One of the biggest drawbacks to the growing wave of cloud storage services out there is the fact that they represent not just a vast expansion of capacity, but an entirely new storage tier.
While there is nothing wrong with that, per se, it is nevertheless a tier that has to be monitored, managed and integrated into legacy storage infrastructure.
Unless, of course, you happen to contract with a service provider that is also the manufacturer of that legacy storage.
That's the thinking behind some of the latest cloud storage services coming online from IBM, Symantec and others. Taking a page from EMC, the goal is to provide enterprises with the means to ramp up their storage capabilities without having to wade too deep into the integration morass.
Take IBM's latest move as an example. The company launched a cloud service this week based on its XIV platform with assists from the BladeCenter server line and the General Parallel File System (GPFS) file clustering platform. Now, if you happen to already have the XIV system up on a private cloud, it's a no-brainer to simply expand it onto IBM's public cloud. But even if you don't, you're still going to have an easier time integrating legacy IBM systems with an IBM cloud than with, say, Google or Amazon. IBM is also setting up a new archiving solution that leverages tried-and-true systems like the Tivoli Storage Manager and Enterprise content manager with an eye toward accessing data wherever it resides: on disk, tape, local or in the cloud.
Symantec is on much the same track with its FileStore system. The company already offers nearly 40 petabytes of online storage using its Veritas Storage Foundation and Cluster Server solutions. What FileStore does is provide a common file management platform across traditional storage and new public/private services, essentially providing volume management capabilities that can reach into the petabytes. The node-based system uses the same UNIX-based file approach as the Veritas line, although the system is platform-independent and runs on commodity hardware.
When it comes to setting up cloud architectures, however, there is something to be said for simplicity, and it doesn't get much simpler than Ctera's CloudPlug. This small device plugs into a USB or eSATA hard drive and provides instant access to a NAS with a cloud-based backup component. At $199 per year for 10 GB, the company has it aimed at small offices and high-end consumers. Still, Ctera has lined up none other than Rackspace as the cloud storage provider, so it probably isn't much of a stretch to imagine it going into enterprise settings before too long.
Interoperability across multiple cloud platforms is also likely to be in big demand as the technology involves. That's probably why Microsoft, which apparently has seen the light in working with others in markets it doesn't dominate, has lent its support to the Simple API for Cloud Application Services program. Founded by development firm Zend Technologies, the goal is to provide PHP developers an open source framework for cloud-based applications. The idea is to define a set of interfaces than can be folded into Zend's open source framework known as Zend Cloud. At the moment, the program offers a series of reference interfaces aimed at compatibility among file storage, document storage and queueing.
The idea of a fully open cloud in which anyone can swap files and applications across any cloud infrastructure is intriguing, but probably a little idealistic at this point. The Internet provides such a structure, primarily because open exchange is the very reason for its existence.
When you start talking about private data shuttled over public network, however, the equation shifts from ease of access and ubiquity toward security and availability to select users. Still, within the confines of a single organization, compatibility across multiple tiers of storage, whether they are internal or external, holds a lot of promise.
But it's a real question whether the needs of users will outweigh the desire of vendors to maintain their own turf.