Bridging the Cloud Storage Gap

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Ranajit Nevatia is VP of Marketing, Panzura. He brings more than 15 years’ experience in enterprise storage and software. Prior to Panzura, Ranajit was responsible for business strategy, cloud alliances, product management and marketing for Riverbed’s Cloud Storage Business Unit.

Ranajit-Nevatia_tnRANAJIT NEVATIA
Panzura

Cloud is one of the biggest buzzwords in technology these days. After cloud’s initial success with software as a service (SAAS) applications like e-mail, CRM, and payroll, the next frontier has become infrastructure as a service (IAAS), especially with storage. The idea that you could store your data in the cloud and eliminate expensive on-site storage systems is very compelling to companies that want to reduce capital spending in their IT budgets. CFOs and CIOs are strongly attracted to the idea that they could move corporate storage to the cloud and eliminate potentially millions of dollars spent on buying, maintaining, and upgrading storage systems. And cloud providers like Amazon Google and others like Dell, EMC, HP and IBM are eager to acquire enterprise storage customers, offering virtually unlimited storage in their clouds for pennies per gigabyte.

Storage Needs Drive Cloud Storage Adoption

The number one driver for the growth of cloud storage is that storage isn’t necessarily a core competency of most large organizations. Many enterprises that are trying to leverage cloud storage are doing it to move from a CAPEX oriented expenditure model to an OPEX oriented model. They’re trying to get out of the mundane task of managing large amounts of storage. CIOs at large corporations are basically saying they’re done buying storage gear because it doesn’t add value to their line businesses in terms of delivering services. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice is being asked to provide more e-discovery and better case management for its offices. That’s how the DOJ’s IT staff wants to spend its time, not necessarily arranging the storage to support that application. They’re trying to get the storage function into someone else’s hands so their IT department can focus more on value-added services to their courts and their lawyers.

Multiple Barriers to Cloud Storage Adoption

So if cloud storage seems a solution to this problem, why the slow adoption? If cloud storage seems like an unalloyed benefit for enterprises, it’s not as simple as visiting the Amazon site and clicking the “Sign me up” button. Less than one percent of traditional large enterprises store their files in the cloud because using the tools provided by cloud vendors, they can’t get there from here.

One issue is that enterprises store “files,” and clouds store “objects,” a new data construct that is required as part of this scalable architecture. Somehow, there must be a translation from file to object in order for enterprises to access cloud storage. Alternatively, the companies would have to re-write many of their applications to take advantage of cloud storage and they’re unwilling to do that because of the high cost. Cloud providers offer basic on-ramps to their clouds – software programs that perform a raw conversion from files to blocks – they might serve the needs of small businesses, but these are not adequate for most use cases in a large corporation.

Other barriers to enterprise cloud storage adoption include security, availability, and performance. Companies are reluctant to store proprietary data in a public cloud because they worry that the data won’t be secure. Companies worry that the network or cloud provider could experience outages, denying them access to their data at a critical time. Companies are also concerned that their users won’t be able to access files in the cloud with the same speed as they get them from on-premises storage on a local network.

Eliminating the Challenges to Cloud Storage

To address these issues, a new category of product has arisen: cloud storage controllers. Cloud storage controllers are systems that sit in the corporate data center and remove these objections or concerns. They provide translation of files for storage in the cloud and make cloud file storage as simple, fast, secure and reliable as local storage. A cloud storage controller integrates memory, solid-state storage, and hard disk storage along with an on-ramp to the cloud.

There are cloud controller solutions that are designed primarily to address the needs of smaller businesses, but these take a very basic approach that isn’t robust enough for enterprise cloud storage applications. A true enterprise-class solution must deliver the scalability, reliability, and performance required to support hundreds or thousands of users working with thousands or millions of files.

Aside from translating files into objects for storage in the cloud, the most basic function of an enterprise-class cloud storage controller is to provide a standard enterprise-grade file system that is scalable into millions or billions of files spanning hundreds of terabytes or petabytes. The file system enables enterprise applications to transparently integrate with the cloud storage controller as if it were a local storage device.

On top of the file system, the cloud storage controller includes other key features:

  • Tight integration with existing applications, and use of corporate directory structures for access control;
  • Granular file deduplication, which eliminates duplicate copies of files to save storage space;
  • Compression, which saves space by reducing the size of files as they are stored;
  • Military grade encryption, which encrypts files stored on disk;
  • Unlimited snapshots, which are point-in-time views of all files stored so storage administrators can return to earlier versions of files;
  • Efficient bandwidth management.

As on-ramps to cloud storage, cloud storage controllers also enable users to determine which files are cached locally and which are only stored in the cloud. The cloud storage controller itself incorporates multiple terabytes of storage, and users can “tier” their data for various access priorities – a file can remain in memory, be stored in solid-state storage, be stored on local hard disk, or be stored in the cloud. Using cloud storage controller tiering and caching mechanisms, users are able to intelligently cache frequently-accessed files, or files that through policies are kept in the first tier of storage. Using these tools and a feature called pinning, users can ensure that certain files are always available at LAN speeds.

Another aspect of the most advanced cloud storage controllers is that they work well in distributed organizations. Each office’s data center can host a cloud storage controller so the entire company has access to all of its data. Through use of a global file system, data on any cloud storage controller is available through any other cloud storage controller, and changes to files are automatically and instantly updated across the organization.

In short, cloud storage controllers eliminate the barrier to cloud storage adoption by making cloud file storage possible, by encrypting data in transit and in the cloud to eliminate security concerns, by making data available at all times, and by ensuring the performance of local LAN-attached storage.

Now, companies that want to reach for cloud storage can make it happen quickly and easily.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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