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| Cloudy future for storage?
The cloud is, of course, the Internet. The name derives from all of those PowerPoint presentation diagrams that depicted the Internet as a fluffy cloud. I don't know if that metaphor was popularized because the Internet hovers above us all, or because it's a big thing nobody truly understands. In any event, the cloud is "in" right now, and the phrase "cloud storage" is wafting its way into more marketing spiels.
Cloud talk may be new, but the idea has been around for a while. Back in the salad days of the Web, application service providers (ASPs) rolled out applications and services that didn't require locally installed hardware or software, and could be accessed via the Internet. The dot.com bust drove a stake through the hearts of most ASPs, but some--like Salesforce.com--managed to survive. The recent storm of cloud offerings leverages a model that can significantly reduce implementation, administration and ongoing maintenance costs.
The cloud storage cosmos--also referred to as Software as a Service or Storage as a Service (SaaS)--is getting crowded after some significant storage players ponied up big bucks to snare online storage service providers. Much of the activity has been around online backup, with EMC scarfing up Mozy, Seagate buying EVault and Iron Mountain corralling LiveVault, among other deals.
Symantec has rolled out its own SaaS product, the Symantec Protection Network (SPN). SPN's spin on SaaS is two pronged, with an online backup service and a self-managed backup option that offers online storage for users of Backup Exec 12. Nirvanix, which emerged last year with its Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network (SDN), is making its mark on the cloud with FreeDrive, ElasticDrive and others offering services based on the platform.
Amazon leveraged its ample experience managing its own enormous storage installations and rolled out Simple Storage Service (S3), which offers online storage for about $0.15/GB with an additional $0.10/GB transfer fee.
Cloud-based storage is such a fast-growing--and still largely untested--product category that storage managers might want to invoke a Mick Jagger-ism and shout "Get off of my cloud!" But a better approach would be to get up into that cloud and take a good, long look around.
Before the cloud casts its shadow on traditional storage operations, the services will have to prove that they're reliable, can weather the storm of another dot.com downturn and maintain a consistent, predictable level of performance.
But there are compelling reasons to consider these services, especially for companies with strapped IT resources or underserved remote offices. And storage managers will have to get over the security of having their company's data sitting on company-owned big iron. Who wants to tell their CEO that some key data "isn't exactly here right now, but it's somewhere in the cloud"?
There's work to do before many users are likely to hitch their backup or DR wagons to the cloud. It may seem farfetched, but there might be a silver lining for some storage shops.