When people think of cloud services in the storage arena, a few well-known use cases come to mind, like online backup, DR, archiving and simple file sharing. The cloud's intrinsic technology advantages -- scalability, outsourced simplicity and potential cost savings -- are the drivers behind these applications. But there's another use case for cloud technology that offers a strong set of advantages and a group of potential customers that should be very attractive to VARs. Document collaboration -- the sharing of work among geographically dispersed users -- represents a "killer app" for cloud storage technology that can open the doors to several important industries.
Document collaboration, while similar to simple file sharing, requires a more sophisticated infrastructure. Many applications involve read-heavy data sets that often must be kept for years. Since they're essentially archives and often subject to regulation, the cloud infrastructures they reside on must provide data protection and maintain data integrity. Examples of applications that could use cloud services for document collaboration include medical imaging systems, media production and remote sensing. Let's talk about them.
First up is electronic medical records (EMR). EMR initiatives widespread in the healthcare industry. While there are regulations (such as HIPAA) that govern the sharing of these records, the advantages of health care providers having access to patient records more than justifies the cost of compliance. It's difficult to overstate the value in having doctors able to review images, diagnoses, prescriptions, etc., for essentially every treatment a patient has received.
Cloud services technology supports the protected storage, physical delivery and controlled destruction of these data. It allows practitioners access, essentially anywhere they have an Internet connection, while maintaining integrity and data protection. The infrastructures available to cloud storage providers also enable them to provide secure, long-term repositories for these (often very large) data sets while keeping costs down and maintaining flexibility and growth potential.
Next up are media production applications. Media production companies, which create video, animation and computer-generated digital content, for example, need to share and protect files but also need to support geographic dispersion of their labor forces. These specialized workers can't always be expected to live close to the companies that employ them. Cloud services brings their work to them, enabling companies to engage better talent, in more places for less money. As with medical images, these data sets can be huge, and since the work done by these remote collaborators represents a significant investment in added value, they need to be stored and protected effectively.
Remote sensing, on the other hand, is used by companies that deal with satellite and aerial photography, involving visual, infrared and multispectral data. These images are initially stored in raw formats and then stored again, as sophisticated processing is performed on them. Users include classified Department of Defense organizations and contractors that have analysts around the world consuming these images. Organizations like the Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, state and local governments, and private developers also use aerial imagery for maps and land-use planning.
Users in these remote sensing industries have different, but still important, security and longevity requirements for these data sets than do the medical or commercial graphics industries. Cloud services can provide the same geographic delivery, scalability, protection and cost advantages to remote sensing industries, as it enables document collaboration.
Cloud storage is, clearly, well suited for users that need to collaborate on common data, bringing a unique set of technologies to bear to meet the requirements of specific industries in this segment. But there are a number of ways to implement a cloud solution that supports the document collaboration use case. A large company may choose an internal, private cloud, while another organization might outsource the entire infrastructure and pay monthly to have its shared data stores online for remote users. Or, a hybrid cloud, with a combination of local and remote infrastructure, could be the best.
This is where VARs can bring their expertise and present the best way to provide "the last mile," from the cloud to end users. Whether it's a big, in-house infrastructure project they integrate, a small, outsourced service they resell, or something in between, VARs are in a position to best represent this technology and complete the solution.
About the author
Eric Slack, a senior analyst for Storage Switzerland, has more than 20 years of experience in high-technology industries holding technical management and marketing/sales positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He's spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.