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Cloud gateways: Advantages and vendor offerings

Gene Ruth, research director at Gartner, discusses the strengths of cloud gateways, the latest AWS gateway news and what specs to look for when shopping for a gateway appliance.

In this expert podcast, we’re talking to Gene Ruth, research director at Gartner Inc., to find out how cloud gateways can help make the cloud a more feasible data storage option. Cloud storage gateways can enable organizations to move primary iSCSI or network-attached storage (NAS) to a service provider, so they can save space on their on-premises arrays or put off purchasing new storage systems.

Ruth talks with Rachel Kossman, assistant site editor at SearchCloudStorage.com, about which applications are best suited for gateways, and warns users away from those applications that aren’t a good fit. Amazon's recent AWS Storage Gateway play is examined, along with Ruth's prediction that larger data storage vendors will eventually enter the gateway market. You'll also learn which key specs to look for when shopping for your own cloud gateway appliance.

Kossman: To start, can you explain the basics of what cloud gateways are and why they're beneficial?

Ruth: A cloud gateway emulates a disk array, a block-based device or a file server. The device is placed at the customer's premises and it's delivered either as a piece of hardware or as software that's loaded onto hardware. It translates the SCSI, or file server commands, into REST-space protocols that talk to public cloud services. They're particularly interesting because they solve a couple of problems.

First of all, they give predictable performance between an on-premises infrastructure and a public cloud storage service provider, which is very important. They offer easy integration into existing infrastructure. It's very difficult to take, for instance, a REST-like protocol and integrate that into an IT infrastructure. That would require programming on the IT organization's part. So the cloud providers, the cloud products, offer the ability to easily integrate with common storage protocols like iSCSI, Fibre Channel, NFS or CIFS, which greatly eases the integration of public cloud infrastructure into private IT organizations. They also give a cloud provider choice, which is another important feature. Sometimes you might want to use a public cloud provider that has certain characteristics or certain pricing modalities that are conducive to certain types of workloads, and you might want to use other public cloud providers for other reasons. So these cloud gateways give customers a choice of where to send their data to in a public cloud.

They also offer collaboration opportunities -- very often these cloud gateways can be within a distributed environment. You can have many gateways and they can enable, for instance, a SharePoint environment where data is being shared across distributed sites. And finally, and as part of using public cloud services, you get built-in data protection and disaster recovery capabilities by nature of the capabilities of the back-end network of the public cloud provider.

Kossman: So it sounds like there are some great benefits to cloud gateways, but are there any downsides?

Ruth: Well, the gateways have to be sized to the workload that's intended for them. They're not going to be used for mission-critical applications and they're not really suitable for very high-transaction-rate-type applications -- they certainly don’t compete against enterprise-class disk arrays. But they definitely fit into workloads that are less transactional in terms of performance. Things like backup, archive and file sharing are more appropriate for cloud gateways.

Because they're typically delivered by smaller vendors -- often start up vendors (not all are, but most) -- the usage and scale of cloud gateways is usually more appropriate for the small- and medium-sized business [SMB] space than for enterprise-class use cases.

Kossman: Amazon recently released its Amazon Web Services, or AWS storage gateway; can you talk to us a little bit about how that offering stacks up?

Ruth: Actually it's pretty interesting. They offer a device that's a cloud gateway but it's only specific to Amazon services. I think one of the more interesting things about their cloud gateway is that yes, it does emulate iSCSI and does give back-end connectivity to Amazon's S3. But interestingly, when the time comes that you need to recover data out of S3 (which can be a long process over Internet-type connectivity), the Amazon gateway allows you to set up EC2 instances and essentially recover your environment within Amazon without ever moving the original data that you put into the cloud back to your premises. That’s an interesting capability that I'm sure lots of organizations, particularly organizations that don’t want to set up a disaster recovery environment, will appreciate.

Kossman: So who are the main cloud gateway competitors and how do they differentiate themselves?

Ruth: There are several folks in the cloud gateway business. Many of them, as I mentioned, are start-up vendors, or at least small vendors. Some of these companies are Ctera Networks, F5 Networks, Nasuni Corp., Riverbed Technology, StorSimple, Panzura and TwinStrata. All these companies are seeking niches within the larger enterprise infrastructure in terms of supporting, for instance, backup of branch offices, which Riverbed tends to focus on. Allowing the build out of private cloud infrastructure -- Ctera allows the consolidation of branch offices back to a private cloud. StorSimple and Panzura offer disks within their environment so you can have relatively decent transactional performance on-site plus take advantage of the data being moved out to a public cloud environment.

TwinStrata has partnered with DataCore to provide a storage virtualization story so that the storage virtualization environment not only can consolidate your own storage that's on-premises but allows a pathway out to public cloud facilities through the TwinStrata capabilities.

Please listen to the complete podcast on cloud storage gateways with Gene Ruth and Rachel Kossman.

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