Appliances and the Cloud -- Two Great Tastes...?


Cloud computing is the technology du jour for the enterprise these days. But some sharp eyes are focused on another sector that could have as great or even greater impact on the way data is created, stored and distributed in the new millennium.


Appliances, and storage appliances in particular, are not the latest innovation, which may in part explain their stealthy status at the moment. But given that the cloud is all but inevitable, some believe appliances will make the perfect adjunct by preserving local control of data and, in the short term at least, providing the kind of instant capacity that not even the cloud is capable of at the moment.


Dan Woods offers up a number of intriguing possibilities for Google to take advantage of the appliance model, should it choose to, say, develop an e-mail device on par with its search appliance. Let's face it, with so much discovery focused on e-mail these days, it's doubtful that many corporate titans will entrust their data to the cloud. But a local appliance could take advantage of all the cloud offers in terms of flexibility and scalability while storing the actual data on the client premises.


The merger of the cloud and the appliance is not lost on the current EDW (enterprise data warehousing) market, according to warehousing consultant James Kobielus. Practically all the major players-Teradata, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase-have shifted the technology over the appliance model, and are now taking the next step onto the cloud. Microsoft in particular seems to be heading toward a cloud/appliance model with the expected development of a new SQL Server-based appliance created from technology acquired from DATAllegro. And if that appliance shows up in the SQL Server Data Services plan as expected, you'll have the ability to manage vast amounts of data across literally thousands of nodes.


Of course, since the cloud is barely off the starting block, there's plenty of room for start-ups to gain an edge. Earlier this week, I highlighted a new company called CTERA, which makes an appliance called the CloudPlug that provides online back-up and file sharing to local drives.


Appliances will also likely play a role in other advanced cloud functions, like application development and replication. WANdisco recent unveiled the Subversion MultiSite Software Appliance, a virtual system that provides LAN-speed collaboration performance over the WAN, allowing developers to work over distributed cloud networks rather than individually in their own siloed environments. The company also recently partnered up with rPath to gain virtual appliance creation and management support.


There are those who believe that before too long, the enterprise as we know it will be entirely outsourced to the cloud, with organizations paying for IT resources like electricity using little more than basic Internet service to their workstations. There will no doubt be some willing to try, but if they decide to forego even the most basic server and storage infrastructure, they might want to consider some kind of appliance to preserve a modicum of control over their data.