What do selfies and work files have in common?

They can both live in the cloud…

We’ve all had it, that dreaded message telling you your iPhone has run out of space, and you need to clear out those 1,000 selfies and pictures of your cat...

… just me then?

Picture perfect

With every generation of iPhone came a better, more powerful camera that accurately captured the finest details of our precious moments, ready for an Instagram filter to blur it all out again. But as iPhone cameras became more powerful (creating much larger image files) storage did not become exponentially larger on these devices. In fact, it’s remained fairly steady, with only the very latest iteration reaching 512GB of storage for your pocket.

Back in the days of 2014, if you ran out of internal storage on your iPhone, it would be the case that you would have to clear up space manually, carefully deleting hundreds of photos you no longer needed or, in the extreme, replacing your iPhone entirely with a larger capacity model. But with the release of the iPhone 6 and iOS 8, Apple embraced and integrated cloud storage.

If you've ever looked back far enough in your iPhone photo gallery, you might have noticed the quality is pretty poor, but hold on a couple of seconds and your photo is restored to its former glory. This is the cloud in action. Your iPhone has cleared up space from photos you rarely access by placing them in the cloud, ready for when you need them, on demand.

With an Android phone you can simply bolt on more storage. While that works for the average consumer, with more and more data being produced by businesses, it’s often not as easy to add on more storage to your existing SAN or buy new hardware and licences. So can businesses learn from iPhone when it comes to dealing with their own data storage woes?

More than just cat memes

The iPhone intelligently copies images to the cloud that you rarely look at, without you even noticing, in the background, and ready for when you need them.

We can apply this same principle to any of your Windows file systems by using Microsoft Azure.

With Azure, we have the ability to transfer your data into the cloud and make it available to users in exactly the same way as they’re used to now, accessible from the same place, without storing all of that data locally on your storage system.

Azure intelligently stores only the files that are accessed regularly on your local storage. Files that are accessed least frequently are kept in the cloud, when you open them up they are downloaded on demand back to local storage ready for you to use. Azure keeps everything in sync so that to you or anyone else, it looks like a plain old file share, but in fact Azure has now freed-up lots of space on your local storage system.

With your files now stored in the cloud, and only a portion being stored locally for frequent access, you have now set your storage free and are utilising the near-unlimited capacity of the cloud.

Ok, we've cleared some space, so what does it cost?

The cost to store data in the cloud is based on consumption; however much you store, you pay for. So say you store 1.73 TB of data, then you are charged for only 1.73 TB of data. If you then remove files and now have 1.61 TB of data, then you would only be charged 1.61 TB. You’re also charged for downloading the data and some operational costs.

In our experience, we’ve found that the cost of storing data in Azure can be comparable or, in some instances even cheaper than expanding your existing storage system.

That all makes sense, where do I start?

The first thing to understand is what data you want to store in the cloud. If your files are spread across several areas, it’s best to have these consolidated into a single structure so you can more easily transfer them to cloud storage.

The most important part, and normally the most difficult to determine, is understanding how much it’s going to cost. Identifying what your consumption is going to be is not an exact science and the rule of thumb, like most, is to over budget.

Finally, start small, then scale. Start with a small amount of storage as a test, gauge the user experience, then scale up when you are ready. Most Microsoft Azure services have a free-tier – allowing you to test the service without commitment.

About Dan O'Hara

Having worked in the cloud technology space for a number of years, Dan has been able to develop unique solutions for our customers using cloud technologies.

An expert in both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, Dan holds the highest certifications in cloud architecture design for both platforms; Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect Professional.

Jisc | Data Matters

26 January 2021

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