James Morris| Itproportal
The Internet, and indeed every business, runs on data – usually lots of it. Thanks to the proliferation of cloud-based services we discussed in the first feature in this series, that data could be all over the place, too. Keeping track of all this data, and ensuring that it is secure, is a major logistical nightmare. As we explained in an earlier feature focusing on Big Data, interlinked information and its analysis is also the next big revolution currently brewing in Web culture. In this feature we examine the issues of data growth, and look at some of the solutions available.
Reaching for the cloud store
In reality, cloud storage shouldn’t be about having some documents on a service like Google Drive and others stored locally, which is clearly a recipe for confusion. It should be about having your documents appear to be in the same place all the time – on whatever machine you are currently using – but also having them seamlessly and securely stored in a remote location as well. You could, of course, standardise on just one cloud service and specify that everyone in your organisation use this for all primary document storage. But this locks you into a single vendor, which may not offer all the features you need, in particular the level of service to suit a mission-critical application. You have also moved from multiple points of failure – that is, each individual user’s machine – to just one. Placing all your business storage eggs in one cloud-based basket, even if the chosen service is very reliable indeed, presents some major risks.
To compensate for this, the service provided by, for example, Nasuni acts as a layer between your company and third-party cloud services, so you’re not locked into a single one. A recent test by Nasuni put Microsoft Windows Azure ahead of the competition, beating Amazon to the top slot that the latter had occupied in the previous year’s test. So the best vendors clearly do change regularly, and Nasuni performs these tests so that it can always use the best cloud vendors for its service. It essentially acts as a storage hypervisor for cloud capacity, so the client sees the same service no matter which cloud service is actually being used.
Watch out for the SLA
One of the key advantages of using multiple cloud vendors is that Nasuni can offer a surprisingly generous service level agreement (SLA), pledging 100 per cent availability, accessibility and security, although this isn’t unique. Rackspace offers a similar 100 per cent SLA for its cloud storage, and Memset’s Memstore offers 99.995 per cent uptime. But Google’s Cloud Storage and Microsoft’s Windows Azure have 99.9 per cent SLAs. This may seem like a trivial difference in potential downtime. However, it equates to about 45 minutes a month, which could come all at once at a critical moment. It’s also worth noting that although subscription fee credits will be applied when service drops below this level, for Google’s services the maximum is only 50 per cent of your bill for anything below 95 per cent uptime, whereas Rackspace and Dimension Data will credit up to 100 per cent of your bill, and Nasuni offers 10 days of free service for every day of downtime, up to a maximum of three months of credit in a 12-month period.
Private clouds on parade
So it would seem that third-party cloud storage hosting is not the complete Holy Grail some evangelists would want us to believe, which might push things back towards maintaining your own private cloud-based system. For example, IBM SmartCloud Virtual Storage Center links to an IBM SAN Volume Controller to provide virtualised capacity. It acts as a sophisticated storage hypervisor, and even allows volumes to be connected between physical sites. This increases fault tolerance, as a crisis at one site still leaves the connected sites unaffected. Microsoft’s Service Center 2012 pledges to make easy the transition to a private cloud for compute and networking resources as well as storage. Resources can be delivered as services, so they can be requested, configured and managed through an interactive portal, allowing almost instant automatic expansion and contraction of provision as required. This is a much more efficient method for delivering services, as you don’t end up with one department being under-provisioned whilst another is over-provisioned. Resources can be balanced between them as required.