third-party data mover that migrates the data off primary storage and onto the Iron Mountain device. VFS also does not include any search capability built into the appliance, is not content aware and does not deduplicate the data prior to transmission. While VFS does not cover all the expected features of a well-rounded archive platform, it can be a means of including cloud as part of an overall archive strategy. VFS is more expensive than other cloud storage vendors, but well below the cost per gigabyte of an on-site archiving platform and falls within the $1.00 per gigabyte to $1.50 per gigabyte range.

Zantaz's Digital Safe appliance

The second provider, Autonomy Zantaz, is not a well-known cloud storage provider, but is a behemoth in the enterprise search and data archiving space. For several years, Zantaz has provided a myriad of data archiving products and services, including  email archiving and instant message (IM) archiving, file archiving, MS SharePoint and structured database archiving. Zantaz also uses an on-premise appliance architecture as part of its Digital Safe archiving service, but the appliance comes with content-awareness for more than 400 data repositories and 1000 file types.

Unlike VFS which only provides file share level services, the Digital Safe appliance connects to the source repositories using API's and gathers the data into the archive. This means that the customer does not have to translate the data into the archive format or generate the metadata for the archive. The Digital Safe appliance (also known as IDOL) also  dedupes the data prior to transmission across a private data line to the Zantaz data centers. The backend storage is comprised of geographically diverse grid architecture with WORM capabilities and policies for document retention are included. Additionally, because of Zantaz's well-developed search and legal hold/e-discovery suite, components can be added to the Digital Safe configuration to include functionality such as file tagging for legal hold, e-discovery and the ability to meet regulatory requirements. The Zantaz suite of hosted and software-as-a-service (SaaS) products clearly meets the expected feature requirements of a full-fledged data archive platform, but it is also clearly much more costly than any other cloud storage solution available. As a starting point, with the inclusion of the IDOL appliance, the entry point for Digital Safe is $75,000 to $100,000 and most installations wind up in the range of an on-site archiving solution at $250,000 to $300,000.

Some of the other cloud storage vendors (EMC Corp., Nirvanix Inc. and Zetta Inc.) offer one or another of the features of an archive platform, such as filesystem-level access through an on-site appliance or WORM-capable media. But none of them offers a full suite of features and functionality to the extent that Zantaz does. Iron Mountain is the only close contender, and its VFS product is priced within a reasonable range for cloud storage services when one also considers the record management capabilities inherent in VFS. Zantaz offers the most feature-rich solution but it may be too expensive for most midsized companies considering cloud storage for archiving.

About this author: Ron Scruggs has more than 17 years experience as a senior level engineer and consultant in storage, backup and server management. He has been an integral part of enterprise level storage, backup and recovery deployments for the past 10 years in multiple industries including government, financial, medical and IT service providers. Ron is currently serving as a senior consultant for GlassHouse Technologies in Framingham, MA, and is providing data protection architecture services in the Boston area.

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