Enterprise data storage market gears up for new cloud approaches

Enterprise data storage vendors NetApp and Emulex hatch new plans to compete in cloud storage and multi-tenant environments; however, technically defining the cloud remains elusive.

A move to the clouds appears to be "on tap" from NetApp Inc., one of several major enterprise data storage vendors preparing a cloud storage push.

According to one if its corporate bloggers, NetApp is working with Cisco Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. to develop a secure multi-tenancy application for private clouds in the enterprise data center. It's also laying out its strategy for entering the cloud computing market, and signs point to the next Data Ontap operating system release playing a major role.

Meanwhile, Emulex Corp. posted new information on its website this week adding details on its cloud storage strategy and arguing that automatic information dispersal among multiple cloud service providers is necessary for enterprise-level data security.

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NetApp's goal: Provide storage backbone 

In two blogs this week, Val Bercovici, NetApp's newly self-identified Cloud Czar, described NetApp's philosophy on cloud storage and the ways in which the firm plans to play in that market.

Bercovici said that instead of becoming a service provider, NetApp is looking to supply the storage backbone of the multi-tenant private cloud infrastructure. Bercovici described public cloud storage services as the "true competition" for enterprise IT: "Public Cloud Services…now enable internal IT customers…to fire IT with a credit card with instant gratification," he wrote. NetApp's strategy is to allow customers to deliver internal IT as a service, too.

He added that NetApp, VMware and Cisco are working on a new set of multi-tenancy features to enable security and chargeback in their combined architecture. "NetApp, VMware and Cisco have been collectively working on a joint Cloud solution to this key requirement for quite some time," he wrote. Bercovici linked to another blog that references The Virtualized Dynamic Data Center event the three vendors held a month ago. Technical presentations from that event available online refer to NetApp's MultiStore storage controller virtualization along with VMware View and Cisco's Unified Computing System as components of a multi-tenancy stack.

The slides from that event also refer specifically to Data Ontap 8, the planned converged release of NetApp's core Data Ontap operating system with its Ontap GX scale-out product. NetApp officials have pledged that Ontap 8 will be out this calendar year.

Bercovici's posts don't mention Ontap 8, but storage analysts believe it's the cornerstone of NetApp's cloud strategy.

"They didn't specifically say Ontap 8, but I guarantee you that's the implication – they're trying to prepare the marketplace and position themselves," said John Webster, principal IT advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. "You can take some implication from the fact that they came out and said it – otherwise, why bother? Why get your customer base thinking in a direction you're not ultimately going to go in?"

Tom Trainer, an analyst at Analytico Inc., was more blunt: "They need Ontap 8 in order to compete in any storage space, cloud or otherwise," he said of NetApp.

Emulex: Connect multiple clouds

Emulex's new whitepaper, Enabling Cloud Storage for the Enterprise, reviews details about the Emulex Enterprise Elastic Storage (E3S) concept it revealed in June, and adds enterprise data security to the equation.

According to the paper, "Dispersing data across multiple SSPs [storage service providers] is the best – and possibly only – way to achieve a level of service from cloud storage that approaches the five 9's that data center CIOs expect." The paper also proposes that E3S act as an access point to multiple storage service providers using information dispersal algorithms similar to those currently being offered by Cleversafe Inc..

Emulex and EMC Corp. demonstrated the Emulex adapter and EMC Atmos onLine at EMC World in May, but the product is still in the proof-of-concept stage.

"The next step is for us to engage with IT shops, find out what their definition is of the cloud, and what ways they want to access data there," said Shaun Walsh, Emulex's vice president of corporate marketing. "We, like many in the industry, are working on defining the cloud interface."

Industry analysts: Market confusion abounds

Analysts say these two vendors are part of a greater rush to get in on the cloud computing trend. "This is evangelism, so it isn't too soon," said Robin Harris, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Data Mobility Group LLC, of these preliminary conversations. "There are real applications using cloud storage today and more are coming. Enterprise folks need to get on board before their competitors do."

However, Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, said vendors have to get more specific about what they consider cloud storage before customers embrace it. "At the end of the day to make this market one that has traction, we have to come out of the world where everyone thinks everything can be called 'cloud' and you have half the market muddying things up," he said. "Vendors had better step up to the plate and start making qualifications around the cloud and figuring out what parts of the infrastructure they serve. Is it cloud storage? Cloud object storage? Hosted storage? The blanket 'cloud' term has to come to an end."

Illuminata's Webster sees cloud terminology as a set of new names for old problems. "What's a private cloud? It's a data center," he said. "Multi-tenancy among different user groups or departments has been an issue for the enterprise going back to the first storage-area networks." But there can be value in these new approaches, Webster added. "It's easier to approach the cloud from a business perspective, where the object is to deliver IT as a service."

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