6 Things You Need to Know About Unlimited Data Storage

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Nathan Eisner
Nathan Eisner, COO

Unlimited data storage. This is a phrase used (and abused) by many IT vendors. When the phrase gets tossed around without much context or nuance, towns and cities might think that low-cost options exist providing infinite storage for any data. But there are complex parameters around how the concept of unlimited storage works that towns and cities need to consider when evaluating solutions.

By evaluating these solutions in the right way, towns and cities can discover some powerful options that help with data storage, data backup, and disaster recovery. Let’s look more closely at the complexities of unlimited storage.

1. Unlimited storage requires moving data to the cloud.

If you own hardware, you will run into physical storage limitations—both in terms of physical space to store hardware and the amount of storage space each device can hold. Sure, you can have “unlimited storage” by buying more hardware, but that is a costly, square-foot consuming nightmare.

The cloud allows you to expand your data storage without hitting physical limits. Cloud storage providers offer seemingly endless amounts of storage for a low cost and eliminate the need to own and maintain your own hardware.

2. Unlimited storage removes the concept of storage caps.

Whether you experience physical storage caps (such as storage space within an onsite physical server) or arbitrary storage caps (from vendors that don’t allow you storage beyond a certain limit), an unlimited storage option removes the boundary of a storage cap. Why is this important? Many towns and cities use solutions that limit the total amount of storage space—forcing them to delete data or archive data in risky ways (such as using external hard drives or tape drives).

Because of modern data storage demands that include rich media, videos, and images, towns and cities need to alleviate and remove worries about whether they will be able to store large amounts of data. Unlimited storage takes that worry away.

3. Unlimited storage still involves costs.

Unlimited storage doesn’t mean free storage or ridiculously cheap storage. Depending on the solution and vendor, you might see different price points. Three of the most common include:

  • Cost per gigabyte (GB): Many vendors will provide unlimited storage but charge you a certain cost per gigabyte. This can grow expensive quickly. Just one hour of video is an average of 2-3 GBs.
  • Tiered storage model with a monthly fee: Some vendors may provide a tiered model for unlimited storage. As you need more storage, the higher the monthly cost. For example, you might have the option to pay a flat fee per month for a certain amount of storage such as 100 GB or 30 TB. As you need more storage, you pay more per month for a specific amount and you can easily go higher.
  • Per-user cost for unlimited storage: Instead of tiers, some vendors offer unlimited storage but charge you a specific amount per user per month.
  • Fixed fees: Other vendors may offer fixed fees for unlimited storage either as a standalone service or as part of a bundled service (such as IT in a Box). For many towns and cities, IT in a Box is an excellent fit because they get unlimited storage plus many other essential IT services for a fixed, predictable monthly cost.

4. Unlimited storage is different than unlimited backup.

While related, the concepts of unlimited storage and unlimited backup are very different from each other.

Unlimited storage simply focuses on the storage of municipal data such as documents, files, databases, applications, images, videos, and other data. Unlimited backup involves a separate data storage strategy for two scenarios:

  • Onsite backup, usually server images that exactly replicate your servers at any given moment in case you need to quickly restore your information after an incident (such as a server failure).
  • Offsite backup, usually server system state backups (including operating system files) that take longer to restore but, when these backups are stored offsite, maximize your storage space through shrinking the offsite backup file sizes down.

With unlimited data backup, the solution ensures that all critical data is backed up and ready to restore if needed. A municipality and IT vendor can work together to identify data that needs backing up, the right methodology for backing it up, and applying best practices (such as following state record retention schedules). Data backup serves a function different than simply existing as a place to store data.

5. Unlimited storage needs to account for technical issues.

Unlimited storage sounds great…unless it hinders your municipal operations and productivity. For example, some issues may include:

  • Slow file synching or upload (due to a poor internet connection or poor data storage vendors).
  • Slow access to files stored in the cloud.
  • An inability to access files anytime, anywhere.
  • Difficulty finding where files are stored.
  • A lack of locally stored personal files for access offline.
  • Poor technology infrastructure (such as servers, network systems, or workstations) that ruin the benefits of unlimited storage.

Unlimited storage needs an interface that works seamlessly with your municipality’s current technology environment. Without ease of use, unlimited storage will not work well at your municipality.

6. Unlimited storage needs to follow best practices.

Unlimited storage should not become a dumping ground for any and all information without planning or intent. Even vendors that charge a fixed fee will usually have some parameters around the use of unlimited storage due to sheer practicality. Best practices include:

  • Following state records retention schedules. Towns and cities don’t need to store data indefinitely and can purge records according to state law. Based on the type of information stored, towns and cities can archive and delete data on a regular records retention schedule.
  • Rigorously applying state records retention laws to body camera video: Even though it’s the same point as the first bullet above, we’re calling this one out because body camera video is a particularly challenging problem for towns and cities. We encourage towns and cities to apply records retention schedules to body camera video instead of hoarding video indefinitely. Otherwise, even the most cost-effective IT vendors may be forced to adjust the overall fixed costs or charge extra for excessive storage costs while still providing unlimited storage to your municipality.
  • Streamlining file versioning: Practically, towns and cities don’t need to store every single version of every single file. A few recent versions of a file are usually enough to complete a successful data restoration. Usually the last version is enough for older files not accessed for many months.

Unlimited storage sounds like a simple, one-size-fits-all solution—but it’s more complex than it appears at first glance. To evaluate the right unlimited storage solution, it helps to assess your municipality’s needs, budget, and restrictions. If you feel that your storage situation is not ideal, then it may be time to consider new options.

Need help assessing your data storage situation? Reach out to us today.

Original Date: 10/14/2020