The Cloud Outscales, But Does It Outperform?

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Cloud Computing Performance Matters

Performance issues are already a major concern.

We all know that the cloud can provide cheaper storage than in-house infrastructure, but is it better?

Of course, there are numerous ways to quantify "better," but from an operations standpoint, it wouldn't hurt to know exactly what you're getting and what you're giving up when you sign on the dotted line.

According to Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and founder/CTO of tech advisory firm Crucial Point LLC, the cloud not only enhances your storage but your entire data environment as well. One key aspect of the cloud is its adoption of programmable storage, largely through the REST (Representational State Transfer) protocol. By tagging all data sets with unique metadata, the cloud broadens accessibility and collaboration to a degree that native storage can only match through expensive upgrades. You also get improved data protection and security by virtue of the cloud's advanced replication and integrity capabilities.

While the ability to scale has always been one of the cloud's prime advantages, it's starting to look like, as the saying goes, "We ain't seen nothin' yet." Even larger-scale deployments are in the offing with platforms like OpenStack's Cactus release, recently updated with more than 40 new features aimed at improving stability and reliability in highly scaled environments. The package includes support for all the major virtualization technologies, as well as live migration for KVM to allow movement of virtual machines across physical hosts. It also boasts enhanced network features like IPv6 for flat networking and improved configuration management for XenServer. It also provides regional multi-cluster support allowing for the creation of widely dispersed fault and availability zones.

That attention to the network component of cloud storage will be a key requirement going forward. No matter how advanced the cloud becomes, data still must travel a fairly complicated network to and from the end user. But even here, new advances in WAN optimization are cutting the disparity between the cloud and in-house resources. Riverbed Technology recently unveiled a new set of protocols for the Whitewater storage accelerator family that support specific storage environments like EMC NetWorker and CA ARCserve. The system should greatly alleviate circumstances in which cloud providers offer storage on the cheap but then charge through the nose for access, says CTO Edge's Mike Vizard.

And speaking of access, there are still many cloud services that restrict how and by what means data is acquired. Amazon's Cloud Drive, for one, offers 5 GB free of charge, but you can only get it through their own Web-based interface. To counter this, though, just get Gladinet Cloud Desktop, says PCWorld's Rick Broida. Cloud Desktop enables access directly from Windows Explorer so it appears like a local hard drive or Flash device, although at a slight speed penalty.

So to answer our original question, yes, cloud storage is better, but only if you have the proper tools to make the most of it. In that way, the cloud is best viewed as the latest addition to your overall storage environment -- providing a much-needed boost to still-valuable, but probably overtaxed, traditional infrastructure.