The International Data Corporation (IDC) identifies three main sources of data in a business. These are user devices (smartphones and PCs), on-premise IT hardware and software, and data centers.
Combined, the data from these devices is enormous. So humongous is this data that the IDC predicts that the global data from these sources will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. One zettabyte is about a trillion gigabytes!
This vast amount of data can overwhelm a business. A study by Actian indicated that 84% of businesses would use more of their data if it was cheaper and easier to do so. For over half of these businesses, their data was too complex and slowed down operations. In addition, nearly 80% of businesses struggle to unify their data, which leads to lost opportunities for leads and revenue.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of effectively managing organizational data to stay competitive in your respective industry. This is why storage as a service (STaaS) offers an opportunity to put data to good use, as you will discover in this guide.
Also Read: Backup as a Service
Defining storage as a service (STaaS) explained
Storage as a Service is storage space that a business can rent from a cloud service provider (CSP).
Anyone can use STaaS, from individuals to global enterprises. However, small and medium businesses benefit the most from STaaS. If you belong to this category, it’s good to know that you can easily offload your company’s data to a CSP, which is cheaper than renting or buying physical servers.
Who provides STaaS?
The main STaaS providers are companies that build and maintain data centers and offer cloud storage to businesses.
These vendors offer storage as a subscription model. They give affordable data storage options for small and medium businesses. Some examples of STaaS vendors include:
1. Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)
This is a STaaS solution offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It can store data for virtually any use case, including machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).
S3 divides data into three separate physical servers for backups and cost savings. There is a price calculator available, but the lowest tier starts at $0.023 per GB per month for 50TB storage.
Also Read: Strategies for AWS Cost Optimization
2. Dropbox Business
This STaaS solution is ideal for file sharing and backup. It offers document management features like watermarking, password protection, and suspicious activity alerts.
3. Google Workspace
This is an all-round solution that includes storage alongside productivity and collaboration tools. It combines email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, and video conferencing tools into one. Google Workspace is also easy to scale, making it ideal for entrepreneurs.
Pricing begins at $6 per user per month with 30GB storage. There is also a 14-day free trial.
4. IBM Cloud Object Storage
This solution is ideal for storing unstructured or qualitative data which may not fit into a spreadsheet or database. The most common examples of unstructured data are multimedia files like images.
Such files have many different formats (JPEG, GIF, PNG, etc.), making them challenging to store effectively. IBM Cloud Object Storage offers flexible pricing depending on how frequently the data is accessed on the cloud.
5. Microsoft Cloud
This STaaS solution is a combination of tools that offer storage options, e.g., Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, and Dynamics 365.
For example, businesses that use Azure can choose the STaaS option through that platform. Azure offers a pricing calculator to estimate costs. Microsoft 365 pricing starts at $8.25 per user per month with 1TB storage. Each offering has a free 30-day trial.
6. HPE GreenLake for Storage
This solution is part of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise suite of data management tools. It is ideal for businesses that have fluctuating storage demands.
HPE GreenLake for Storage is also a hybrid STaaS solution, meaning it allows businesses to store data on physical servers and on the cloud. Users can create a free HPE account to test drive GreenLake for free. Pricing can be obtained through an authorized HPE partner.
How STaaS works?
STaaS typically works as a subscription-based model for businesses to store data. The STaaS vendors manage this data on behalf of their clients, as explained below.
STaaS vendors offer two subscription types: by data quantity, or through a customized service level agreement (SLA).
A quantity subscription means that businesses pay for bulk storage in advance. For example, if your business generates a terabyte of data per month, you can pay for that amount of cloud storage.
A SLA offers a pay-as-you-go option for businesses that have fluctuating demand. For example, your organization may generate more data because of a digital marketing campaign. In this case, a SLA will enable you to negotiate with the cloud vendor to pay for only what you use.
STaaS supports three main data formats:
Different STaaS vendors have specific pricing for each type of format.
File storage essentially keeps information in folders. It is the most familiar form of STaaS because it's similar to saving files on a PC.
Block storage, however, divides files or databases into equal portions. These pieces of data can be stored conveniently on the cloud server.
Object storage means assigning metadata to each file. Metadata is information that describes what each object contains. This includes the file name, size, and format, creation and modification dates, etc. This type of file storage is ideal for artificial intelligence (AI) data and application programming interface (API) data.
STaaS use cases
Generally, StaaS is used in cloud computing. Businesses can store their data in third-party cloud platforms and access it through the internet. Numerous industries use STaaS solutions, such as:
- Healthcare, for electronic health records and compliance
- Banking, for financial and transaction records
- E-commerce, for product and customer data
- Education, for learning materials and student records
- Logistics, for supply chain and tracking data, etc.
In all these industries, the most common use cases for storage as a service include:
1. Data backup and recovery
A cyberattack, natural disaster, or human error can lead to data loss. STaaS automatically stores backup data in a secure cloud environment. In case of disruptions, businesses use the backup data to restore operations.
2. Centralized file sharing
Remote and hybrid workplaces need a centralized repository for business data. A STaaS solution like Google Workspace combines file storage with collaboration tools. This enables teams to access data anytime from any location with any device.
3. Data analytics
STaaS helps businesses to store data generated by analytics software, e.g., business intelligence (BI) applications. It also allows users to access this data on demand for reports and forecasting.
4. Digital transformation
In addition to storage, STaaS providers offer cloud infrastructure solutions for data migration, e.g., containers and virtual machines (VMs). This means you can deploy applications smoothly without worrying about physical servers.
Also Read: Essentials of Data Center Migration
Benefits of Storage as Service
STaaS helps businesses to «set and forget» their storage needs. The STaaS provider manages all aspects of data storage and security. This frees an organization's time and resources to focus on other operations. The key benefits of STaaS include:
1. Cost reduction
With StaaS, you don't need to purchase data infrastructure. Such infrastructure includes hard disk drives (HDDs), solid state drives (SSDs), servers, and data centers.
You can store your data directly on the cloud instead. STaaS also saves costs during application development and testing. With application data on the cloud, software developers use fewer IT resources to collaborate on projects.
Also Read: Best Practices for Managing Cloud Costs
2. Rightsizing resources
Over-provisioning in data storage can be a strategic approach for businesses. It means keeping extra storage to accommodate future growth demands.
However, this approach can be expensive because you’ll need to pay for storage resources you may not use. STaaS avoids this problem with a pay-as-you-go subscription model. You can increase or decrease your storage capacity based on needs.
3. Centralized storage
A STaaS solution has a single interface for accessing business data. This makes it easier to find the right data from one repository, rather than from multiple drives or devices.
STaaS solutions also enable teams to work on the same file versions stored in the cloud. This minimizes file duplication, which arises when documents are stored in multiple locations.
STaaS offers unmatched flexibility for growing businesses. With data stored on a cloud platform, your growing business can build applications faster.
The organization also becomes more responsive to customer and market changes. You can share and distribute data with remote or outsourced teams. All these factors accelerate business growth.
5. Reducing latency
Latency means how long it takes for a system to respond to a query. An example is the amount of time between entering a keyword into a search engine and seeing results. It is measured in seconds or milliseconds.
Latency is critical in business processes that need real-time data. STaaS vendors maintain high response times and minimize downtime for their servers. This enables companies to use cloud data to power time-sensitive applications, e.g.,Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Risks of Storage as Service
STaaS presents a number of challenges that are important to consider as a business:
1. Hidden costs
If your business is rapidly-growing, it may easily exceed its STaaS subscriptions as you need to generate more data for operations.
Exceeding bandwidth or storage limits often attracts steep charges.
2. Limited integrations
Your company's proprietary data format or hardware may be incompatible with a STaaS vendor's solution.
This is a common challenge for businesses that use legacy architecture. It can make digital transformation more complicated because of decrypting or converting the data.
Also Read: System Integration Guide
3. Data security
If your business handles sensitive or critical data, you may find it helpful to get additional security and compliance measures from STaaS vendors.
Unfortunately, not all vendors have the right certifications and frameworks to manage highly sensitive data.
4. Vendor lock-in
It may be challenging to move from one STaaS provider to another. Migrating and reconfiguring the data might be a complex process, which drives up costs.
Also read: Top Cloud Migration Tools
5. Limited technical support
STaaS vendors offer different levels of technical support depending on subscription tiers. If your business needs specialized or dedicated support for critical data storage, you may need to pay a premium for it.
How to choose the right Storage as Service vendor?
STaaS solutions usually contain confidential business data. Because of this, you need to choose the right providers who can secure your company’s data and streamline operations.
Consider these most important factors when selecting a SaaS provider.
1. Understand business storage needs
Business storage requirements vary by company type, size, and industry. For example, a multimedia firm may need storage for images, videos, and audio files.
A research firm, however, may have vast volumes of documents to store in the cloud. Some businesses may also require STaaS for keeping data archives for compliance. The ideal STaaS vendor aligns with organizational needs to improve business outcomes.
2. Prioritize data security
Data security is a critical factor when selecting a STaaS provider. Serious STaaS providers should offer features like encryption, access control, firewalls, and updates.
They should also guarantee physical security for their data centers where business data is stored. The STaaS vendor should ensure that business data is safe from breaches. Otherwise, companies risk having their data compromised.
3. Study the service level agreement (SLA)
A service level agreement should have the following components:
- Data encryption protocols
- Access control and authentication policies
- Real-time data monitoring
- Data loss prevention (DLP) policies
- Incident response policies, etc.
Please review the STaaS agreement thoroughly to avoid hidden costs and inconveniences.
4. Choose easy integration over unnecessary features
STaaS vendors often include numerous features in their subscriptions to attract new clients.
Unfortunately, many features are hardly used in everyday business operations. For example, blockchain integrations sound appealing but may become unnecessary for your company.
The ideal STaaS solution should integrate easily into your company's existing infrastructure. It does not require any hardware upgrades or complex data handling procedures.
According to Future Market Insights, post-pandemic hybrid work policies like bring-your-own-device (BYOD) are driving the demand for STaaS. As a result, 90% of businesses will consider STaaS to be the «backbone» of operations by 2030.
That said, every company's data storage needs are unique. But the guidelines above should help you find the best STaaS solution to suit your use case and budget.