How to get cloud storage costs under control

With so much business data now being stored in the cloud, enterprises need to be cognizant of cost controls. Here are six tips for constraining those costs.

Published on 8th December 2021

A decade ago, when enterprises seriously started migrating their data and file storage to a single cloud service from servers sitting in data centers, it was a fairly simple process to keep track of offsite storage costs. Most companies had one cloud provider with billing based on total capacity along with network egress fees. One bill, a couple of line items, one payment, and that was it. Not so much anymore.

While a single cloud provider model still may be the case for many businesses, now it’s generally a lot more complicated than that here in 2021. The trend now is for IT to use a multiple-cloud or hybrid-cloud (combination of data center and cloud) setup for optimizing various workloads. In fact, multi-cloud and hybrid systems are what cloud-service providers in all areas – not only storage – are gearing up for as we enter 2022. This is the most significant storage trend IT has seen in the last decade.

Here is a point-by-point guide on how to understand and control cloud storage costs, whether you’re using one cloud or multiple clouds.

No. 1: Find and acquire a good software asset management tool

To control the costs of cloud storage, you must determine exactly what applications and data your organization stores in the cloud. Conduct a companywide audit and identify all of the active cloud accounts. Asset management tools from vendors such as ServiceNow, Symantec, ManageEngine, BMC, CA Technologies, and Quest KACE take inventory of endpoint systems and identify all applications — including those employees run on their own outside corporate walls. Using this information, IT can begin to reduce the costs of cloud storage.

Komprise, of Campbell, Calif. offers unstructured data management as a service, which includes much of the above functionality.

Speaking of rogue apps and storage, shadow IT continues to run roughshod in 2021. Gartner Research has reported that an average of 30% to 40% of the purchases in the enterprise involve shadow IT spending, and that includes storage. A research study by Everest Group puts these figures closer to 50%. Enterprises may have hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of cloud accounts that run outside of IT’s purview. Without visibility into company usage across these cloud services, enterprises are both running a security risk and leaving money on the table. A company, for example, may qualify for a storage-volume discount, but because their cloud-storage payments go to a smattering of departments in different locations, neither the vendor nor the organization sees the overall data volume.

No. 2: Know your storage volume requirements

If you know you’re going to need to store petabytes of data and files each month, then you may want to do some pricing investigation on a few higher-level services (Google Cloud Platform, Oracle or VMware clouds) versus a few lower-priced services (AWS, Dell, Rackspace, and Azure clouds). For companies with terabyte-level or lower storage requirements, one of these might work well; in some cases, a local provider might be the best bet. Be sure to compare capacity-based costs and network egress fees for the types of storage workloads you expect to deploy.

As your requirements change over time, you’ll have opportunities to change providers; but please know that once you cast your lot with a cloud storage provider, it becomes more difficult with time to make a change. Processes get enmeshed with your systems, and staff becomes trained and familiar with the cloud service and its protocols. Habits are hard to change. A good storage analytics platform using AI can be expensive but a smart investment in the long run.

No. 3: Choose your provider’s performance tiers wisely

Cloud-storage providers offer performance tiers to meet an enterprise’s data-movement needs. You can reduce storage costs by monitoring the actual read-write access of a given volume; if throughput is low, then downgrade it to a lower performance tier. Depending on volume, savings of 25 or 30 percent per year can result; CFOs like that kind of statistic. Check to see if your provider has limitations on when you can make changes like this; you might get a surprise. Your provider doesn’t have performance tiers? Red flag!

“Many data storage solutions start with low, sometimes free, pricing designed to entice a business to use the service, but the price rises with various add-ons,” said George Crump, president of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on storage and virtualization.

No. 4: Be smart in using data access and egress

Every time you make a move to extract files, logs, or other data from a cloud service, you’re going to pay for the service. Yes, we know it’s your data, but in reality, it’s their data until you pay a charge to have it downloaded. Try and project how often per month or year you will need to get into your stored files and budget-plan accordingly – knowing that there always will be surprise needs along the way. Don’t forget to get estimates on how long it will take for your cloud service to execute your order; these can vary greatly and may take longer than you think. A good storage provider will be able to execute your order the same day.

No. 5: Deduplicate data at the source

Deduplication is a data compression process that eliminates extra copies of data. Unique chunks of data, or byte patterns, are identified and used during analysis. Whenever a match occurs, the redundant chunk is replaced with a small reference that points to the stored location. Avamar, acquired by EMC in 2006, was a pioneer of this technique and now provides all the dedupe services inside Dell EMC.

To reduce storage costs, admins should deduplicate all company data prior to moving it to the cloud. This limits the amount of data stored in the cloud, lowers network traffic and reduces backup and disaster recovery windows. Commvault, Dell EMC, DQ Global, Druva, ExaGrid, HPE, IBM, Melissa, NetApp, Quantum and Veritas all offer reliable cloud deduplication services.

No. 6: You don’t need to back up everything

Make a policy decision to back up only data that has a bearing on the business of the company. Employees should not back up photos and videos taken on their phones, for example, in the company cloud. Even with different types of business data and files, not all are relevant to the future of the company. Those videos of company parties and anniversary events – park them somewhere else. Keeping backup volumes tight will save money over time.

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