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Evaluating Storage-As-A-Service Options

Cloud vendors respond to our request for information on the feasibility of storage services as an alternative to on-premises hardware.

Questions In Need Of Answers
Preliminary issues to resolve in moving to cloud storage are commonsensical. The questions that IT pros should ask as they move in this direction include:

  • How will data be loaded initially into the service provider's platform?
  • What security is provided to prevent data access by unauthorized individuals within the provider shop?
  • How much bandwidth will be required to meet requirements for data access?
  • What protection is afforded your data from disasters affecting the vendor's environment? If data is mirrored between sites, how is this accomplished and how is the mirroring confirmed?
  • How will service levels be monitored and measured?
  • How will service-level shortfalls be remediated?
  • Can the vendor exclude data from processes you don't want to touch your electronic information (for example, deduplication for data that is required to remain in a full and unaltered state by specific regulations)?
  • How will data be returned to you if the vendor's business fails?

No one, especially the vendor, much likes to consider the final question, but customer experience with the application and storage service providers of the late 1990s makes it essential to ask. The simple fact is that many vendors are appearing in the cloud computing market, which in the best of times probably can't sustain more than a handful of players. That means that some vendors ultimately will shutter operations, so IT departments that give cloud storage a try should have an exit strategy just in case.

In the InformationWeek request for information, our hypothetical company, DIY Marketing, was a composite of many companies we've interviewed that are looking into cloud storage. The structure of the RFI was intended to capture the current thinking and practices of vendors working in this area. Of the companies that responded to InformationWeek's request for information, three--Iron Mountain Digital, Nirvanix, and Zetta--are cloud storage pure plays, offering services for hosting and managing DIY's data. One, IBM, offers a set of discrete services for data protection. The other, Caringo, offers software for creating well-managed storage infrastructure internally, creating a so-called internal storage cloud.

Invited, but notably absent from the list of respondents to the request for information, were Amazon.com and EMC. Also not responding were champions of internal cloud technologies, ParaScale and Bycast. Most of these companies responded that they were unable to meet the time frames for providing a thorough response to our query owing to resource constraints.

In reviewing the RFI responses submitted, and from interviews with respondents to the RFI and other players in the market, my takeaways are mixed.

First, the positives. I was impressed that many of the vendors interviewed seem to have learned some important lessons from the application and storage service provider meltdown of the past. Gone is the willingness to build one-off infrastructure for every customer or to field name-brand gear when generic disk arrays will do just as well. This change in attitude might just make the difference between survival of a few of these providers, on the one hand, and a fairly rapid death knell for the entire cloud storage model, on the other.

I was also impressed by the statements of some vendors that cloud storage really is optimized for secondary storage, archive, and backups, where retrieval latencies (paralleling the World Wide Wait to which we all have become accustomed) play less of a role than they do in transaction-oriented primary storage apps. Not one vendor with whom I spoke seemed to be over-selling its capabilities.

Surprisingly, none of the vendors I chatted with was inclined to join cloud storage at the hip with x86 server virtualization. There were no claims that cloud storage would connect any more efficiently with VMware software than physical storage, or that cloud storage would improve the resource utilization inefficiency we already live with in both physical server-to-storage and virtual server-to-storage connection paradigms. That was a relief given the marketecture that inundates storage-savvy IT people from the pro-x86 virtualization crowd.

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