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Cloud Storage 101 - Part One

It seems like the hype-o-meter on cloud computing and cloud storage has been turned up a few notches lately. How real is this emerging market and how will the players begin to settle in? At its most simplistic, cloud storage is disk at the end of a wire that resides outside of your data center. It creates a "storage as a service" model that is delivered over the Internet. Many are positioning this as storage for your older digital assets, essentially an archive.

It seems like the hype-o-meter on cloud computing and cloud storage has been turned up a few notches lately. How real is this emerging market and how will the players begin to settle in? At its most simplistic, cloud storage is disk at the end of a wire that resides outside of your data center. It creates a "storage as a service" model that is delivered over the Internet. Many are positioning this as storage for your older digital assets, essentially an archive.Right now I would break the market into two groups, and over the next few entries we will explore them. At the high level there are the companies that will provide you with a complete turnkey solution based on their own intellectual property, and there are those that will sell either you or service providers the technology needed to build your own cloud. This will either be existing storage or archive hardware providers selling to the cloud service providers, or new companies designing cloud storage-specific technology to be used by those service providers.

The turnkey providers are what I would call the traditional cloud. Companies in the section of the market include Amazon's S3 and Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network. While Amazon seems to be targeting the small business market, Nirvanix is more focused on the larger enterprise. I'm not sure if a market this young can have a traditional anything yet, but for now these guys are it. (I'm sure I missed some and if I did it is not a slight, just it's hard to get to everyone.) These companies are providing a turnkey solution based on their technology that allows them to be more than just a provider of bandwidth with some disk attached to it. Their intellectual property is typically a clustered filesystem with a grid architecture designed from the ground up for cloud storage. It is optimized to be very cost effective, highly redundant, and extremely scalable. In almost every case that I have seen, they're using industry standard servers as nodes within the cluster and have the ability to mix node types as they scale. All offer some form of replication or mirroring to make sure that data is stored on multiple sites. While this is obviously valuable for disaster recovery, it also can be used for localization of media content. Meaning that your hot new Internet-only TV show can be delivered from a storage platform that is the closest to your customers, no matter where they are in the world. They use cases for this type of cloud storage, offering focus on four primary areas -- online archiving and backup, media storage and delivery, embedded applications, and Web 2.0.

Will users embrace cloud storage? There is a need to simplify the data center. You can either simplify with new technologies like storage virtualization or you can give your problem to someone else and let them store it. There are some compelling reasons why you might choose cloud storage, especially for younger companies needing to deliver media. Cloud storage allows you to put your media on a reliable, localized infrastructure. Archiving old data to a cloud that you don't have to worry about also is appealing, as is the price point; typically less than 50 cents a GB replicated.

The other two use cases, embedded applications and Web 2.0, need to mature themselves, but clearly they're almost tailor made for use with cloud storage. The advantage to a turnkey cloud infrastructure is that for a very low entry cost, you are live and ready to go, and for many users that may be compelling enough.

In our next entry we will discuss vendors that make "cloud-able" products, essentially companies that enable either you or a service provider to offer storage as a service. Later we will get into the gritty details on the solutions.

George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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