Cloud Storage: Getting Ready for Production Environments

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    Storage continues to be the most popular rationale for deploying cloud infrastructure, which is producing a perfect storm of sorts in the form of increased availability and diminishing costs.

    However, the enterprise employs multiple types of storage, so while the cloud has proven adept at supporting non-critical data for archival and backup purposes, it still faces some headwinds when it comes to active, production-level workloads.

    By the numbers, the cloud storage market shows every sign of maintaining the healthy growth curve of the past decade for at least the next five years or so. According to Markets and Markets, the cloud storage sector is looking at a compound annual growth rate of 25.8 percent until 2021, more than tripling today’s valuation of $23.7 billion to $74.94 billion. The top performer is likely to be the cloud storage gateway that allows organizations to tap vast, scalable resources when workloads increase and then scale back to a normal footing when the spike subsides. At the same time, growth will likely be driven by the increased trust that IT executives have expressed for critical factors such as reliability, security and availability.

    For cloud providers, however, simply serving as a data repository is not where the real money is. The industry is very eager to transition from a backup provider to a more active participant in data workflows and processes. According to Infostor’s Christine Taylor, this doesn’t necessarily require better performance, although it is certainly desirable, but a better understanding among enterprise users of the unique advantages that the cloud can bring to production environments. Many emerging applications do not require high throughput as much as they need more on-demand capacity, which the cloud offers in spades. In this vein, the business case for active-tier storage in the cloud isn’t cost-saving or simply duplicating traditional infrastructure on third-party resources, but in adapting key applications to provide levels of service that would otherwise overwhelm on-premises systems.

    One area that cloud providers have hit on for production-level support is document storage. With enterprises eager to adapt workflows to mobile, collaborative services, putting documents online in a secure, user-friendly fashion is becoming paramount. Storage provider Box is working in this direction, having recently linked up with Google to leverage Google Docs and Google Springboard in support of real-time collaboration. By tying these services to its own Relay workflow automation platform, Box enables an easily provisioned storage ecosystem that allows users to open, edit and manipulate documents while also integrating advanced search functions, Gmail, Calendar and other Google services.

    The cloud also supports the movement of data across great distances, but since this is rather time-consuming, especially for large volumes, it hasn’t caught on as a production-level capability. But companies like SwiftStack and FileCatalyst are working to overcome network lag times with advanced transfer platforms. The firms have teamed up to integrate the FileCatalyst file acceleration system with SwiftStack’s object storage platform to dramatically speed up workflow delivery across distributed private clouds. The pair claims it can reduce transfer rates from hours or days to mere minutes, regardless of file size or format, essentially providing automated nearline storage for multiple production-level workflows.

    The cloud also has a lot more flexibility in masking its deficiencies than traditional infrastructure. Poor I/O and data bottlenecks, for instance, can be addressed by improved edge computing that puts resources closer to users than centralized repositories, while increased infrastructure abstraction allows virtual resources to be made available quickly and in a wide variety of configurations.

    It seems, then, that the best approach to optimizing cloud performance is not to tailor the cloud to suit the enterprise nor to remake the enterprise for all-cloud functionality, but to meet somewhere in the middle.

    For every task, there is an ideal configuration of resources and services, whether on-premises or in the cloud, so the job at hand is to maintain as much flexibility as possible to access the right architecture quickly and easily, and at the lowest possible cost.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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