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Big storage hybrid cloud moves show limits of cloud storage

Cloud storage has its limits, but also its opportunities, shown by the hybrid cloud storage offerings recently announced by EMC and NetApp

The cloud has been one of the hottest IT buzzwords of recent times. Suppliers, as one would expect, have been talking up the concept, while analysts have indicated they expect a future of cloud storage and compute.

But such optimism has, in general, failed to translate to everyday operational reality. Most people don’t use the cloud to store data, citing concerns over access times, latency, compliance and worries about being locked into a cloud provider. In short, IT departments are largely reluctant to hand over control of data to someone else.

But recent announcements from two big beasts of the storage world – EMC and NetApp – may have gone towards addressing these objections, with hybrid cloud storage products and services that aim to address some of the current shortcomings of the cloud.

EMC and NetApp’s hybrid cloud announcements comprise hardware and software operating environments that potentially allow users to manage data across public and private environments, removing concerns over data portability and security.

But will these offerings succeed in strengthening the appeal of cloud storage?

First, let’s look at what EMC and NetApp came out with in October 2014.

EMC's hybrid cloud offering

EMC has married its converged server, storage and network product – which include Cisco and VMware components – with its storage virtualisation layer, ViPR, to create its EMC Hybrid Cloud system, also available in its Vspex reference architecture.

According to EMC, this provides hybrid access between its on-premise storage and clouds belonging to VMware's vCloud Air, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

EMC said customers can get this up and running in 28 days, with the bundle coming in three sizes: 500, 5,000 or 10,000 virtual machines. Customers can add services including platform-as-a-service, app self-service, big data provisioning, backup and disaster recovery.

Support for Microsoft and OpenStack cloud environments is roadmapped for the future.

NetApp's hyrbid cloud offering

Meanwhile, NetApp’s launch doesn’t comprise a specific product but is centred on cloud-friendly upgrades in the Data Ontap operating system (OS) version 8.3 and builds on a partnership with datacentre colocation provider Equinix.  

A lot of customers are in transition. CIOs are looking at the business and what proportion of IT can go to the cloud and are saying around 20%.

Laurence James, NetApp

While short on drill-down detail, NetApp products, alliances and solutions manager Laurence James gave a description of how the OS would bridge the two environments.

“Cloud Ontap is a version of the OS that works in the cloud – it can be selected as cloud manager in an AWS marketplace, for example. This interoperates with Ontap on premise to provide dynamic data portability between the two,” he said.

This adds to NetApp’s previous ventures to connect its FlexPod product bundles with cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure, and its partnership in which customers use their NetApp storage at Equinix sites to gain fast access to a range of cloud providers’ infrastructures.

James said NetApp’s moves are a response to customer demand to shift a proportion of their data to the cloud.

“A lot of customers are in transition. CIOs are looking at the business and what proportion of IT can go to the cloud and are saying around 20%. We’re going to see more of this,” he said.

“The next step is to look at enterprise capability in the cloud. We’re not at the level yet for enterprise data, but it will come,” he added.

Why the hybrid cloud model is gaining backing

These latter comments reveal what’s driving things in cloud storage and why the hybrid cloud model is gaining the backing of big storage suppliers.

The cloud just isn’t ready for what counts as primary, tier-1 data for the most mission-critical and time-sensitive of organisations. Those most hungry for security and performance data can’t get the service levels they need from the cloud.

But, some data can usefully live in the cloud. Not transactional data, not core-system data and not virtual machine images – but general file storage, backup and archive data can usefully reside in an environment with higher access times, especially as cloud providers respond to compliance requirements with datacentres in multiple jurisdictions.

Hybrid cloud is the bridge between the old on-premise world and the new world born and living in the cloud

Greg Shulz, StorageIO

And with the availability of hybrid cloud products and services from the likes of EMC and NetApp, customers now get to straddle the on and off-premise worlds, putting the data they want on cloud capacity while keeping the bulk of it on-site and – importantly – having control over it all.

Hybrid cloud the bridge between old and new storage

That’s also the view of Greg Shulz, senior advisory analyst at StorageIO.

“Hybrid cloud is the bridge between the old on-premise world and the new world born and living in the cloud," he said. 

"What it says is customers want to move to the cloud at their own pace in a way that fits their requirements, hence they need the flexibility to span their traditional environments and leverage public cloud where applicable.

"Those whose primary applications are on-premise, for high performance and low latency, will continue to use storage that is close to the applications. Those systems will, however, be able to replicate or keep a durable copy elsewhere for high availability or business continuity and disaster recovery purposes,” he added.

At some point, remote provision of compute and storage may achieve full tier-1 operational capability. But, for now customers and storage suppliers alike recognise the opportunities and shortcomings of the cloud, and hybrid will be the key modus operandi for the time being.

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