Storing and accessing data quickly and efficiently is a cornerstone of any data program. Now that most companies are shifting, at least in part, to the cloud, the decision of where to store data is an important one. Data centers and cloud storage are two choices. This is what businesses need to know.
What’s the difference between a data center and cloud storage?
It all comes down to location. The traditional data center stores a company’s data through servers located on-premises. In some cases, the data center isn’t at the company’s location but a colocation off-site but still not accessible online.
Cloud storage stores data off-premises and makes data available through online servers. It’s accessible from the internet, making it both remote and distributed-enterprise friendly. Deciding which type of storage is more involved than simply moving storage to the cloud because your operations are now there.
Choosing the data center
Companies that decide to store data on-premises purchase servers to keep on-site. In-house IT teams configure and customize the servers to handle their company’s unique use cases. They’re responsible for maintenance and troubleshooting as well.
Data centers provide complete control over data and equipment. For enterprises with large IT and data science teams, data centers provide the exact, customizable solution for their data ecosystem, including any legacy system needs. Companies don’t need permission from a third party or vendor to make changes, upgrade, or alter equipment and can choose to upgrade if and when it’s necessary.
The downside to data centers is that they can be rigid. Changing storage needs requires upgrading or altering equipment, an expensive solution in a world where scale reigns supreme. Changes can take servers offline, costing companies both planned and unplanned downtime.
Choosing cloud storage
Companies store data on someone else’s infrastructure and hardware in cloud storage. Teams can access data from anywhere via the internet and share processing and resources to help reduce the overall cost.
One advantage of cloud storage is that it’s flexible. Instead of trying to predict storage needs early and invest upfront, companies can leverage the storage capabilities they need right now without investing in any hardware. Later as needs change, it’s much simpler to scale up or down without causing unnecessary downtime.
The downside to the cloud is that companies give up some control to a third-party vendor when it comes to making decisions about what hardware and software configurations are available. These may or may not integrate well with any legacy systems. If the connection fails—whether an outage in the internet or downtime at the server site—there’s no alternative for data retrieval.
See also: 22 Top Cloud Database Vendors
Correcting common misconceptions about data centers versus cloud storage
There are several myths about both cloud storage and data centers that companies should debunk before making a final decision. Here are the most pervasive misconceptions and the reality.
Cloud migration is too difficult
Many companies with complex data ecosystems have understandably been burned by the promises of the cloud. They were expecting an easy road, and some obstacles stood between them and full cloud migration.
The reality is that with a migration roadmap, many companies could have avoided at least some of their migration challenges. With cloud storage in particular, this becomes merely a component of a larger cloud strategy. In addition, cloud providers have stepped in to guide companies with a gap in expertise.
Data centers are more secure than the cloud
In some cases, having complete control over data offers more security than relying on a third party. However, this comes with two caveats:
- The company must have the budget and time to configure its data center servers to cover its exact security needs as cybersecurity threats evolve.
- The company must also have the in-house expertise and team size to manage security tasks effectively and launch troubleshooting immediately.
For companies without sizeable in-house cybersecurity teams, cloud storage may offer more secure data storage. Cloud providers make it their job to ensure top-notch, up-to-date cybersecurity and timely updates to critical components.
Cloud is less expensive than on-premises systems
Moving to the cloud definitely has the potential to cut costs, but this doesn’t happen automatically. Cloud service costs can fluctuate depending in a number of factors, and services vary among cloud providers. Some companies may save costs by moving to the cloud, but others could accidentally spend a lot more before they realize it.
Data centers are more expensive on the front end, especially if the company must purchase all new equipment. However, once configured, costs can be much easier to predict.
Choosing cloud storage versus data centers
We saw a surge of cloud storage adoption thanks to the global disruption from the pandemic, but data centers haven’t died just yet. Here are some considerations.
- Which is more important—absolute customizability or full scalability? As we said, a data center offers companies complete control over their servers’ configuration, but cloud storage provides the flexibility many companies need for post-pandemic operations.
- What are the cloud provider’s security protocols? When moving to the cloud, companies can often leverage the cutting-edge technology and expertise of cloud service providers to maintain security. Companies that are wary of turning data over to a third party should ensure that their own teams are kept abreast of the latest security threats and protocols.
- Do operations rely on a consistent connection? If internet connections are scarce or spotty, cloud storage can cause more trouble than not.
- What is my budget for total cost of ownership? Building a data center costs in the tens of millions upfront and additional millions each year to maintain. If the budget isn’t there, companies would be better served utilizing cloud storage rather than cutting corners with data centers.
Choosing a data center or cloud storage depends on the company’s needs
There’s no definitive answer for which is better. Many companies are choosing to shift to cloud storage because of an overall migration strategy, but that doesn’t mean data centers no longer have any use. The decision will depend on a combination of factors.
Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain – clearly – what it is they do.