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Behind The Storage Cloud

Last week we had an entry introducing everyone to cloud computing and cloud storage. As promised, it was and will be the first of many entries on the topic. In this entry we're going to start looking at some of the plumbing that will sustain the cloud. The look won't be exhaustive, and my intent is not to mention everyone that may have a role to play. I may simply not know them all yet or be unaware of t
Last week we had an entry introducing everyone to cloud computing and cloud storage. As promised, it was and will be the first of many entries on the topic. In this entry we're going to start looking at some of the plumbing that will sustain the cloud. The look won't be exhaustive, and my intent is not to mention everyone that may have a role to play. I may simply not know them all yet or be unaware of the role they think they play in cloud storage.At its most basic, cloud storage is a good phenomenon for storage manufacturers that traditionally provide solutions to enterprise accounts. Essentially what cloud storage does is consolidate smaller customers for which their solutions might be overkill into a single, larger customer for which they're then ideal. It also allows even larger enterprises to try out some of the concepts that new storage manufacturers have been discussing without actually purchasing that solution. The ultimate evaluation, if you will.

Providers of cloud storage as a service are going to need storage solutions that scale, possibly beyond anything we're accustomed to today. They will need storage solutions that are cost effective, solutions that are reliable and, in some cases, ones where performance can be maintained across thousands of users. In addition, the ability to effectively manage and secure that storage will be critical as the client base of the cloud storage providers grows.

This leads to two types of storage categories: disk as an archive and scalable high performance disk. Many of the entrants into the cloud storage space have initially focused on either backup or archive as a service, with the connection being the Internet. For the archive portion of this segment, the focus will be primary users copying over older files or extra copies of files for either long-term retention or ad hoc backups. We will dive deeper into the specific companies offering these solutions in a future entry. The need for performance-based storage in cloud storage environments can be a little surprising and it will need a future entry as well.

Cloud storage providers that are trying to address the archive or backup cloud storage market will need to offer a scalable, cost-effective, reliable technology. Reliability is going to be a critical offering for these companies from day one. Losing a user's files could be sure death for the company, sort of a live by the Internet, die by the Internet karma. Cost effectiveness will have to be there as well. When you offer storage on a monthly per-gigabyte basis, competition can be fierce. This will mean densely packing SATA drives on industry standard hardware. Reliability will need to be more than just RAID 5. Deployment on SATA-based drive technology brings RAID rebuild issues, so look for something beyond RAID 5 and maybe beyond RAID 6 for rapid rebuilds. Scalability will require either densely packing drives, which also will require power management, or clustered storage that allows for a Lego block build-out capability.

The solutions in this space may very well come from the traditional storage manufacturers. Companies such as EMC with its Centerra product, Permabit's Enterprise Archive and Copan Systems' File Archiver will benefit greatly by having small businesses consolidate their storage to companies that offer a cloud storage service. They also will see new competition from companies that are designing solutions specifically to address the cloud storage market, like Parascale and Cleversafe. Parascale, for example, provides a software application that consolidates storage across multiple Linux servers, providing a "google-like" architecture for storage.

For service providers considering offering storage as a service, options abound. For businesses, don't take the approach of "Why should I care what storage my storage provider uses." While many of them may offer guarantees around data loss, if its gone they can't replace it, and a financial compensation may not be enough. Especially as you begin to put more and more data in the cloud, you should be aware of what type of plumbing the cloud uses.

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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