Planning for Success: Private Storage Clouds

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Brent Rhymes, president and chief executive officer of iWave Software, is responsible for sales, marketing, product development and operational activities at the company. He co-founded two successful technology startups including FileKeeper, Inc. and Software Realization Corporation.

Brent-Rhymes-smBRENT RHYMES
iWave Software

In a world that economist Thomas Friedman famously described as “flat” in his popular book “The World is Flat,” a level playing field exists where all competitors have an equal opportunity for success. In such a scenario, the competitive advantage lies with the business that has superior knowledge. Now, knowledge is an outcome of usable information about a business. And information is a product of data.

That is why, in recent times, there has been a veritable explosion of data. Data is being collected from different sources at every point in the business lifecycle – business operations, employee performance, customer interactions, etc. Now, all this data needs to be stored somewhere, and consequently, the storage market has also been increasing exponentially. Reputed market research firm the Gartner Group estimates the storage market to expand a whopping 20 times by 2020.

Bringing Storage and Cloud Computing Together

Over the last few years, there has been another revolution brewing in the world of computing – cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to the practice of offering computing power, whether software or infrastructure, as a service. The “cloud” in the term refers to the ubiquity of the service and how it is perceived by the end-user. Storage is one of the services that can be offered on the cloud, and it has several advantages over traditional storage on standalone servers. These are:

  • Scalability – Cloud storage allows for space to be dynamically allocated and used as per requirement.
  • Disaster recovery – Cloud storage allows for improved disaster recovery because of its distributed nature.
  • Load balancing – Cloud storage allows for fewer connection bottlenecks with dynamic rerouting of traffic.
  • Mobility – Cloud storage allows access to any authorized user over the company LAN or Internet.
  • Cost savings – Cloud storage requires fewer dedicated IT staff for maintenance.

With cloud storage, there are two options: public clouds and private clouds. In a public cloud, the data resides on third-party servers that are responsible for security and maintenance. In a private cloud, the data resides in in-house servers, but users still enjoy the aforementioned benefits.

Now, for a small business, public storage clouds are the best option because they entail no capital expenditure. Moreover, with a limited IT budget, a third-party vendor like Amazon or Google can provide much better data security than the company itself.

However, for an enterprise, private storage clouds are a better choice. For one, they allow for the use of existing infrastructure like servers; in other words, don’t throw away what you have. Secondly, with cloud computing still in its infancy, there is a distinct lack of standards, resulting in probable vendor lock-in. If an enterprise chooses a specific cloud vendor today, it will not be possible to shift to another vendor next year without starting from scratch at a considerable expense. Finally, there is the question of data security. There have been several outages and security breaches on the public cloud in recent times, which make the average enterprise wary of trusting confidential data to third parties.

Private Storage Clouds – Why?

In addition to the generic advantages of going to the cloud, the following factors support the case for implementing private storage clouds:

  • The need for automation – Enterprise IT cannot cope with the current and future profusion of storage without automation as provided by private storage clouds.
  • Unreliability of storage scripts – Enterprise IT has traditionally depended on storage scripts written by storage administrators to automate certain administrative tasks. However, these suffer from two fatal flaws:
  • Tight ties to originator – These scripts, being tightly tied to the storage administrator who developed them and often not documented properly, become unusable once those originators depart.
  • Lack of standardization – These scripts are often developed ad-hoc and do not meet strict quality standards.

Automation as provided by private storage clouds can address these flaws.

  • End users may bypass enterprise IT – There is a real fear that, faced with the shortcomings of traditional storage in terms of responsiveness and services offered, end users may bypass the IT department altogether and turn to public cloud providers. Not only will this diminish IT’s importance in the enterprise, such behavior will undermine data security. With private storage clouds, IT can meet end-user expectations and ensure data security.
  • The need for controlling IT administration costs – With the exponential growth in storage, storage administrators are very much in demand. Unfortunately, growth in their ranks is miniscule (1.5 times current levels by 2020). In such a scenario, suitable staff are hard to come by and expensive. Even with existing staff, there is high turnover. Private storage clouds reduce the number of dedicated staff required for maintenance. Additionally, proper documentation of best practices insulates the enterprise from high turnover and reduces training costs for new employees.
  • The need for regulatory compliance – In the wake of legislation like Dodd-Frank, regulatory oversight of data and how it is used by enterprises has increased considerably. Private storage clouds ensure that best practices are followed and that each operation performed is audited and recorded for regulatory compliance.
  • The need for compatibility with other cloud offerings – Cloud computing is growing by the day, and private storage cloud is the only storage paradigm that is elastic enough to ensure compatibility with other cloud offerings like infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), virtual desktop interface (VDI), etc.

Private storage clouds – How and What?

The best way to implement a private storage cloud is to engage a solution provider specializing in this field. So, what does a private storage cloud solution provide? Ideally, it should have the following attributes:

  • Self-service portal – It should provide a portal for storage consumers such as DBAs, application developers, and server support staff to submit and track requests for automated storage services as well as advanced storage services such as replication and migration. The portal should support appropriate authentication protocols for making such requests.
  • Storage services catalog – It should provide users with a catalog of fully automated storage services that may be fired up in a few steps. Access permissions should be granted as per defined roles.
  • Full automation – It should allow for full automation of services without the need for manual intervention by the storage administrator. These services should include: Provisioning – Allocating storage space dynamically as per requirement; Reclamation – Making optimum use of available storage space, including reclaiming unused memory fragments; and Remediation – Disaster recovery in case of outage without affecting normal performance.
  • Storage classification – It should provide storage administrators the capability to classify storage and storage services, thereby allowing differential service depending on classification.
  • Universal compatibility – It should be compatible with hardware from multiple vendors like HP, Dell, Hitachi, etc.
  • Interoperability with other clouds – It should be interoperable with other clouds, both public and private, using standard application programming interface (API).
  • Policy-driven services – It should allow the storage administrator to define policies that would be applicable to storage services. For example, the administrator should be able to specify different levels of authentication and automation for different services.
  • Fully audited services – It should provide for tracking of all operations performed on the private storage cloud by keeping a record in a secure audit log.
  • Charge back/show back – It should provide the storage administrator the capability to associate charge back or show back information to both the storage provisioned as well as the storage services performed in a manner fully compatible with the enterprise’s existing accounting system.

Private storage clouds offer a plethora of advantages – financial, organizational and technological – and should be a key focus area for an enterprise planning for success.

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