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Get the most from cloud-based storage services

Enterprise data storage managers are in position to help their companies get more from cloud storage services.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: Object storage market vendors give NAS a nudge:

We have been hearing about the inevitable transition to the cloud for IT infrastructure since before the turn of the century. But, year after year, storage shops quickly become focused on only that year's prioritized initiatives, which tend to be mostly about keeping the lights on and costs low. A true vision-led shift to cloud-based storage services requires explicit executive sponsorship from the business side of an organization. But unless you cynically count the creeping use of shadow IT as an actual strategic directive to do better as an internal service provider, what gets asked of you is likely -- and unfortunately -- to perform only low-risk tactical deployments or incremental upgrades.

Not exactly the stuff of business transformations.

Cloud adoption at a level for maximum business impact requires big executive commitment. That amount of commitment is, quite frankly, not easy to generate.

The transformational cloud

We all know cloud opportunities exist beyond a bit of cold archive data storage here and there. These services not only save real money, but can also significantly realign IT effort from just running infrastructure to increasing business value. Yet most IT shops run too lean and mean, and lack the skills, willpower or time to go off and actually risk transitioning core workloads to (or otherwise take advantage of) hybrid or public cloud-based storage services.

Instead, the prevalent attitude is to passively accept that some hybrid cloud usage is inevitably going to creep in so organizations can check the cloud "box" on their internal score cards. Perhaps it's a storage as a system (SaaS) integration with on-premises apps, or maybe more cloud storage as a target for backups and archive data emanating from some future storage update project, and so on.

It is time for everyone to make bolder cloud moves. Current market offerings are low-risk, easy to adopt and provide enough payback to help justify a larger transition and commitment to cloud-based storage services for even the most traditional organization. The key to success for both IT and vendors is to find that one cloud proof-point that is visible enough to business stakeholders to motivate and accelerate a larger cloud strategy.

Surprisingly, business-impacting cloud transformation is where storage folks can demonstrate significant leadership. Instead of storage lagging five years behind other domains (well, that's the impression, isn't it?), it can lead the way. To be clear, I'm talking about leveraging cloud for more than just cold backup/archive tiering, special big data projects or one-off Web 2.0 use cases. While the cloud can certainly provide all that, let's look at some examples of cloud-based storage services that hit directly at the heart of daily business operations.

Maximum impact cloud services

First, let's acknowledge that most businesses today depend on file sync-and-share services. The more functional and frictionless these products are to use, the more they get used. It's easy enough to go the SaaS route if that meets all your needs and fits your budget structure, but I would point out there are ultimately more affordable and easy-to-deploy file sync-and-share services available.

Take CTERA 5.0, for example. With CTERA, organizations can not only check the box for full IT-governed file sync-and-share, they also get a host of other virtual private cloud capabilities for today's increasingly distributed and mobile businesses. If tier 1 performance is your main concern with cloud storage, check ClearSky Data, which built a "metro area" cloud delivering sub-millisecond latency. Both CTERA and ClearSky Data's services leverage the cloud for capacity and distribution, but serve important data at the edge for top performance.

Another example of a business-impactful, cloud-based storage service is Riverbed's SteelFusion, which offers a related, but different cloud storage approach than CTERA and ClearSky Data for remote and back offices. By "projecting" data center storage out to remote locations using world-class WAN optimization built into "edge hyper-converged" appliances, SteelFusion effectively turns any enterprise data center storage array into a private cloud-like storage host supporting highly performant remote (localized) processing. 

The cloud and traditional storage

As an industry, we are starting to expect cloud tiering as something arrays should natively support. Old-school vendors, meanwhile, are concerned about protecting capacity-based legacy storage revenue streams -- although there is some change occurring there, too.

IBM and EMC, for instance, are each working to iron out the kinks in how their traditional storage divisions work with their respective clouds. And, as another example, Microsoft Azure StorSimple -- what we used to think of as a simple storage appliance -- has evolved into something much more. With automatic backup and cloud tiering (to Microsoft Azure) and a new virtual StorSimple option that can also run in Azure for in-cloud recovery, small IT storage projects that at first only seem to be about cheaper and better protected local shared storage, quickly help justify and accelerate larger and more impactful business-cloud transformations.

And lest you think cloud-based storage services are only for mobile users and midrange storage, Oracle's cloud can now service mainframe storage data, too. That's because with Oracle's recent StorageTek Virtual Storage Manager System 7 release, mainframe managers can now do away with tape and use Oracle Cloud as an enterprise mainframe storage tier.

Lightning strikes for cloud storage services

The common benefit of all these cloud-based storage services is that, while they may be initiated to solve practical IT issues, once in place, they prove the wider value of the cloud and excite business executives to champion further cloud transition. While IT folks may have to adapt to operating cloud-style, the cloud enables IT to focus more on addressing business-level technology needs rather than just supporting infrastructure. If your company has talked about the cloud, but not really gotten any momentum around major cloud business transition efforts, now is a good time to see if a simple storage refresh project can be used to stimulate and pave the way to the cloud.

Bottom line: If you move the data, the business moves, too. Cloud success fundamentally transforms IT and redefines the relationship between IT and business stakeholders.

Next Steps

The challenge of cloud data storage management

Ten must-ask questions of cloud storage service providers

SMB primer on cloud-based storage providers

This was last published in May 2016

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