Cloud storage's missing link

A lot of storage pros seem to think cloud storage is ready for the enterprise. It might be, but there are still some gaps to fill.

A lot of storage pros seem to think cloud storage is ready for the enterprise. Maybe so, but there are still some gaps to fill.

When I first started thinking about writing this column I decided, no, write about something else, this whole cloud storage thing is already getting a little tired. Readers are probably getting clobbered with cloud-this and cloud-that from every direction as the hype machine revs into overdrive, so I should give them a break and can the cloud chatter for awhile.

But then a few surveys about cloud services popped up in my in-box. I'm a sucker for survey data, maybe because we do a considerable amount of survey-based research ourselves. So if you put a bar chart or line graph plotting user responses in an article, I'll probably read it. There's just something about quantitative data that turns me on.

What truly caught my eye were survey results that indicated that you, and your IT peers, are verging on going gaga over cloud services, including, of course, cloud storage. In a press release announcing the results of its survey, GlassHouse Technologies said, "60 percent of executives plan to implement cloud initiatives in the coming year." Another survey -- this one commissioned by CommVault -- finds that "52 percent of respondents are considering the use of cloud storage services now or in the future." The "in the future" leaves the door pretty wide open, but, still, that's a lot of folks gazing into the cloud.

Our own 2010 Storage Priorities survey produced a little more granular results. We found that approximately 4% of respondents were already using cloud storage for online or nearline data, with 9% planning to implement it this year and another 27% expecting to evaluate it in 2010. Add those numbers up, and 40% are using/about to implement/evaluating the technology. Not 60%, but still pretty impressive. Surprisingly, for data protection cloud services, the numbers were a bit lower, with figures of approximately 32% each for cloud backup, data archiving and disaster recovery (DR).

Whichever numbers you decide to believe, it looks like a lot of people are getting pretty serious about extending their storage operations into the cloud -- despite cloud storage being almost universally dismissed (I was part of that universe) a few years ago as only a small-business play.

But attitudes have changed considerably, and you have to credit the cloud storage vendors with pleading a good case and addressing the key enterprise concerns. As the CommVault survey notes, despite the heightened overall interest, a lot of IT pros (75%) still feel some uncertainty about cloud storage, with most of that concern centered on data privacy and security. That, I think, is a relatively easy problem for cloud vendors to solve, as most of them offer encryption for data in flight and at rest.

But there are still some big question marks about cloud storage. One of them popped up during a meeting the other day with a new cloud storage vendor about to roll out its first product. It's a pretty neat product that looks like it'll do a good job of integrating internal operations with cloud storage, and not just for nearline storage, but for active file data. Like many other cloud vendors, this one isn't blowing big bucks on building its own data storage facilities but, rather, is content to lean on the biggies for this, including the usual suspects, like Amazon, Iron Mountain, Nirvanix, Rackspace, etc. It's a tidy package with consolidated billing and some pretty big names doing the hosting. But the issue that arose was kind of a Catch-22 related to service guarantees -- essentially, there are none. The vendor is just selling software to make the integration work and make the cloud look like local disk. They're not providing the real disk, so there's no way in the world they can guarantee that your data will always be available, protected effectively and that the company giving it a home will be around a few years from now if a judge wants to see those old emails. That's a gap in the process that's just big enough for your data to fall through.

There's no question that cloud storage has covered a lot of ground over the past couple of years, going from a home-office/power-user service to something that warrants the attention of enterprise IT. But there are still some annoying little gaps that must be filled before we see the 40%, 50% or 60% of respondents who are interested in the technology turn into real cloud storage users.

Welcome back, Tony

With this issue of Storage magazine, we're pleased to introduce a new column from an old friend and former contributor. Tony Asaro, CEO and founder of The INI Group, will share his considerable storage experience and insights each issue in his new StorWars column. Tony previously did a stint at the helm of our Storage Bin 2.0 column and has contributed articles to our websites. He was also a popular speaker at many of our Storage Decisions conferences. It's great to have you back, Tony.

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

* Click here for a sneak peek at what's coming up in the April 2010 issue.

NOTE: On page 26 of Storage magazine's February 2009 Products of the Year article, DataCore Software Corp.'s SANsymphony 7 was listed in the wrong product finalist category. It should be listed under Backup and Disaster Recovery Software and Services.

This was first published in March 2010

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