Cloud storage gets even cloudier

The "cloud" part of cloud storage services used to mean some distant shore of the Internet. But vendors now tout their "internal clouds," cloud storage that never leaves your shop.

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The "cloud" part of cloud storage services used to mean some distant shore of the Internet beyond your data center. But vendors are now touting their "internal clouds," cloud storage that never leaves your shop.

Storage vendors have done it again. They coined the term "cloud storage" and then almost immediately rendered it meaningless. It seems that storage marketers are addicted to buzzwords, and don't think they've put in a solid workday unless they've thoroughly overused, misused and abused the buzzword du jour. To this point, they've done a terrific job with "cloud storage," taking a concept that anyone could understand and then stretching the term to include almost every storage technology ever invented.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Remember the compliance wave? As Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), HIPAA, SEC and other regulations emerged, real products that dealt with those real issues also emerged. But before you could say "Sarbanes-Oxley," every product on the shelves was labeled a "compliance edition." The same thing happened with "green." The term was once clearly interpreted as power conservation, but now vendors with arrays about as eco-friendly as Chernobyl are calling their products green. I guess it's all a matter of interpretation.

Now it's happening with "cloud." Cloud got its name from all of those whiteboard scrawls and flowcharts that depicted configurations that eventually went beyond the walls of the data center and into the ether or, more accurately, the Internet. With a cloud storage service, your backup or archive or whatever leaves the building, traverses the cloud and winds up on storage that may be thousands of miles away. That's simple enough to understand, right?

But now vendors are touting "internal clouds," cloud storage that never leaves your shop. Does that mean the "cloud" somehow got inside your data center? At that point, is it still really the cloud?

The answer is "No." It's not cloud storage at all, it's clustering, grid storage, virtualization, global namespaces or some other familiar technology that provides flexible scalability. It's all about stuff that's been around for ages with techie names that don't have that ephemeral allure of the cloud. And now some storage companies are retooling their products so they can support clustering or virtualization or whatever they couldn't do before. Rather than saying "OK, we can cluster now" and looking like the last company on earth to get wise to that technology, they call it "internal cloud storage." A not-so-new technology wrapped in the currently fashionable jargon. Oooh, feel that buzz …

But maybe we should cut those marketing guys some slack. After all, they trotted out the same stuff a few years ago but back then they called it "utility storage." And that went over really well, right?

One of my least memorable summer jobs was working at a record distributor. My job was to tear the shrink-wrap off stacks of record albums (yes, I'm that old) and then bring them over to a guy named Fast Eddie who ran a machine that shrink-wrapped the albums again. The albums were leftovers that nobody wanted, so the idea was to give them new wrapping and a cut-rate price and to try and sell them again.

That's what "internal cloud" sounds like to me, except without the discount price. I think the tactic will eventually backfire because it doesn't give storage managers credit for being the smart people they are -- people who can see through clouds. It does a disservice by misrepresenting a bunch of valid and useful technologies, including the cloud it's stealing its name from.

It would be nice if vendors could honestly present their products, and let them win or lose on their merits instead of just putting lipstick on a pig. Will they do it? I hope so. But in the meantime, I'm bracing myself for the tsunami of twaddle that the marketers will inevitably dish up for the "next big thing" looming on the horizon -- solid-state storage. Let's see how they spin that one.

Click here for a sneak peek at what's coming up in the September issue

BIO: Rich Castagna (rcastagna@storagemagazine.com) is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

This was first published in August 2009

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