Storage as a Service: Defining Your Public Cloud Storage Strategy

Storage as a Service Overview:

  • With Storage as a Service you can rent data storage based on either quantity or a service level agreement (SLA) that defines parameters such as access speed and uptime.

  • STaaS providers offer data security features, but it helps to follow best practices because the customer point of access is a vulnerability that you control.

  • Intel® hardware enables scalable and cost-efficient performance for cloud storage, in addition to fast Ethernet speeds, persistent memory, and solid-state drives that enhance block storage.

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What Is Storage as a Service?

Storage as a Service or STaaS is cloud storage that you rent from a Cloud Service Provider (CSP) and that provides basic ways to access that storage. Enterprises, small and medium businesses, home offices, and individuals can use the cloud for multimedia storage, data repositories, data backup and recovery, and disaster recovery. There are also higher-tier managed services that build on top of STaaS, such as Database as a Service, in which you can write data into tables that are hosted through CSP resources.

The key benefit to STaaS is that you are offloading the cost and effort to manage data storage infrastructure and technology to a third-party CSP. This makes it much more effective to scale up storage resources without investing in new hardware or taking on configuration costs. You can also respond to changing market conditions faster. With just a few clicks you can rent terabytes or more of storage, and you don’t have to spin up new storage appliances on your own.

How Does Storage as a Service Work?

Some STaaS offerings can be rented based on quantity, others are rented based on a service level agreement (SLA). SLAs help establish and reinforce conditions for using data storage, such as uptime and read/write access speed. The storage you choose will typically depend on how often you intend to access the data. Cold data storage is data that you leave alone or access infrequently, whereas warm or hot data is accessed regularly and repeatedly. Pricing by quantity tends to be more cost efficient but isn’t intended to support fast and frequent access for day-to-day business productivity. For hot or warm data, an SLA will be crucial to leveraging data storage in support of current projects or ongoing processes.

Many CSPs make it easy to onboard and upload data into their STaaS infrastructure for little to no cost at all. However, there may be hidden fees and it can be extremely costly to migrate or transfer your data to a different cloud platform.

Understanding Data Types

Another factor that influences cost is the type of data storage used. There are three main types of cloud storage: block storage, file storage, and object-based storage.

  • Block storage breaks data into segmented pieces and distributes them to the storage environment wherever it is most efficient for the platform to do so. This simulates the same functionality as writing data to a standard hard disk drive or solid-state drive. Data remains available for quick access, but it is also costly to maintain and works best for warm or hot data storage.
  • File storage lists data in a navigable hierarchy, usually a file directory. This is most like the file storage system that you would find on a PC or in cloud storage apps like Microsoft OneDrive. Because it is designed for humans to navigate, file storage is ideal anytime you need to collaborate on a project with other people or businesses. Whether the data is hot or cold doesn’t matter as much. However, file storage does not scale well. The more files you add, the more complex the system becomes and the more difficult it is to navigate.
  • Object-based storage organizes data by adding meta information to it, making it easy to recognize and retrieve at any time. This type of cloud storage scales up in the most cost-efficient manner, because you can keep adding to it. It is typically the least expensive type of STaaS and best suited for massive amounts of cold media or data files.

Data Center Storage Security

Many customers assume that maintaining a private cloud or on-premises data center storage is the best way to ensure security and control over their data. It’s true that the risk to a STaaS provider is far greater because they have a much larger attack surface than a single business or user. However, STaaS providers on average are more secure than private clouds precisely because of this elevated risk. STaaS providers must become experts in cloud security, which means they have more dedicated personnel, policies, and strategies in place to help safeguard data storage.

The nature of these risks is also different for STaaS providers than for businesses or individual users and extends from basic platform hardening and antimalware measures to things like multitenancy. Customers may also introduce vulnerabilities that a CSP has very little control over.

Multitenancy

In a cloud environment, compute and storage resources are abstracted from the hardware layer and made available in virtual pools, either through virtual machines (VMs) or containers. Multiple VMs and containers can run on the same physical server. Your data and applications are oftentimes sharing the same bare metal resources as the data and applications of other customers. This is called multitenancy, as there are multiple tenants or customers sharing the same physical resources. Vulnerabilities in another tenant’s workloads can expose your workloads to risks.

Workload isolation is the main antidote to the problem. VMs and containers are inherently isolated, but additional hardware-enabled protections can also help. For example, Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX) is designed to create trusted memory enclaves within a platform to isolate and help protect data both in transit or in use.

Customer Vulnerabilities

For STaaS customers, the main security concern will be managing who within their organization has access to the data and what level of permissions they have, such as read-only vs. read and write–level access. CSPs don’t control who can access their customers’ devices, so it’s important to be vigilant against threats such as email phishing schemes that can create vulnerability in your point of access. Using strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and following other best practices can add more layers of protection.

Provider Practices

Cloud security in STaaS is primarily the concern of the CSP who manages the cloud storage environment. It’s up to the CSP to treat vulnerabilities in both the hardware and software layers and address the human element by ensuring that all personnel in charge of maintaining the cloud infrastructure are trustworthy and follow best practices. The customer in this case should become educated and learn how to ask pointed questions about security when deciding which CSP to choose.

Intel Data Center Storage Solutions

Intel® hardware and technologies enable performant cloud storage designed for platform stability and data resiliency. Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors offer scalable performance to meet fluctuating workload demands. Networking and Ethernet capabilities are becoming more important as STaaS providers look to eliminate bottlenecks from their systems. A wider network pipeline allows for faster, more efficient data access. CSPs in particular are leading the way from 25/50GbE to 100, 200, and 400GbE speeds in the data center using Intel® Ethernet products. These offerings include network adapters, Ethernet switch controllers and ASICs, and cabling to support advanced fiber optics.

Intel® Optane™ Technology for Data Centers

STaaS providers are turning toward Intel® Optane™ technology to accelerate block storage read/write levels with greater efficiency. This technology is available with Intel® Optane™ DC SSDs that provide a direct interface to the CPU through the PCIe slot. Intel® Optane™ persistent memory is also available and can preserve in-flight data during system outages.

In combination with Intel® Optane™ DC SSDs, Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors also support Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU (Intel® VROC) with cache acceleration. This allows cloud storage RAID with NVMe Intel® SSDs for fast, persistent caching that doesn’t need a discrete controller or battery backup unit (BBU), thereby helping to reduce system cost and complexity. Intel® Volume Management Device (Intel® VMD) also supports easy storage management by allowing technicians to hot swap NVMe SSDs without shutting down the system. Status LEDs on each SSD also help identify which drives need to be serviced.

Prioritizing I/O for Cloud Storage

Intel Labs, an internal research organization within Intel, is developing technologies that will transform the impact of data on human lives. By driving new innovations for AI, 5G, and the intelligent edge, these efforts hold the potential to accelerate and optimize data access for any number of cloud applications in the near future. Some of the latest developments include breakthroughs in quantum and neuromorphic computing.

Maximizing Your Value from STaaS

Businesses and individuals will continue to need more data storage, not less, so it’s important to be aware of the factors that influence public cloud storage costs, data security, and availability. Understanding data types, security practices, and the underpinning technologies that make STaaS possible is all part of a healthy cloud storage strategy.