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In-house or outsource: Selecting where to store your data

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If you’re looking at where to store your data you have three basic choices. There are variants and combinations of these – such as a private cloud within a colocation data centre – but for now we’ll stick to these three:

  • Internally hosted;
  • Public cloud storage, e.g. Dropbox or Amazon EC2; and
  • Colocation, i.e. your hardware in a shared third-party data centre.

Hosting your data in-house

Keeping all your data internally on your own systems provides you with the greatest control of the data, although will cost you the most to run.

Some of the benefits of hosting in-house are direct management of the hardware, complete control over access to the building, and that only your staff (who should already be vetted) will have physical access to the machines.

This is an ideal solution for sensitive commercial or personal data where you need to guarantee its security, or where fast access is required.

Although there are some advantages of internally hosting all of your data, it costs a lot of capital expenditure to set up even a small comms-room in your building, and even more to run (from electricity to maintenance agreements and specialist contractors).

Using a public cloud provider

Public cloud storage has the least control and security of all three of the options. However, it does have its advantages: You can access your data from any location via a browser; there’s little upfront cost in getting the storage available; and it can usually be set up with just a credit card in a few minutes.

Storage is normally very scalable allowing you to start with a few GB and grow it to multiple TB without interruption. However, you don’t always have control over which country your data is stored in, which can not only have implications for data protection, but also for latency and speed of access (data stored in the UK will be faster to access from the UK than data stored in Australia).

Given that all data is on shared hardware, anything on a public cloud should only be data that you are prepared to have in the public domain; never put commercially sensitive data onto a public cloud environment. 

However, it is an excellent location to store content for websites such as videos, sales brochures and other downloads.

The standard way to access cloud storage is over the public internet (in some cases VPN support maybe available), but generally the connection will be unencrypted and limited to the speed of your broadband connection.

Using your hardware in a colocation data centre

Colocation is the middle ground between internally hosting all your data and putting it all onto a public cloud. Like the other options colocation has advantages of its own: you own the hardware, so you own the asset and can control access to it; you retain control over where your data is stored and which jurisdictions it resides in; and dedicated data centre will generally have better security than an in-house server room.

Colocation also offers lower upfront costs and on-going costs than running an in-house data centre, and the flexibility to increase your space and power without long lead times.

Some data centres may offer access to shared storage or dedicated private clouds. When you colocate your equipment and data to a specialist data centre, it provides all the security, facilities, engineers and network for your equipment as part of a monthly fee, removing the burden of managing these internally. The data remains on your equipment and will be hosted within a lockable rack so that it is separate from all other clients within the same data centre.

Colocation provides an environment where, depending on how you structure your own equipment, you can store sensitive commercial data, publically accessible data and low-latency requirements.

What’s your experiences and advice?

David Barker is the technical director of 4D Data Centres, which he founded at age 14, and a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur Award at the Growing Business Awards 2012.

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