Hybrid cloud storage promises to provide the enterprise with agile, elastic, and reliable virtual storage services that can also accelerate adoption of other cloud-enabled IT solutions. As companies succeed with cloud transformation projects and IT adopts more of an internal service provider orientation, they don’t just save on hybrid cloud economics but business-side IT clients gain from increasingly responsive, agile, application focused IT capabilities.
In recent field research that we’ve conducted here at Taneja Group interviewing a number of hybrid cloud storage adopting IT organization, we’ve found that hybrid cloud storage makes a great cloud “on-ramp” initiative.
Hybrid cloud storage spans on-premise and cloud storage locations, and if approached carefully is at first a transparent migration to IT clients and applications. But then it quickly shows deeper values to the larger organization– IT agility, application performance, storage scalability and resiliency are all greatly improved.
Hybrid cloud storage leverages the best of both on-premise and cloud-hosted worlds to gain the advantages of both. The strengths of on-premise storage –performance, behind-the-firewall security, and governance – were only enhanced in the IT groups we interviewed. The new benefits added from integration with cloud services included moving beyond localization limitations, offering tremendous new scalability, and lower storage expansion costs. These IT groups now can centrally manage and fully protect all their data throughout the resulting highly extensible architecture.
A hybrid architecture makes it possible for companies to move towards cloud-enablement without making awkward delineations between workloads. Questions like “What should stay on-premise? What should go online?” no longer apply, because IT houses their storage infrastructure on a single virtual stack. With automated tiering between on-premise, remote, and the cloud, IT merely decides which location is ideal for which workloads. There is never a need to migrate between different systems.
If a highly transactional database application needs the highest performance possible, data can remain on-premise. Even then, snapshots are replicated to the cloud tier, which can failover the production database in case of disaster. And large workloads with highly variable sizes can automatically tier to the cloud, whose scalability and burstability present the best environment for dynamic workloads. Meanwhile, virtual appliances integrate remote customer sites with the cloud.
An advantage of the hybrid cloud is the ability to smoothly transition into a cloud-centric infrastructure. Many companies are still either unwilling to store data in the cloud because of perceived security risks, while others are unable to do so given compliance concerns. However, by starting with a hybrid cloud product and only using its most basic functions of storing to the cloud, companies can dip their toes into the water. As we found in practice, new use cases begin to reveal themselves almost immediately upon adoption.
For example, one construction company deployed a new hybrid cloud appliance. They used the physical appliance for limited production storage, and the cloud for replicated snapshots. However, their traditional storage systems were struggling under the load of large and variably sized workloads. They found that by storing this data on the appliance, dynamic workloads were no longer a problem because of the automated cloud tiering.
As this company began to see the advantages of the cloud, they realized that they could use their hybrid cloud as a remote server for digital construction blueprints, enabling access to employees and contractors at work sites all over the world. IT retained centralized management and were able to treat disparate locations as a single storage system.
In another example, a data center SAN stored over half a million files. The company invested in a cloud hybrid cloud storage platform and migrated all the files over to the new appliance. At first they were concerned about capacity and provisioning on the new appliance. But since the cloud-connected appliance efficiently tiered files by policy, the migration was smooth. Migrated files were automatically stored between the appliance and the cloud, with no perceivable performance lag. They also found that the appliance allowed them to virtualize Windows servers so they could retire the legacy physical equipment. Not only did IT efficiency grow, so did overall storage system performance.
Here are some of the big benefits of going with a hybrid cloud infrastructure:
· Control large data growth without increasing complexity. The cloud tier is capable of fast and unlimited expansion, while a browser-based management console lets IT control applications and assets throughout the entire infrastructure. High levels of automation contribute to management simplicity.
· Greatly reduce storage costs. Hybrid cloud infrastructure requires an initial appliance or gateway purchase. From then on companies can easily grow their infrastructure without purchasing additional hardware for capacity. In the past companies needed to add physical appliances to remote sites, but with the development of cloud-based virtual appliances, that is no longer necessary in many cases.
· Efficiently manage large and variably sized files. Big data presents big capacity challenges. And variably sized big data presents a real challenge for on-premise storage systems. As this type of data enters the hybrid cloud platform, policies can automatically tier workloads to the cloud and its burstable environment. No more capacity spikes with on-premise storage: the cloud will do with the cloud is best at.
· Effectively manage compliance. It is ironic that although compliance will sometimes compel users to keep their data off of the cloud, the cloud in fact enables fast and efficient compliance. When discovery requests come in from litigation or investigations, traditionally IT has to send out for tape or removable disk -- and hope they still have the backup application. With the hybrid cloud, their older data has already been replicated as a snapshot to the cloud. Preserving and recovering that data is simple and efficient.
It’s hard to find an enterprise storage system today that doesn’t have some sort of cloud connection. However, hybrid cloud infrastructure goes far beyond “some sort of cloud connection.” Instead of merely treating the cloud as a backup target, it virtualizes the storage infrastructure to include multiple on-premise and cloud locations. Within this definition, there are several different players using different architectures to deliver hybrid cloud services. A single goal defines them: to build a dynamic storage infrastructure that is based in the cloud but is not limited to the cloud.
On the NAS gateway side, Ctera mounts a virtual cloud drive. Data center and remote gateways integrate to expand the Ctera cloud and the gateway also integrates with public clouds. File sharing between users and devices is an important usage case on the platform.
On the appliance side, EMC offers a hybrid cloud appliance called CloudArray, although the Dell acquisition makes EMC product roadmaps highly uncertain. Amazon AWS Storage Gateway supports on-premise caching and application-specific options with a software-only appliance installed at the customer’s site.
Of all of the hybrid cloud vendors we find that Microsoft StorSimple (or Azure StorSimple) is by far the most fully developed. It demonstrates quickly broadening cloud values for IT adoptees who may only be looking at first to simply replace aging traditional storage arrays. Azure and StorSimple tightly integrate the data center with the cloud, enabling IT to use the cloud’s economy and extensibility for primary storage and to apply cloud-centric DR. Storsimple virtual storage infrastructure serves out data through web-based applications to distributed customers and devices, and launches failover in case of a data center disaster. Microsoft has wisely co-developed StorSimple with Azure in order to apply on-premise and cloud strengths to application needs. Simplified management and the development roadmap also lets IT make a strong business case for strategic cloud adoption.
Storage is critical to the data center. For all its sophisticated applications, virtualization, servers, and networking, if storage doesn’t work then nothing works. With the hybrid cloud, the enterprise can now focus on strategic, value-adding initiatives while reducing storage costs and storage management hours. Businesses can quantify hybrid cloud benefits as they go, which lets them adopt cloud initiatives as quickly or slowly as they want. There is no need to migrate entire storage systems up to the cloud, because they can use the appliance for on-premise production and to transition to the cloud at their own pace. We find that once the hybrid cloud platform is deployed, many businesses end up transitioning to the cloud much faster than they initially planned.