It seems that everyone is using cloud storage these days. Even enterprise managers who say they aren’t on the cloud yet probably are—they just don’t know it. So at this point, the question is not whether to use cloud storage, but how best to integrate it into the overarching enterprise infrastructure.
Ideally, this integration will come about through the transformation of internal IT infrastructure from current silo-laden architectures to a diverse hybrid cloud. But that process will not happen overnight, and the technology to produce such a flattened, infinitely scalable data environment is not quite out of the lab yet.
In the meantime, then, what is the enterprise to do? First off, says Widen Enterprises’ Matthew Gonnering, recognize that cloud integration is already taking place on the software level, particularly as the workforce becomes more mobile. Smartphones in particular lack the storage capacity to meet personal needs, let alone professional ones, so many apps come with built-in links to Dropbox, Google Drive and other such services where data can be stored, shared and synced outside the enterprise firewall. Rather than pull up the drawbridge when it comes to external storage, enterprises would be wiser to embrace the trend by working with software developers and cloud providers to devise the proper APIs and other tools needed to keep cloud data safe, secure and available.
Cloud services are also set to work their way into the enterprise via the operating system. In standard Microsoft fashion, the company is forging closer ties between its Windows platform and the SkyDrive service in a bid to broaden the OS’s appeal beyond just a straightforward desktop solution. The new SkyDrive for Windows 8.1 uses techniques like thumbnails and placeholder file services that leverage metadata to allow users to search and manipulate folders without taxing local hardware or network resources. The service also offers new offline storage capabilities to accommodate mobile users who lose wireless access.
New generations of data center hardware are also providing built-in synchronization with popular cloud storage platforms. For example, Egnyte released the latest version of its enterprise storage solution featuring Google Drive document collaboration capabilities, providing IT managers with a single-view management tool to keep track of file, folder and log-in activities. The idea is to provide users with the kind of broad collaboration capabilities that are driving 21st Century productivity gains while still delivering the real-time management and monitoring capabilities that are crucial to enterprise data environments. A key addition to the platform is the ability to store Google Drive and Microsoft Office files under a unified namespace for multidevice access.
As well, system integrators and resellers are starting to see the value in broadening their storage options. Silicon Mechanics recently added SwiftStack’s private cloud storage system to its line of HPC computing cluster platforms, providing a heterogeneous storage infrastructure that ties directly to public cloud storage services. Based on the OpenStack API, SwiftStack provides access to the growing ecosystem of OS-compatible storage services hitting the market. At the same time, it provides hardware-independent management capabilities, allowing turnkey platforms by Silicon Mechanics and others to more easily integrate into broader public/private cloud environments.
Online storage is yet another example of the way consumer technology is driving enterprise productivity. This puts IT in a bind because, for the first time, users are in command of more innovative technology than the enterprise. But it’s important for IT to remember that solutions are what really matter, not technology. And if there is a better way for knowledge workers to interact with the wider data environment, IT would be foolish not to encourage it.