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Do you know where your cloud data is?

When data goes into the cloud, customers may want to know exactly where that is, but providers don't always say

By , Network World
April 25, 2012 08:49 AM ET

Network World - If your data is in the cloud, do you know where it really is?

When enterprises use a public cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider to store their data offsite, they're basically sending the data off into a service provider's data center. But just where is that data center?

Many IaaS providers are hush about the location of their data centers, and some for good reason related to security. But in some cases customers want to know where their data is being stored to ensure low latency connections to it, or in some cases for compliance reasons. So can customers know where their data is?

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It's a concern that Michael Dickson, director of business and technology group at GBQ, an IT consultancy, says he hears all the time. "Customers are always asking that question, and I think it's a valid one," he says. "But I don't think it should be a negative that a provider spreads customer data around to various hosting sites." The best service providers, he says, have a network of data centers that work in tandem to provide high availability and security of customer data. Sometimes that means data will be moved around the country based on disasters, service levels, demand of resources and cost, among other factors.

For those who do want to know where the data lives, most of the major IaaS providers outline in a service-level agreement (SLA) or on the providers' website where the data will be stored and in some cases, customers even have a choice.

"Most of the largest providers have data center operations fairly well dispersed globally," says Michael Crandell of RightScale, which helps businesses migrate data to various cloud providers. "For the most part, it's pretty explicit where the data is."

At least to a point.

For example, Amazon Web Services' Simple Storage Services (S3) offering allows customers to choose one of seven locations around the globe for their data storage needs and where the customer chooses impacts the price. A standard AWS storage option costs 12 cents per GB up to the first TB of data. If a customer chooses to store the data in California, the price jumps to 14 cents per GB, and if it's stored in South America, it rises to 17 cents per GB. While AWS says that it doesn't disclose the exact location of its data centers, it does provide a map showing generally where they are.

Other providers seem to have similar strategies. Terremark, a Verizon company, has a network of six data centers that power the company's cloud offering, with plans to add four more. Customers can choose to have their data stored in Miami; Culpepper, Va.; Beltsville, Md.; Hong Kong; Sao Palo, Brazil or Amsterdam, a company official wrote in an e-mail.

So does it matter where the data is stored? Crandell says, generally speaking, to reduce latency customers want their data to be close to where it will be accessed by end users. The farther away the data is, the slower the speed of response. Online retailers, financial institutions and gaming companies can be particularly sensitive to latency concerns, he says. "If there's even a half second delay in a game or on an ecommerce site, that can be enough for people to click away to another site," he says.

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