The Cloud as Just Another Storage Tier


The major cloud platform providers have largely sold enterprises on the potential benefits of the technology. But now, the pressure is on the make it all work.

To do that, they'll need more than just a trade show demonstration on the advantages of dynamic resource allocation and limitless scalability. They'll need a means to integrate the cloud into legacy data center infrastructure.

And since it seems that the first application to gravitate toward the cloud is storage, there's no better place to start than by establishing the cloud as a new tier on enterprise storage management platforms.

That's largely the gist of a number of moves over the past few months by Microsoft, EMC and others. For Microsoft's part, the company has brought in long-time partner NetApp to strengthen the link between platforms like Windows Server and Hyper-V and NAS storage systems. The deal also encompasses systems like Exchange Server, SharePoint and SQL Server with an eye toward ensuring that the entire Microsoft environment in any given enterprise will have ready access to data no matter where it resides.

Still unclear, though, is how easily this integrated platform will extend into Microsoft's own cloud offering, Azure. According to the U.K. Register, Azure does not provide direct mapping into NetApp or any other storage system at the moment, which means Microsoft intends to use its own storage management stack on top of third-party hardware. That gives Microsoft the flexibility to keep its cloud open to all comers, but it also entails a fair bit of systems integration when it comes to signing up new customers. It also means that if it does intend to target NetApp users for new cloud services, it will likely have to work through storage management solutions from BMC Software, which recently teamed up with NetApp to forge an automated cloud platform as well.

Over at EMC, the company is keeping the management stack in-house, unveiling the Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) system for its Symmetric, CLARiiON and Cellera platforms earlier this month. The package is designed to set up the cloud as just another storage tier to be assigned data according to user-defined policies. To the storage system, the cloud appears no different from an SSD or SATA disk array and is subject to the same load balancing and performance optimization, save for the fact that it offers immense scalability.

The name of the game here is integration. Those who have a vested interest in the cloud as an enterprise-class solution need to make it as easy as possible to get customers up and running in real workload scenarios, not junk application testing or secondary archiving.

And those in the know realize that if you want to create the world that is to be, you have to get along in the world as it is first.