The first episode of Raising the Floor, the enterprise datacenter podcast from Foskett Services, features thought leaders from two key cloud storage-enabling companies:
We begin the conversation with a discussion of the general nature of cloud storage:
Stephen Foskett: Personally, I’ve been involved in cloud storage for quite a while. As both of you know, I worked for Nirvanix for a year, and even though I’m no longer there, I continue to be intrigued by the possibilities. Years and years ago, I was at StorageNetworks, which was one of the first managed storage providers as well, and ever since then I’ve seen that this is an idea that could work for the enterprise. So let’s talk a little bit about this. Let’s talk about the differences between managed storage services and cloud. What exactly is cloud storage? What makes it cloudy? What makes it something different than just conventional storage? Do you want to take that Andres?
Andres Rodriguez: Sure thing. The cloud is, first of all, a very large, very reliable multi-tenant environment. It is an environment where you’re going to be leveraging economies of scale, be able to operate things at a very, very large-scale, and share it among many, many users that are going to have a much higher quality of service than they would have if they were just deploying a small piece of infrastructure.
Stephen: Yes, because they have the economy of scale not just of the equipment, but also, the management resources. And one of the things that struck me was that at StorageNetworks, for example, and at Nirvanix, I found that these folks really focused on doing one thing well. They didn’t focus on doing everything. They weren’t generalists. They were very focused on a specific infrastructure, and I think that’s something that gets overlooked often.
Andres: That’s right. And I think one of the things that hurt StorageNetworks at the time was the fact that they couldn’t deploy the equipment in an efficient, multi-tenant way. And so, if you look at the new cloud architectures, (places like Nirvanix, places like Amazon) those systems are designed from the get-go to be shared among many, many users, and make very efficient use of the equipment and the software running it across that user base.
Stephen: Josh, what do you have to add? Are there any other characteristics that make storage cloudy versus conventional?
Josh Goldstein: Yes. I think the other main characteristic that you would see is the way that you are charged for the storage. So with cloud storage providers, you don’t have to pre-buy the amount of capacity that you intend to use up front. Everything is built pay-as-you-go, and the rates are usually extremely low compared to what you would be paying to buy storage to house in your own facility. So essentially, you get 100% utilization of the storage all the time. You’re never going to have a spare gigabyte in the cloud that isn’t being taken up by data that you put there.
Stephen: I think another thing that people often overlook is that you’re just buying what you pay for. Now enterprises might get a different model. They might buy a flat rate instead of this pay-as-you-go model. But a lot of people have said that cloud is just a business model. Is cloud a business model, or is it something more?
Andres: I think it’s something more. For instance, let’s look at one of the aspects. The systems are designed to scale in massive ways. So take capacity. if you have a system in the backend that can have only minute capacity that means that you can now design a storage system to utilize that endless capacity. Such that you never have to migrate data from one place to another because you’ve run out of capacity, which is one of the most common reasons why people have to migrate things from one site to another. So the characteristics of the storage system that you can build using cloud (and that’s just one of the attributes) really can change dramatically.
If you take reliability, the cloud architectures all make copies of your data across datacenters, across servers. Their guarantee to you is that your data will never be lost and you don’t need to back it up yourself.
If you can inherit those characteristics in a storage system that is useful in your datacenter as a business, that means you no longer have to back up your data.
Stephen: Well, I’m not sure everybody’s going to jump on that band wagon and not backup their data. I think a lot of folks might not feel comfortable not backing up data.
Andres: That’s right. There may be a process at the transition. It’s the same thing as keeping a power generator running or available next to your business because you’re still afraid that the electric grid may fail. That may be true for a while. Then, after a while, you just think having all that machinery around doesn’t really make sense.
Stephen: Yes, take that Josh. Is cloud more than just storage? Is cloud storage more than just storage capacity?
Josh: It’s definitely more than storage capacity. I think the thing that most people don’t really understand these days is how the cloud from reputable providers is architected under the covers. It’s not just that your data is going up and sitting on a version of the storage array that you would have in your own datacenter but it’s just sitting somewhere else. That was the way things were done 10 years ago when people first got into this business model.
Today, the cloud is built on top of process that are very difficult for most companies to replicate on their on. So, the price you’re paying to your cloud provider includes not just storing your data but also keeping multiple replicas of that data spread across different geographical sites.
You’re highly protected against not only a disk drive failure, but also an entire array failure or even an entire site failure where your information’s still is survived those kinds of events and is remaining accessible to your when you need it.
That’s something that for most organizations to engineer that level of reliability is extremely expensive and difficult for them. The cloud providers have been able to do that at scale and still deliver the capacity to you with that type of protection at a price point that’s really pretty amazing.