Is your storage infrastructure ready for the cloud?

Don't be distracted by big vendors building out big data center stacks—the truly interesting stuff is coming from small, innovative storage companies.

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The cloud will change the way we integrate and use storage services. Don't be distracted by big vendors building a big data center stack, it's not about that at all.

By Jeff Boles

Storage has long been ruled by bigger and faster. On the selling side, a lot of sales reps think the easiest way to sell a piece of hardware is to differentiate their product using a lot of firepower in the form of eyeball-grabbing specs like controller throughput, backplane bandwidth, IOPS, MBps, data deduplication ratios, terabytes per rack and other impressive metrics.

All too often, that kind of bravado and one-upmanship will overshadow what some of the real storage innovators have to offer. Those are the vendors trying to avoid speed traps while pursuing elements that make storage "better" or "more efficient" -- the kinds of things that tend to have more impact on business capabilities and costs. That's not to say innovators haven't had some notable successes. The exceptions have indeed brought better and more efficient storage to market, often being the first with technologies like snapshots, thin provisioning, performance and capacity optimization, and more. But most of the innovators are small compared to the storage behemoths. Those big guys seem to find it easier to slug it out for bigger and faster until they're forced to react to the smaller vendors and their disruptive innovations.

But the game is changing in a serious and permanent way in the consumption of IT services. It's integral to the evolution taking place under the banner of "cloud," and once again it's being helped along by small, innovating storage companies. Let's look at a few examples that illustrate the change.

3PAR
Ten years after its beginning and about to embark on life as part of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., 3PAR is still a remarkable illustration of next-generation array technology. The firm's products are about ease of use, performance and scalability, and in each dimension they still offer significant differentiation. But 3PAR has a take on flexible consumption that's markedly revolutionary, at least for the storage industry: 3PAR Cloud Agile.

3PAR storage has long been favored by service providers seeking a utility storage foundation. 3PAR Cloud Agile turns service providers into a channel through which 3PAR customers have choices and flexibility in consuming additional 3PAR storage services. On a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis, 3PAR Cloud Agile storage can be a remote system for disaster recovery (DR) data replication. It can also be a secure, partitioned virtual array with the look and feel of a local array, but hosted in the cloud for bursty workloads. It's the same storage you already made a decision to pay big bucks for, now available on demand and ready to extend the capabilities of your existing systems.

Actifio Inc.

Actifio overlays a storage infrastructure to enhance storage capabilities in specific areas: data protection, DR and business continuity (via simplified VMware SRM). Using an assortment of storage virtualization and continuous data protection (CDP)-type technologies, Actifio can change the capabilities of a data storage infrastructure, providing greater flexibility with more ease of use.

Cirtas Systems

The Cirtas BlueJet Cloud Storage Controller turns cloud storage such as EMC Atmos or Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) into a local iSCSI storage array, and transforms RESTful object storage into a secure, dispersed, protected repository for "unlosable" data.

Cirtas is delivering flexible consumption by repackaging a cloud storage service into a different form (iSCSI) so it can be consumed as primary storage, at lower costs and with enhanced capabilities (scalability, protection, disaster tolerance).

Intermediation and flexible consumption

Abstraction in the data center through technologies like server virtualization has helped IT pros become more receptive to solutions that better "intermediate" their storage connection. Users are desperate for intermediation that better connects virtual workloads to storage, and that addresses I/O and protection challenges in the consolidating data center. Intermediation is the path through which flexible consumption will be delivered in a cloudy world.

The technology strides of the past few decades were based on providing more flexibility for the way technology is consumed. The change in consumption today is about both capabilities and cost. Past attempts, like ASPs and hosted storage, didn't offer a compelling mix of capability and cost.

Today's innovators understand that cloud/virtualization/consolidation technologies are changing consumption, regardless of how the solutions are delivered. To build a large-scale, multi-tenancy, self-service infrastructure, the infrastructure must be "dis-intermediated." That means plain vanilla services that can be used by many tenants, a structure based on a building block style and easy management regardless of scale.

Intermediation: The counter-stack

In pursuit of large-scale, multi-tenancy, self-service infrastructures, companies like Cisco Systems Inc., EMC/VMware, HP and Oracle Corp. are assembling complete solution "stacks" that look increasingly monolithic and proprietary. "Stacks" seems suspiciously like a new twist on the old "bigger and faster" approach, and not more than a little out of place in the cloud era of computing.

But whether stacks succeed or fail, value from the next generation of IT will come from more diverse and easier to create intermediation layers -- apps, software and devices that change the consumption of storage and compute from large-scale cloud infrastructures.

Be a flexible consumer

Why is all of this important to you? It's time to consider how consuming storage in a different way may guide your strategic decisions. If you see this shift as a significant and lasting trend, then it will significantly alter your infrastructure.

Done right, flexible consumption of services will deliver faster and easier integration of more capable services, with more choices for where they're applied and managed. Note how quickly some of the crop of startup cloud vendors -- like Cirtas, CTERA Networks Ltd., Nasuni Corp., StorSimple Inc., TwinStrata Inc. and others -- have brought their products to market. And look at how easily these solutions can be deployed; perfect for a business unit or remote office.

For the enterprise architect, the change in the way storage services will be delivered through your infrastructure merits attention in your infrastructure planning. Are you consolidating with extensibility in mind? Are you selecting services that can flexibly meet the needs of multiple tenants? Who will manage those services? The list goes on and will grow. Watch this space as the market develops.

BIO: Jeff Boles is a senior analyst at Taneja Group. He can be reached at jeff@tanejagroup.com.

This was first published in December 2010

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