Larger enterprises are beginning to use internal private clouds to cut costs and manage enterprise data storage more efficiently, even if the lines remain blurry between these clouds and traditional data storage networks.
Internal storage clouds are managed inside data centers and the infrastructure is owned by the organization using it rather than by a service provider, as opposed to external storage clouds that are hosted outside the data center. Because they often come with large capital costs and require in-house IT to manage, internal storage clouds are more commonly embraced by larger organizations.
Lantmännen, a collective owned by 40,000 Swedish farmers, calls what it has deployed over the last year an internal private cloud, and doesn't see a cloud as requiring a public Web service. "We define it as a way to consolidate services," said Dennis Jansson, chief security officer at Lantmännen, in a conference call hosted by Riverbed Technologies Inc. in November.
Jansson said Lantmännen's cloud was put together using EMC Corp. storage and Riverbed's WAFS devices to smooth delivery of data to distributed locations from one centralized source. "We've crushed costs while maintaining high performance," he said, estimating that Riverbed's WAFS had saved $6.5 million in bandwidth and IT costs in the first year. He forecasts that Lantmännen's will save $60 million over the next five years.
Jansson said cloud storage can be "an easier way to say consolidation, virtualization and standardization." Lantmännen's users can go through a Web interface and choose what type of application they need. Each service has a fee, a service-level agreement (SLA) and an integrated enterprise security management application. Users can request data storage capacity as part of the application profile they choose to deploy and there's no formal limit as to how much they can get. Each business unit also has an SLA for data recovery objectives.
"We're able to actually follow business needs," Jansson said in a follow-up interview with SearchStorage.com. "It doesn't make decisions on applications the users need."
Lantmännen also uses storage capacity outside of its own data centers through its Internet service providers, but Jansson said this is for "burst" scenarios during times like crop harvesting season. "I don't see us saving any data anywhere [outside the data center]," he said.
Alex Godelman, vice president of technology at online advertising sales rep firm Gorilla Nation Media LLC, said his company manages both an external customer-facing cloud and an internal cloud for employees to share data. Both are supported with separate instances of ParaScale Inc.'s Hyper-scale Storage Cloud software.
Like Jansson, Godelman said cost is a big driver for deploying internal clouds. "In the past we've housed all data on a filer, which is a fairly robust system, but very expensive, and we had a lot of difficulties justifying the cost of disk space for archives of videos and animations," he said.
Gorilla Nation repurposed servers it already had and deployed them with ParaScale's software for a scale-out object-based system for unstructured data.
"To grow the internal cloud, we just add more nodes," Godelman explained. "The design of the system is also very simple—we just kind of use it. And it allows us to breathe some life into a huge existing investment, which means we created the system virtually for free."
The internal cloud leads to gray areas
What's the difference between ParaScale's cloud and another vendor's clustered network-attached storage (NAS)? Very little, Godelman admitted, "depending on your definition of cloud." For him, the key difference is low-cost software and the use of commodity hardware.
"It definitely needs to be vendor-agnostic and it's supposed to be very economical," he said. For that reason, Godelman said, he'd categorize F5 Networks Inc.'s ARX file virtualization switch as a cloud storage device but he wouldn't consider a proprietary scale-out storage system from Isilon Systems Inc. or Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co./Ibrix as cloud.
Sometimes vendors and their customers disagree on what makes a storage cloud. The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is planning to internally deploy Vblock -- a bundle of servers, network, storage and software launched by the coalition of VMware Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and EMC Corp. last November with the goal of accelerating internal cloud adoption.
But assistant vice president of platform management John Lamb said he doesn't see the Vblock alone fitting his own definition of cloud storage. "It's an operational benefit play," he said. With Vblock price tags running up to $6 million, "I'm not saving a dime on capital costs." For Lamb, a true cloud requires a packaged, metered service that can be deployed with a low entry cost.
And that's ultimately the way he sees the industry going. "I think we're on the doorstep of the technologies and frameworks that could take us to the utility computing model," he said.
Nasser Mirzai, senior director of IT at San Mateo, Calif.-based TradeBeam Inc., said his company has been working on an internal cloud pilot project with VMware using its vSphere virtualization software. TradeBeam has a setup that uses a chargeback model and self-service access to resource pools for its internal engineers, containing 400 CPU cores, 400 GB of RAM and 6 TB of HP/LeftHand iSCSI storage.
TradeBeam has also opened up a storage cloud to support a "try before you buy" program, where potential customers spin up virtual machines and test out TradeBeam's trade monitoring and supply chain management software. The supporting infrastructures for the internal and external cloud are separate within TradeBeam's data center, though they both contain a combination of Dell Inc. blades, HP/LeftHand storage, Cisco Ethernet switches and vSphere. Access in both multitenant environments is handled at the application level through a database and VMware.
The storage itself isn't much different from what LeftHand has been selling for years, Mirzai said. Automation hasn't been built into storage management. VMware's VMotion can move data around, but that's not a part of the back-end storage system. Asked whether storage management for these utility environments has been different, Mirzai answered, "Yes and no. You pay less attention to how much data each person has – you give them the whole infrastructure and don't even care what they're using it for."
But Mirzai said there isn't yet a mechanism in his environment for automating the provisioning of additional storage should a sudden need arise with the internal cloud. "That's part of the still-scary stuff," he said.
Chris M. Evans, owner of U.K.-based storage and virtualization consultancy Brookend Limited, said he talks to clients looking to turn themselves into internal service providers. "Over the last four to five years people have put together service catalogs," he said. "But they're focused on technology, which array, which speed of disk … people aren't quite there yet [if] they're still talking about technology."
For more on cloud storage:
1. Discover users' cloud computing concerns in Cloud storage adoption slow; cloud data backup leads the way.
3. If your organization is contemplating the cloud, you'll need some tips. Cloud storage: Five best practices for moving to the cloud will provide you the guidance you need.
4. Need information on service-level agreements? Find out what you need to know in Cloud storage service-level agreements (SLAs) specify uptime guarantees but not data availability.