Prepare for the Worst: What Nirvanix Teaches Us about Cloud Storage Reliability

This week, customers of cloud storage provider Nirvanix are facing a big data nightmare. Giving only two-weeks notice, Nirvanix has announced that it is shutting down September 30, and that customers must move their data or lose it.

Data loss is a big fear for any cloud storage user, especially enterprise customers. Some of the largest customers stand to lose petabytes of data, which could potentially translate to many millions-of-dollars worth of data loss. Furthermore, it will be practically impossible for Nirvanix customers to move all their data in two-weeks time.

Regardless of what happens to Nirvanix, cloud storage users will certainly be left wondering about the availability and security of their data. Nirvanix is a trusted service provider, with resale partners like IBM, HP, and Dell vouching for its technology and services. Cloud storage users may ask themselves: “If a trusted provider can’t hold on to my data, is it really safe anywhere?”

Despite the panic, there are ways to prepare for a crisis of this magnitude. “Cloud mirroring” is one way and involves the process of copying data in its entirety to a secondary cloud storage provider. While customers spend extra on storage services with this approach, they also greatly increase the likelihood of having immediate access to their data in the event that one provider fails.

Data replication can be costly, but it is nowhere near the financial setback that customers could face if Nirvanix goes under. Already, partner Aorta Cloud has begun working toward a plan for customers to acquire Nirvanix or otherwise prevent its demise.

The fear surrounding Nirvanix’s announcement shows that the cloud industry in general, and the cloud storage industry in particular, could improve. The development of “cloud storage escrow” services may be a crucial next step for regaining customers’ trust in storage providers.

Somewhat analogous to existing escrow services that ensure access to application source code when a software vendor goes out of business, these services would ensure customers have access to data for a significantly longer period of time than two weeks. With this escrow model, a 3rd party would have legal and physical access to the storage provider’s premises, along with funding and contingency plans to ensure extended access to the data. An escrow agreement would also ensure that, once the escrow period is over, the data is securely removed from all the provider’s storage devices – preventing it from falling in to the wrong hands.

In the future, prospective cloud storage customers should consider a contingency plan that accounts for the business failure of a service provider (e.g. a replication solution such as mirroring; and, if escrow services emerge, then escrow too). With numerous startups and amateur service providers in the industry, this may only be one of many instances to occur. Nirvanix has shown that even a trusted service provider with outstanding technology can fail.

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