Monolithic Scale-Out NAS Is Out Of Gas

The cloudwashing that’s running rampant throughout the storage industry has clearly got to stop. My latest observation is that traditional monolithic scale-out NAS vendors are so aggressively selling their offerings for the cloud that their claims are completely out of control.

Tom Trainer

June 3, 2011

5 Min Read
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The cloudwashing that’s running rampant throughout the storage industry has clearly got to stop. My latest observation is that traditional monolithic scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) vendors are so aggressively selling their offerings for the cloud that their claims are completely out of control. Let’s face it: Traditional monolithic scale-out NAS is the same old NAS. It’s not cloud storage and it’s in no way economical. This old-fashioned kind of NAS is limited. In my opinion, if you purchase traditional monolithic scale-out NAS, you’re just investing in another silo of storage; there is no cloud there.

Some leading global corporations are bypassing the monolithic scale-out NAS hardware boxes altogether when it comes to making their next storage purchases. They’re thinking bigger--interfacing their storage needs directly with a cloud provider’s APIs, or deploying newer and more innovative file storage solutions. APIs control access to the storage--NAS isn’t required for this type of access, and where NAS fits in the cloud is not with big traditional monolithic storage boxes.

Let’s look at one of the worst offenders of cloudwashing, Isilon, whose boxes used to be great for “unstructured data” and now, with the same architecture and software, are apparently ideally suited for “big data,” “analytics” and, of course, the “cloud.” These Isilon “cloud” storage boxes top out at only 144 nodes. But Isilon is approaching it all wrong. The discussion lies in how and where the application, or business, needs to store data. The key for companies is to cut out the middle man, which is old-fashioned monolithic NAS boxes cloudwashed. It’s time for the application to leverage storage. It’s time for more companies to integrate with a cloud provider’s API and more innovative file storage solutions and streamline their overall IT stack.

Another topic that needs to be called out is how Isilon talks about a global namespace. In my opinion, it has more of a single namespace. Its reach is limited to the physical construct of a single building. It doesn’t span cities. It doesn’t span countries, so, to me, that means it’s not global. It’s not designed for millions of users and billions of objects. Think 100,000 nodes for a real-world cloud deployment, not just 144 nodes.

Global namespace means a virtualized layer that sits on top of the customers’ content files, so no matter where you upload or download the file from, it always shows up as the same exact file. When you upload a file, even before it’s replicated to other nodes, it’s available right away by redirecting the user to the node where the file actually exists. This means you can upload a file to any location in a network, and every other user that’s using that namespace will see that same file, regardless of location—building, city or country. In my opinion, that’s a true global namespace.Now, to be clear, Isilon does allow multiple separate workloads with separate IO, even separate storage pools. However, some questions arise about those pools. They’re not encrypted from one another with keys controlled by the customer, nor is it even clear that they support multitenancy. There are no integrated billing capabilities, and there is no integrated service level agreement (SLA) management. In other words, it does not appear to be truly cloud ready.

In my opinion, true cloud storage is disruptive, and the traditional monolithic big-box vendors are trying to obfuscate what a cloud really is, in the hope that people stop recognizing that the cloud is a disruptive paradigm shift.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, neither Amazon, Google, Nirvanix, Microsoft nor others are building their infrastructures on expensive hardware from the big monolithic storage box pushers. Yet they’re all somehow managing to attract plenty of new customers, both large and small in scale.

One theory I have is that some of these storage boxes with the “cloud” term appended to them are lousy at actual cloud services intentionally, as a way to put a sour taste in people’s mouths when it comes to cloud. These box vendors want the cloud to go away, because if the cloud really succeeds, it decimates their margins. Is it incompetence? Or is it a Machiavellian strategy? Are the monoliths really just sinister architects planningfor the downfall of the cloud? Only time will tell.

Fortunately, more and more companies are looking at storage like consuming electricity. They’re realizing that if they bought their electricity in the same way they bought their storage, life would be miserable. For example, instead of paying a monthly service bill to the electric company, they would have to buy a generator, keep buying fuel so it never runs out, pay for maintenance on the generator and buy a new generator when the old one wears out. Now, unless you’re a manufacturing plant that uses a ton of electromechanical machines, this scenario is economically unfeasible. And the same can be said about the current, aging model of acquiring storage.For companies dealing with storage hardware vendors claiming to have a cloud solution, I recommend you change your RFIs and RFPs. Ask them how much it will costfor a fully managed storage service that is fully redundant, highly scalable, designed for enterprise levels of reliability and availability; RAID protected; load balanced; with fully virtualized access through a single global namespace; with policy driven replication,automated data integrity checking with self healing; with integrated user-based security access and quota support; full directory structure with infinite sub accounts, with afull billing, reporting and chargeback system; with multiple modes of access; 365/24/7 monitoring; all server/volume management; all break fix maintenance; BC/DR capable; with all SW maintenance, updates, and enhancements; capacity monitored; tech refreshed; with full SE and development engineering support, with a global storagefootprint. And tell me what kind of answer you get back from that monolithic box vendor on your RFI/RFP. Tell me how they try and cloudwash their way around it.

The last thing that needs to be called out is the fact that some of Isilon’s software is hardwired to their nodes, limiting customer flexibility. Combine that with a user-hostile interface, and, in my opinion, you have a recipe for a product that is unfit for a cloud storage environment. In my opinion, deploying Isilon for cloud storage is analogous to buying a lump of coal versus purchasing services from your electric company.

My prediction is that true cloud storage and storage services will replace the old fashioned monolithic scale-out NAS products at an increasingly accelerated pace,particularly for the content distribution/collaboration, unstructured data and archival requirements of companies worldwide.

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