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Cloud storage ahead of the pack for hybrid cloud deployments

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The idea of turning over storage systems to the cloud hasn’t caught on with enterprises, but hybrid cloud storage products show how to leverage both in-house and off-site storage

Hybrid clouds have been getting more than their fair share of attention, fueled by recent announcements by VMware and other big players. Hybrid clouds bring together public off-premises clouds and on-premises clouds (which today may be nothing more than traditional in-house IT environments) to create a more functional solution. But the secret sauce of a hybrid cloud is the connecting technologies that reside in the middle. To effectively bridge off-premises clouds with on-premises computing and storage environments, a hybrid cloud solution should provide enterprise-class security, cross-cloud management, workload/data portability and interoperability.

Hybrid clouds offer some compelling advantages, and we believe they should be the ultimate “end game” of any organization’s cloud deployment strategy. Though the market is still developing, major hardware and software vendors are already working to bring hybrid cloud offerings to market. Interestingly, the hybrid cloud model is probably further along in the data storage market, where suppliers are already building and delivering hybrid-like

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cloud storage products.

Most current cloud storage use cases are designed to augment existing storage practices in a company’s data center or private cloud by extending some of those practices into a public cloud. The first wave of products is squarely focused on overcoming challenges that can’t easily be resolved without the help of a cloud. The most widely adopted solutions to date are built on gateways that enable backup and recovery, archiving and disaster recovery (DR). Other emerging use cases include cloud-enabled primary and near-line storage, and storage configurations that use the cloud to enhance application scalability, availability and/or performance.

Let’s take a look at a VMware backup and recovery use case. One of the biggest pain points for VMware administrators today is backup. Given typical VMware consolidation ratios in the range of six to 10 virtual machines (VMs) per host, a virtual server administrator must choose a backup approach that successfully protects each VM without impacting application performance. To address this challenge, many small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have turned to VMware Data Recovery (VDR), which efficiently backs up VM images to disk by deduplicating data and updating only blocks that have changed since the last backup.

Using VDR to streamline VMware backup is a great first step, but what happens in the event of a prolonged outage or disaster? Most SMBs can’t afford to set up and maintain a remote physical DR site, but most could use the cloud.

TwinStrata Inc.’s CloudArray is a block-based, cloud storage gateway that leverages native iSCSI and is packaged as either a physical or virtual appliance for VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer environments. VMware Data Recovery sends deduplicated backup data to a CloudArray appliance, which is stored in thin provisioned virtual volumes. Data is written to the CloudArray cache (with the level of caching configurable on a per-volume basis) and then replicated to cloud storage. At-rest and in-flight encryption ensures that data is secure. CloudArray supports all major public clouds or private clouds.

In the event of a prolonged outage, frequently accessed data is immediately restored from cache, and data in the cloud is replicated back to the CloudArray appliance, either at a VM or file level. Data recovery from the cloud can also be automated and orchestrated by employing VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager. This approach provides rapid data recovery without the burden of supporting a remote site. If you currently use tape for data archiving, this approach can result in even bigger savings, since you’ll no longer have tape maintenance and logistical costs.

Riverbed Technology offers a similar type of cloud storage gateway solution via its Whitewater appliance, but it’s file based rather than iSCSI based. Whitewater presents itself to popular backup applications as a CIFS or NFS disk. With disk space of 2 TB to 8 TB, Whitewater can cache recent backup data locally for rapid recovery. The appliance takes advantage of Riverbed’s WAN acceleration technology and built-in deduplication to replicate data to a public storage cloud, such as Amazon S3, AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service (based on EMC Atmos) or Nirvanix Cloud Storage Network. As with the TwinStrata product, no hardware is needed in the cloud, and data is fully encrypted both in motion and at rest.

With TwinStrata CloudArray and Riverbed Whitewater, the cloud becomes another storage tier, providing backup and recovery, archiving or full DR protection. These innovative products take advantage of cloud storage’s greatest strengths: pay-as-you-go economics coupled with scalability and agility.

Let’s look at a completely different cloud storage use case, focused on increasing Microsoft SharePoint scalability, availability and performance. SharePoint is widely used in businesses of all sizes, but it has some architectural limitations that make it less effective as it scales to cover more data and more users. In particular, the inefficient storage of objects in Microsoft SQL Server database tables can lead to performance and data protection issues, as well as difficulties in implementing high-availability (HA) and DR solutions.

StorSimple Inc.’s SharePoint Database Optimizer product was developed to address these issues. The product consists of a StorSimple appliance and Microsoft framework plug-in for SharePoint servers. Rather than storing file objects (BLOBs) in SQL Server, which reduces efficiency and drives up capacity requirements and cost, the SharePoint Database Optimizer first deduplicates and compresses the file objects and then uses EBS or RBS BLOB interfaces to store the objects in encrypted form in a public or private cloud. Database sizes are reduced by up to 95%, allowing the BLOB volumes to take advantage of cloud economics.

On the other hand, the StorSimple appliance initially stores SharePoint metadata database volumes on built-in solid-state drives (SSDs), and uses a Weighted Storage Layout (WSL) mechanism to automatically tier content based on usage patterns, moving infrequently accessed metadata volumes to the cloud.

StorSimple’s SharePoint approach has several major benefits, including dramatically greater scalability and performance, far more efficient use of storage capacity and lower overall costs. And by separating metadata from file objects and streamlining their storage, StorSimple accelerates backups and enables cost-effective HA and DR protection.

We believe these three sample products are great examples of the out-of-the-box thinking that characterizes a growing number of emerging, hybrid-like cloud storage offerings. And we anticipate a steady stream of cloud storage innovations coming in the year ahead.

BIO: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group.

This was first published in November 2011

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