Data storage administrators weigh cloud storage options carefully

Storage administrators see cloud storage as a useful tool for certain types of data; look to figure out whether private, public or hybrid cloud is their best option

Does cloud storage make sense for your company? If so, what data should you put there? And should you put it in...

a public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid cloud combining the two? Those are the questions many data storage administrators are asking today.

Users who attended Storage Networking World (SNW) in Santa Clara, Calif., last week said they were interested in finding out as much information as they could to make these types of decisions.

“I’m encouraged to hear about the cloud gateway products. I think the only cloud that makes sense for me is a hybrid cloud solution,” said Donald Wilson, a systems administrator at the Kennedy Space Center. “If a company would help me implement a hybrid cloud solution in which the distinction between public and private cloud is transparent to my users, I would be interested in that.”

In my business, I don’t see that data for controlling a system that launches rockets will ever be ready for cloud storage unless it was in a private cloud. A key part of my enterprise is primary, high-transactional data. That part of my enterprise isn't suitable for the cloud.

Donald Wilson, Kennedy Space Center

However, Wilson said certain applications in his organization would never make it into the public cloud for security reasons. “In my business, I don’t see that data for controlling a system that launches rockets will ever be ready for cloud storage unless it was in a private cloud,” he said. “A key part of my enterprise is primary, high-transactional data. That part of my enterprise isn't suitable for the cloud.”

Others have no problem putting everything in the cloud, just not all at once. Justin Simmons, the Sundance Institute’s associate director of information technology, said he too was interested in the idea of using gateways for a hybrid cloud to access unlimited storage -- especially for backup.

“Our video media is growing exponentially,” Simmons said. “We're looking to put backup and archiving in the cloud this year. Then next year, we’ll put computing and storage in the cloud, and next turn off some data centers and private servers. For the size of my organization, it’s not unrealistic that in three to four years we wouldn't have a data center.”

Sundance Institute’s storage needs aren't typical. It has 100 full-time employees, with 250 seasonal workers, 2,000 volunteers and 40,000 partners during the annual Sundance Film Festival. “Our challenge is to build an infrastructure that can support the film festival even during those 10 days. That seasonal fluctuation makes the cloud ideal for us,” Simmons said.

Like Kennedy Space Center and Sundance, many organizations are taking a measured approach to the cloud. According to a survey conducted by Storage Strategies NOW and sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), more than 57% of 133 respondents expect to adopt cloud storage with email, front office application data and backup data most prominently in their cloud plans. Only 1.6% said they planned to deploy primary, tier-one storage in the cloud this year; 14.8% said it was in their plans between 2012 and 2014. Survey respondents included CIOs, CTOs, IT personnel and IT architects.

Even cloud vendors admit organizations should carefully size up their needs before looking to the cloud for their storage needs. Panelists during an SNW vendor panel called “Is Cloud Storage Ready for the Enterprise?" advised IT managers to consider which applications are most appropriate for cloud storage.

Ursheet Parikh, CEO at cloud gateway vendor StorSimple, said applications handling unstructured data, backup, email, content management, media libraries, medical images, CAD/CAM, engineering libraries and virtual machines work well in the cloud. But applications such as online transaction processing (OLTP), high-throughput simulation or rendering aren't good candidates. Parikh estimates that 70% of data in the enterprise is a good candidate for cloud storage.

“For the remaining applications, it makes sense to have a storage-area network,” Parikh said. “You shouldn’t consider applications so mission critical that you have to have full control.”

Mike Feinberg, EMC’s senior vice president of the cloud infrastructure group, said IT managers have to consider the performance characteristics of the application when choosing which data to put on cloud storage. “Do you want to run OLTP across the Internet? In general, the latency will not lead to a satisfied customer experience. You have to consider the application profile and the usage profile,” he said.

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