Cloud network-attached storage (NAS) emerges to address secondary file storage needs

As unstructured data continues to grow, cloud NAS could be a good option for many organizations. However, it has some limitations. Ashish Nadkari, principal consultant with GlassHouse Technologies, discusses cloud NAS in this Q&A.

Cloud computing is probably the biggest buzzword in IT right now, and the data storage market is no exception....

Cloud network-attached storage (NAS) is emerging to address some small companies' file storage needs. As unstructured data continues to grow, cloud NAS could be a good option for many organizations. However, it has some limitations. Ashish Nadkarni, principal consultant with GlassHouse Technologies, discusses cloud NAS in this Q&A. His answers are also available as an mp3 below.

What is cloud network-attached storage (NAS) and how does it work?

Cloud NAS is a subset of cloud storage, which is also known as Storage as a Service (SaaS). When most people think about NAS, they think about a storage device in their data center or office. If you take that device and move it far away, maybe where you don't even know the location, and you access it over the Internet using a software module on the host itself, you're taking the functionality of the NAS device and you are moving it into the cloud. You just access it as if it is a local device.

That's cloud NAS in a nushell. It's a spoof on the server, making it think it's accessing a local device when really it's over the Internet or a dedicated long-distance connection.

What are the benefits of cloud NAS?

Well, with a typical NAS device, you are stuck with that location. So if something goes wrong with that location, your services are going to be down. So, if you have a critical file serving requirement, and if you are out somewhere traveling and need to access it, but the router in your office went down, you are out of luck. But, if you move it into the cloud it is virtually available and always available. The key benefit is that you can access your information at any time without the restrictions of the physical location of the data.

What are the drawbacks of cloud network-attached storage?

The main drawback of cloud NAS is that it is as fast or as slow as the network connection that it is accessed over. So, if you are on a dial-up connection and you are trying to access data, the access is going to be very slow. So, it isn't ideal for large files or large chunks of data. It should be used for small subsets of data or specialized applications such as backup because latency can be a big issue.

You need to have a local copy available to work on and then you can just save it over the network as a backup.

Who are the vendors offering cloud network-attached storage products today?

One vendor that comes to mind is called Nirvanix. Its product is actually called CloudNAS. Incentra is another vendor that is into cloud storage services.

We hear a lot about unstructured data growing out of control -- do you think this is an area of the market that we'll see a lot of interest in, and are a lot of vendors offering these types of products?

I would expect every enterprise data storage vendor to get into it eventually in some shape or form. There is a glut of data out there and the consumption requirements for storage are only growing. This is a huge opportunity for vendors to make a whole lot of money. It is especially handy for companies who can't afford to set up their own storage environment.

On the flipside of that, what kind of an organization or application will cloud NAS absolutely not work for?

The key thing with cloud network-attached storage is that you can't use it as a primary copy of your data. This may change as the technology improves, but right now the latency associated with cloud NAS is just too high for that kind of use.

Users should only consider cloud NAS as a location for storing tertiary copies of their data such as archiving.

Ashish Nadkarni is a principal consultant with GlassHouse Technologies.

This was last published in August 2009

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