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ClearSky Data POPs aim to put primary storage in cloud

Newcomer ClearSky Data claims it can offer low enough latency and price, with high enough security, to bring primary data into the cloud.

ClearSky Data came out of stealth today with a managed service for primary storage consisting of on-premises appliances for hot data, the vendor's data centers for the majority of storage and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for data protection.

ClearSky calls its tiered storage a global storage network, and promises low latency from a customer's site to one of its point of presence (POP) data centers.

The on-premises edge appliances are 24-slot dual controller all-flash systems that use 1 TB self-encrypting solid-state drives and run in dual-node active-active clusters. The appliances include ClearSky data deduplication and caching algorithms, and connect to the nearest POP over Gigabit Ethernet. To protect data in the regional data centers, ClearSky Data writes customer information again to object storage in Amazon S3.

CEO Ellen Rubin said ClearSky POPs will always be within two milliseconds of its customer site, and can provide hundreds of thousands of IOPS. ClearSky is launching with POPs in Boston, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, with plans to expand in the U.S. and internationally. The eventual goal is to have a POP within 120 miles of any customer.

Rubin said ClearSky is going after "enterprise customers who today would stand up NetApp or EMC in a data center. We give customers the same performance, availability and security of on-premises local array with the scalability, economics and flexibility of a cloud service."

She said the global network service is aimed at primary storage such as Oracle and SQL databases and large production files with demanding performance. Security features include encrypted data in transit and at rest.

Pricing is based on a per-gigabyte-per-month fee. Rubin said the monthly subscription includes backup and disaster recovery.

"Customers never touch the infrastructure," she said. "They never think of talking to co-los and carriers, we take care of the whole thing. If drives and components wear out, we replace them. Software is patched automatically and non-disruptively. We feel in the cloud world, that's how it is going to have to work."

ClearSky uses VMware's Virtual Volumes (VVOLs) to provide policy-based management to storage systems connected to vSphere hypervisors.  CTO Laz Vekiarides said ClearSky's VMware integration allows VMware customers to migrate data non-disruptively onto the global storage network.

Looking to disrupt legacy storage vendors

By attempting to enable transactional data in the cloud, ClearSky has set a high bar for itself but has a chance to be highly disruptive in the market.

"This is a huge challenge," said Steve Duplessie, Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst. "The reason no one to date has run transactional workloads using cloud storage is latency is way too high. ClearSky uses front-end flash and uber-intelligent caching algorithms to essentially enable users to run an all-flash array while essentially paying cloud prices."

Duplessie said if ClearSky catches on, it will dynamically change the storage market. "If they are successful, why on earth would anyone buy and manage on-premises arrays?" he said. "Other than job protection, that is. I'm not guaranteeing ClearSky's success -- execution is critical -- but I can guarantee that this is the inevitable way that storage will ultimately be done."

One big challenge for ClearSky is to convince customers to trust their primary data to the cloud despite occasional outages from public providers and the demise of cloud vendors such as Nirvanix that left their users scrambling to save their data.

"And Nirvanix was only an archive, ClearSky is housing real active data," Duplessie said. "Unlike Nirvanix however, the ClearSky architecture is bi-directional so you can get your stuff out if you want. That was the big issue previously. "

Customer tests security, performance

Ernesto DiGiambattista, CTO of Sentinel Benefits and Financial Group, took security and disaster recovery into account before he signed on as an early ClearSky customer.

DiGiambattista said Sentinel has 100 TB of storage on NetApp FAS arrays divided among two sites. He plans to move most of that to ClearSky Data, but estimates the process will take from six months to a year to complete.

DiGiambattista said Sentinel's storage needs are for transaction-based data that must meet HIPPA and other regulatory compliance. Before he committed to using ClearSky Data for non-production data, he needed to be convinced its security was sound. ClearSky allows IT to set controls over data access, and customers hold and manage encryption keys.

"We have to make sure we have the right controls in place and the right failover process," DiGiambattista said.

He estimates that Sentinel will save approximately 50% annually on hard costs from storage equipment. "We don't have to worry about upgrading equipment," he said. "It simplifies my life."

To test ClearSky's performance when alpha testing the service, he moved development data over without telling his developers. "Nobody complained," he said. "The performance was as good if not better. When developers don't notice any impact, you know it's working."

DiGiambattista said he already has a backup plan if anything were to happen to ClearSky's service or the company. He will replicate Sentinel data to Actifio copy data management appliances and he can restore it if necessary. "It's part of our go-live strategy," DiGiambattista said. "We can bring the data back to our NetApp storage."

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