Today’s businesses rely on data to power their decision-making, guide their resource allocation, and get work done. The data businesses rely on takes many forms, including transaction data, customer data, media files, and content of all sorts.
As computing power has grown exponentially over the last several decades, so has the scope and size of many business data storage needs. For example, individual files have grown in both size and complexity, and businesses can now utilize far more files and data types.
Storing this data takes significant space, of course. That alone could justify a business turning to a vendor for data storage solutions. But storing it in a system where genuinely massive amounts of data remain accessible and quickly searchable is equally essential.
To add to the challenges, some very large sets of data (say, anonymized patient data or transaction data) are unstructured, requiring a different approach to storage, searching, and retrieval.
The more data a business collects, produces, or needs to use, the greater the need for large-scale data storage solutions.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What data storage solutions are, and what they do
- Why companies implement data storage solutions
- How data storage solutions work (high-level overview)
- Pros and cons of data storage solutions
- Top vendors providing data storage solutions
We’ll start with a general definition and explanation.
What Are Data Storage Solutions? A Definition
An enterprise data storage solution helps a business store, manage and protect any kind of data that the company needs to maintain. Additionally, data storage solutions must be capable of provisioning the right data at the right time to the right location, whether with highly available mission-critical data or “cold” data in deeper storage.
Historically, businesses managed this process in-house, with server rooms or server farms on the premises to store the data. Some still do, but many, if not most, have turned to cloud-based solutions for data storage.
Data storage solutions vendors offer storage that meets or exceeds the level of quality, reliability, and availability that the typical business could ever achieve in-house. Further, vendors offer this storage at predictable rates based on a customer’s usage, not on a theoretical maximum need.
At their simplest, data storage solutions are essentially server space on someone else’s servers. This rented server space includes enterprise-grade security and encryption, of course: businesses wouldn’t trust a vendor with sensitive company or customer data otherwise.
While data storage solutions can technically be as simple as described in the previous paragraph, they rarely are. Instead, many vendors build on top of this basic functionality with additional features or functions, and some vendors bundle data storage as part of a larger cloud services package.
Why Should Companies Consider Data Storage Solutions?
Why do companies turn to cloud vendors for data storage solutions (and why should yours consider doing so)? For the same reasons that many other business processes have moved to the cloud. Businesses can drastically reduce operational complexity by getting out of the practice of procuring, configuring, managing, and troubleshooting their own infrastructure. And enterprise-scale data storage certainly qualifies as complex infrastructure.
By offloading the burden of procuring, running, maintaining, and fixing the hardware necessary to store data at scale, companies gain the ability to focus more closely on the parts of their business that make them unique.
How Do Data Storage Solutions Work?
Whether as standalone products or as part of broader cloud services solutions, data storage solutions all tend to work in very similar ways. Vendors who run large data centers or server farms offer secure server space to client businesses. In addition, these vendors ensure that client data stays safe and remains accessible according to the terms of the SLA. (Thus, nearly any cloud data storage solution includes vendor-side backups and redundancies in addition to the storage itself.)
Clients upload data to the vendors’ servers over the internet. They can then access, manipulate, move, or transfer that data as needed.
Depending on the solution in use, this data may not look any different to end-users. Microsoft OneDrive, for example, installs on user workstations and functions just like a standard network space — even though the files on a company’s OneDrive reside on one or more Microsoft servers, not on the company’s.
Some data storage solutions specialize in certain types of advanced or uncategorized data. In addition, these services may offer additional tools or methods of working with the data. In this way, data storage solutions can enable firms to use big data and analytics tools on large data sets — without needing the on-site infrastructure necessary to power such activities.
Advantages and Benefits of Data Storage Solutions
Choosing a data storage solution for your business unlocks a number of benefits that have the potential to improve data operations at businesses of all sizes.
Businesses of All Sizes Enjoy Enterprise-Grade Reliability
One of the most significant advantages, especially for small to midsize businesses, is gaining enterprise-grade reliability. Global providers like AWS have legendarily high-reliability scores, far better than what the typical mid-size company would enjoy if operating their data storage internally.
Move from Uneven Expenses to Consistent Costs
Turning data storage into an OpEx with consistent usage-based costs is a significant advantage for many businesses. Servers are pretty expensive, and many companies appreciate not having to deal with spiky replacement or procurement costs. Instead, vendors can absorb those costs at scale while charging their clients consistent, predictable rates.
Keep Data Safer with Superior Security and Data Protection
This advantage seems counterintuitive at a surface level: it certainly feels like the servers in the basement of your headquarters are a safer choice than sending all that private data across the internet.
But for most businesses, the reality is the opposite. The most extensive enterprise operations (and only those that already need to invest heavily in network security) may have a case to make here, but most companies don’t.
Threat actors can and do breach businesses all the time. Typically, the smaller the company, the easier the target. But no matter your size, statistically speaking, most companies are nowhere near as well equipped to defend against cyber intrusions as the largest cloud vendors like AWS, Microsoft, and IBM.
Before implementing a specific data storage solution, be aware of some potential pitfalls that may present themselves. If you aren’t sure how a particular vendor will mitigate these concerns, be sure to discuss them before committing.
Powerless in an Outage
One notable disadvantage to relying on a cloud vendor for data storage solutions is a well-known one. In the unlikely event of an outage, your business may be completely powerless. If the right data becomes unavailable, your business may not be able to progress until the vendor resolves the outage.
Of course, cloud providers have a solution for business-critical applications. Look for vendors that offer high availability for the data that needs that level of care. Of course, you’ll pay more for it, but you’ll offset the risk of an outage knocking you offline outside your defined risk parameters.
Data Throughput Subject to Bandwidth Limitations
When your data lives in the basement (so to speak), you can access that data at maximum speeds. Typically, the only limit is your business’s LAN throughput.
But when your data lives in the cloud, you can transfer data only within the limits of your internet bandwidth.
Bandwidth limitations aren’t going to be an actual problem for most enterprise companies in most use cases. Bandwidth at headquarters is likely just fine. But suppose your business deals in significantly large files and must upload and download them regularly. In that case, bandwidth may become a consideration in the discussion of moving to a cloud data storage solution.
The same may be the case for a virtual or distributed workforce. For example, key players with significant throughput needs could face difficulty working quickly — though this would be the case with an on-premises data storage solution as well.
Top Vendors Providing Data Storage Solutions
Many vendors offer data storage solutions, either as a standalone product or as a part of a broader cloud services package. Below, you’ll find brief reviews of 10 of the top providers of data storage solutions.