Dealing with the Complexity of Cloud Storage

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    Storage has long been the main draw of the cloud, both for consumer and professional enterprise users. But there is a big difference between bulk storage and the kinds of advanced architectures required of complex data environments. So the question many organizations face these days is not whether to store data in the cloud, but how.

    By all indications, the public cloud will continue to gain more of the storage load as enterprises look to cut costs and provide greater access for both traditional workloads and emerging Big Data and mobile-facing applications. According to 451 Research, spending on public cloud storage is on pace to double by 2017, from just 8 percent of the total spend today to more than 17 percent. This will come at the expense of traditional, on-premise infrastructure, which will decline from 70 percent of the total to about 58 percent. This is still the majority of storage budgets worldwide, but the trend lines are clear: more data heading to the cloud and less to the local storage array.

    But simply using the cloud as a giant storage farm fails to capitalize on its true potential – kind of like driving a Ferrari to the local supermarket each week. The cloud is at its best when coupled with advanced capabilities like Storage as a Service (STaaS), which enables everything from remote access to full disaster recovery. Technavio has the STaaS market gaining at an annual rate of nearly 38 percent for the rest of the decade as top enterprises look to reduce costs and gain the kind of flexibility and reliability that can make or break critical business functions going forward.

    Still, most experts will tell you that the cloud is best when dealing with cloud-facing applications, while traditional data center apps have trouble with aspects like stateless, object-based storage and web-based APIs that are common in the cloud. The way around this, other than rewriting all your legacy apps, is the cloud storage appliance, says ComputerWeekly’s Bryan Betts. Acting as both a translator and accelerator to the cloud, the storage appliance presents itself as just another local storage destination to legacy applications and usually provides enough on-premises cache to gloss over the latency that cloud computing introduces. And most appliances these days provide a range of controller, gateway and integrated services to meet a wide range of application requirements.

    The wrinkle in all this is the rise of advanced computing architectures like containers, says Oded Kellner, vice president of product management at Zardara Storage. Early adopters say that other than creating the containers themselves, the most significant challenge with platforms like Docker is accessing storage. Containers are ephemeral – they come and go in an instant – while some of the data they contain is permanent. So the need to locate and engage with remote storage volumes on a routine basis can significantly impact the flexibility that container architectures are supposed to provide. One possible solution is to embed compute functions inside storage, rather than the other way around, so as to bypass networking and other impediments that introduce latency and system complexity. This would also enhance sharing among multiple users and provide better data persistence across multiple containers and virtual machines.

    Clearly, there is more to cloud storage than signing a contract and then dumping data into someone else’s store. An integrated, optimized storage environment that encompasses both local and remote infrastructure is the best way to ensure that applications can meet the highest performance levels at the lowest cost.

    But this will take some legwork on the part of the enterprise to determine not only the needs of today but of an increasingly cloudy tomorrow.

    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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