Cloud storage advantages: Solving five common IT problems

Unlimited capacity, multi-tenancy and built-in DR are just a few of the cloud storage advantages administrators can use to help them solve their data storage challenges.

What you’ll learn in this tip: When contemplating a move to a cloud storage environment, data storage administrators should list the cloud storage advantages associated with such a decision. For example, traditional data storage systems have limits on capacity, while the cloud offers unprecedented scalability. In addition, cloud storage lets admins take advantage of multi-tenancy and avoid the headaches associated with data migrations....

What follows is a list of five cloud storage advantages and the way in which they help users combat some common IT problems.

Cloud storage advantage 1: Scalability

Traditional storage systems and their scale-out variations have hard limits on capacity, performance, and in the case of network-attached storage (NAS), files or objects. As a result, more storage systems are deployed as data scales. The end result is more backups, data archiving, management tasks and required staff. Cloud storage mitigates this problem with the ability to add more capacity, performance and objects whenever a new node is added to the cloud. This is possible because object storage emphasizes loosely federated individual data slices. Block or file storage necessitates consistent storage systems across all the resident data. Cloud storage has no need for a single or aggregated namespace governing all the data; instead, it uses a looser federation of individual data elements that control their own destiny. This eliminates the need for cache coherency across the entire system, the need for every node to be aware of the objects owned by other nodes and the concept of ownership of a piece of data by a physical node. The result is data that scales based on rules about the data itself, rather than about the system. As long as the data meets specified policies about how many copies it needs to have and where it can live, the system can grow and scale nearly indefinitely.

Cloud storage advantage 2: Flexibility

Limited metadata is a drawback of most storage systems. True, NAS has more than storage-area networks (SANs) or direct-attached storage (DAS, which have almost none), but even NAS is still limited. The dearth of metadata limits what can be automated. Cloud storage, or what I sometimes call cloud object storage, allows for much more metadata and enables exceptional customized control over data for specific business and system functions. In turn, data can be manipulated based on policy triggers, as well as scale on rules. Those rules automate many traditional, manually intensive tasks such as tiering, security, migration, redundancy and deletion.

Instead of the traditional approach of tightly coupling the data to its location, cloud storage dynamically lays out the data and automatically optimizes it. It then moves data nondisruptively based on policies. This contrasts with traditional storage where administrators must intervene to decide the placement of each individual object and then move it manually when they think they should. Greater automation ultimately equals significantly less management.

Cloud storage advantage 3: Multi-tenancy

Traditional storage systems and their scale-out derivatives were never designed for multi-tenancy. Security, billing and chargeback are all “bolted-on” vs. “built-in." In my opinion, cloud storage’s custom metadata provides unprecedented layers of security. Each object or file functions as autonomous data instances carrying a broad swath of controlled and restricted access policies for distinct parties. The built-in encryption is both in-flight and at-rest. Some cloud storage products also provide erasure codes that add another layer of security. Even if someone were able to crack the encryption, they would have to intercept a minimum of 12 data streams (unlikely) and as many as 64 (highly unlikely) just to read the data.

Cloud storage advantage 4: Eliminates disruptive data migrations

Every time storage systems are refreshed -- typically every three years -- data must be migrated. This is a time-consuming and costly process. According to Bloor Research, 84% of all data migration projects exceed budget or time estimates, or both. Data migrations often last multiple quarters, during which both systems must be powered, cooled and, of course, paid for.

Cloud storage, which is based on object storage, eliminates disruptive data migrations that are the result of tech refresh cycles and make tech refresh an easy, online task. This is done by adding the newest nodes, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), to the system. These new nodes are immediately discovered and utilized, while old nodes are retired whenever required -- the data that was on them is simply recreated elsewhere. This removes downtime and server remediation from the upgrade process.

Cloud storage advantage 5: Can reduce costs associated with disaster recovery

Costs associated with disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plans are a challenge for most IT shops. That’s because systems and software licenses often have to be replicated at another data center. Many organizations have DR plans that call for a remote site, some more than 100 miles away from headquarters, to mirror the metropolitan site. You can see how easily costs can double and triple.

Cloud storage completely changes that equation because no additional data centers are required. Data can be automatically replicated from a private cloud to a public cloud, or multiple public clouds, at a fraction of the budget required to build or lease another data center. This is an inherent cloud storage capability.

When these five cost and technical challenges are considered, it’s simple to see why cloud storage is more effective than traditional offerings in today’s storage environments.

BIO: Marc Staimer is founder and senior analyst at Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Ore. The consulting practice of more than 13+ years has focused on the areas of strategic planning, product development and market development. He can be reached at marcstaimer@comcast.net.

This was first published in October 2011

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