In the last few years, enthusiasm around cloud-based data storage has reached almost a fever pitch. But in-house data storage still has a lot to offer, especially to government agencies that need to offer high levels of data assurance or need their data to be highly accessible.
The reality for most agencies is that a hybrid solution fits best: some cloud, some in-house infrastructure. Finding the right combination enables agencies to tap into the expertise and infrastructure cloud providers offer while maintaining tight control of any data that has statutory protection requirements.
Assurance & Accessibility: 2 In-House Advantages
In the context of government needs, onsite data storage has two major advantages over cloud-based alternatives:
- Data assurance: Government agencies must typically meet stringent standards for maintaining the privacy and security of certain data in their care. Outsourcing data storage to the cloud means trusting that responsibility to a third party. If that third party loses the data — for example, if thousands of hours of police body camera footage go missing — the consequences could be severe, both politically and functionally. Handling data storage in-house enables greater control. It also offers greater security: data stored locally is not susceptible to external hacks (though there is admittedly the risk of theft from disgruntled employees).
- Accessibility: While cloud-stored data is often touted as being “available anywhere,” there are some important limitations: if the cloud company goes out of business, changes its service offerings, or is acquired by another company, its offerings may change or cease to exist. Under those circumstances, anyone storing data would have to find an alternative solution in order to continue accessing its data, which could be both costly and time-intensive. Second, in the event of a natural disaster at the cloud storage provider’s physical location, the data could become temporarily unavailable for an indeterminate amount of time (though, admittedly, the same is true for a disaster that hits in-house servers — and, to be fair, most cloud providers have data centers in multiple locations for this very reason). Finally, and most relevantly, access to data may be limited by an agency’s internet bandwidth or data speeds. Investing in higher-bandwidth service could improve access, but that typically comes with increased cost.
A combination of cloud and on-premise storage often makes the most sense. Less-sensitive data, for example, might be housed in the cloud, while more highly regulated data could be stored in house. Data that requires a lot of bandwidth to access and view might be more accessible locally, while data that users can access with slower Internet connections might be better off in the cloud.
Let’s dive into the police body camera footage example further to examine how an on-premise storage solution could be part of an effective hybrid storage setup.
Long-Term Storage for Sensitive Data
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have proven popular among American law enforcement: more than 95 percent of police departments either have a BWC program or have plans to adopt one. The challenge for state and local governments is to create laws that dictate how these cameras can be used and how the data they generate must be stored.
Today, many states are still in the pilot program phase of BWCs and so haven’t yet developed regulations around the cameras and their data. Even in states that do have laws on the books, guidelines aren’t always clear. Let’s look at a few examples:
- In California, AB 1593, passed in 2016, requires police departments that use body cameras to “consider” established best practices. One of those best practices notes that departments using third-party data storage should consider using a “reputable” vendor. The statute goes on to recommend using contracts, finding a system that prevents data tampering, and making sure there’s an automated backup feature.
- In Florida, HB 93, passed in 2016, simply requires storage of BWC data to comply with the state’s public records laws.
- In Illinois, SB 1304, passed in 2015, outlines how long data from BWCs must be stored but makes no provisions for how to store it.
This lack of clear guidance means police departments are on their own to analyze and assess the merits of various local and cloud storage options. That can be difficult, especially for those not familiar with the technology that drives these platforms.
For example: a recent study of cloud migrations found that fewer than 40 percent of organizations were correctly able to predict migration costs, and more than half found those costs to be higher than expected. That’s likely because many discussions about the cloud focus on its cost-effectiveness – but that’s not the same thing as costing less than on-premise storage.
The cloud is cost effective because it enables organizations to do more than they can accomplish with in-house data storage: store more, access data faster, process data more quickly, enjoy automated and ongoing security checks, enjoy less downtime, etc. While valuable in the right context, those functions aren’t all highly visible, which is why some organizations are surprised by the costs of the cloud.
Think of it like this: switching to the cloud is like trading in your bike for a car: you aren’t just getting a faster bike, you’re getting a lot more capability. When you factor in how much more you’re able to do (and how much more quickly) with the car, it’s the obvious winner in certain scenarios — but it may still make sense to keep a bike around for quick trips around the block.
So even if a cloud solution ultimately makes sense, moving everything to the cloud could cause budgeting trouble for some government entities.
How Much Does the Cloud Cost?
The short answer: it depends.
The longer answer: it depends not only on which cloud provider you work with but also on which services you use. Choosing the right services for your tech needs can be a daunting task — it requires deep technical expertise and familiarity with how your network currently works and how you’d like it to. For government agencies, the decision also requires familiarity with local laws and ordinances around data storage.
Kansas’ Sedgwick County, for example, is required to store its videos for 25 years. The county recently decided to upgrade to hybrid storage to ensure it was able to meet that requirement: in addition to updating its existing server for its in-house storage, it signed a contract for a $250,000-per-year cloud storage solution.
For the nation’s largest police departments, the cost of storing BWC data in the cloud could be much higher – up to $4 million annually. While most police departments are small and have lower costs (the national median is just $1,000 per year), the reality is that, regardless of department size, a hybrid data storage solution is typically less expensive than relying on the cloud alone.
That’s especially true when network engineers implement cost-saving measures to increase the capabilities of their existing network infrastructure. Server prices, for example, range wildly. A savvy engineer can evaluate their options to choose a cost-effective model that offers the necessary capacity and performance within existing budget constraints.
Another way to save is to opt for non-OEM equipment (especially optical transceivers, which can be marked up as much as 350 percent by OEMs, according to a Gartner study). This can reduce costs significantly without affecting quality.
Engineers can further reduce costs while increasing capacity in the short- to medium-term by updating the capacities of existing infrastructure via bidirectional and SWDM (shortwave wavelength division multiplexing) optics. The capacity increase this offers gives agencies time to plan and budget for the more expensive longer-term upgrades (such as single-mode fibers) they’ll eventually need.
For Cost-Efficient Data Storage, Consider a Hybrid
Choosing the right cloud solution requires significant tech savvy. The same is true for choosing the right in-house servers and supporting infrastructure. Maybe the top takeaway here is that the most powerful cost savings for any single agency won’t lie in migrating to the cloud or blindly updating in-house equipment. Instead, that savings will come from a careful technical assessment of the agency’s current and future needs and a plan for meeting those needs that considers both cloud-based and on-premise options.
In most cases, as with Sedgwick County, a hybrid solution will likely offer the most cost-effective solution.
About the Author
Britt Mowery, Vice President of Federal Markets at InterOptic, a data interconnect company that helps government institutions manage the bandwidth, interoperability and complexity in their IT networks.