Is cheap and unlimited cloud storage bad news?


By Simon Langlois

Everyone can agree, storage quotas for cloud services are increasing very quickly. And this means only one thing: cloud storage is getting dirt-cheap. This is nothing new, as organisations have been getting more and more gigabyte (GB) for their buck in the past months. Some of the industry’s biggest cloud players, like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have been engaging in a war on storage. Who will include the biggest quota at the lowest price? And who will cut down prices to low prices we’ve never seen before?

This trend is here to stay. If we back up in time a little bit, storage used to be an important part of bundling offers. The more GB you wanted, the more vendors charged you. That is still true, on some levels. Now, storage has little value. You want 1 TB of cloud storage per user? No problem! Combine it with some awesome apps that will allow you to do business more easily. You’ll save a lot of money. Vendors are focusing on delivering value through unique suites and bundles of services.

But all this data storage at never seen before low prices, is it really a privilege? It’s more some sort of burden if you ask me. I’d even like to challenge the unlimited GB give-away big players are now marketing. Why?

Loosened IT controls

A good side of this war on price is that IT departments in organisations can now evolve into cloud brokers for internal needs. They don’t need to worry about capacity management anymore (well at least a lot less). They don’t have to enforce restrictive application use governance to maintain an acceptable level of growth and minimise storage costs. They can focus on bringing value to different business units by effectively finding, delivering, and integrating the right cloud services to them. But this, unfortunately, leads to a different problem.

Irrelevant and unstructured storage

Human beings will be human beings. Give them 1 TB with no guidelines and they’ll use it to store random content. They’ll fill up that storage and come back for more before you know it. I might be exaggerating here, but hear my point. If there are no guidelines and storage is cheap, people will end up storing personal data such as music, pictures, videos – you name it. And even if they only store work-related documentation they’ll bulk up unvalued documents and files that are either on hold, copies, drafts, or outdated. After just a couple of years of service usage and employment it can easily add-up to 200 GB per user.

If you’re lucky enough, this content will all be structured. But life isn’t that simple, is it? Interesting enough, Gartner claims that 80% of data held by organisations is unstructured. Not only do people handle a lot of documentation, they waste time looking for it! So what does irrelevant and unstructured storage lead to?

A high level of complexity when it comes to moving/retaining unnecessary data

Having a lot of storage is great, at first. But then the moment comes when you have to either clean, retain or move data. Now you’re in for complexity. And in IT, complex equals hefty costs. To prove my point, I’ll provide an example of this in the current context.

Faced by the recent price drop in the oil industry, Company XYZ had to let go 1,000 employees. Let’s say these employees had been using OneDrive for a couple of years. When combined, their accounts add up to a surprising 200TB of unstructured data. This leaves the company three options.

  • Let the data be for a couple of years. By the way, common legal compliance is to hold business data for seven years. Since storage is cheap, this might not seem like an issue. But why did Company XYZ let go 1,000 employees again? To reduce expenses. Maintaining the data of 1,000 inactive users for seven years, even if it’s at a low monthly fee per user, results in a salty bill for the company.
  • Migrate the data to a cheaper cloud storage solution, or maybe to an unused on-premises server. This will lower the monthly costs of maintaining the users’ data. But unfortunately, big cloud vendors like Microsoft and Google don’t provide a free tool to easily complete migration. This means investing in a migration tool. Since data migration is complex, such tools from third parties come at high prices. Plus, the hundreds of hours spent by employees (or hired professional services) will add to the expenses. Might not be cheaper than option 1 after all.
  • Delete everything. The ultimate option. Although it is the most cost effective solution, it is not recommended. Nor is it allowed by legal departments most times.

So what happens when you’re stuck with all this unnecessary data?

Well-planned, implemented and maintained data governance has great value

The moral of the story here? As appealing as letting go or smoothing governance of directions, control and measure over data stored in the cloud can be for IT departments, it’s a no go. It leads to high expenses, unnecessary/irrelevant/disorganised content, affected productivity as employees search for documents, and so on. And this especially comes true when cloud storage is unlimited.  Which bring us back to: is access to unlimited cloud storage for data really a privilege?

Unlimited storage is a poisoned gift

It may take a while before organisations realise this, but unlimited storage is not as great a gift as it seems. The minute any organisation will have to migrate their content somewhere else – be it an acquisition or letting go employees for instance – large amounts of data will become a burden. It’s better to monitor a smaller quota that can be increased if the need comes. What do you think?

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