Private cloud storage: What it does and how to build it

Private cloud storage is an increasingly popular option for organisations that want to provide flexible, easy-to-manage storage with chargeback to departments and business units

Companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have spent huge sums of money creating public cloud storage as customers move from on-premise to off-premise deployment of technology.

Cloud storage saves costs because users do not have to buy and administer their own infrastructure. It also allows for flexibility to increase and decrease storage capacity.

But public cloud storage is not suitable for all data types and many organisations choose to keep data onsite for security, legal or compliance reasons.

But this does not mean these companies will not see the benefits of cloud technologies. As a result, we have seen a rise in private cloud storage products offering the benefits of cloud operations, while retaining data in the datacentre.

Cloud computing is well defined and should include the following features:

  • Elasticity The ability to dynamically grow and shrink the hardware footprint.
  • Service Catalogue Definition of service tiers through a service catalogue, that uses service-based metrics to define different levels of service.
  • Multi-tenancy The ability to support multiple workloads without one workload type affecting another.
  • Management Software and tools to manage the configuration.
  • Reporting and billing The ability to report consumption and usage of the hardware solution.

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These features of public cloud solutions translate into those we expect to see in private cloud storage. All that changes is the relationship. In public cloud, the customer is the third party that relates to the public cloud provider. 

In private cloud, the customer is the department, business unit and the provider is the corporate IT department. Nevertheless, the features of private cloud storage provision are largely the same. They include:

  • Automation and self service Traditional storage deployments require significant input from a storage administrator to provision and decommission resources to hosts. This is in addition to any configuration work that was required to initially deploy the product. Cloud storage solutions remove all (or most) of the requirements to manually provision resources by providing the ability for storage to be provisioned through API and/or CLI frameworks.
  • Scalable design As more storage resources are required, solutions must scale up (or scale out) without impacting service. This means there should be no additional management overhead when increasing capacity, or any change in the performance or I/O operations, whether the solution supports 1TB or 1PB.
  • Standard design As a part of scalable design, many solutions are standardised on “building blocks” that allow more resources to be easily deployed into the solution.
  • Multi-tenancy The ability to meet the requirements of Multi-tenancy cover a range of requirements. Solutions must provide security isolation that ensures one host cannot access the resources of another. Solutions must provide for consistent performance, irrespective of the workload of each individual host or application to avoid the so-called noisy neighbour problem. Finally, solutions should ideally be able to deliver quality of service (QoS) to ensure consistent performance, irrespective of system load.
  • Management Software Private cloud storage solutions must provide robust management software. In many cases this software forms part of a wider solution incorporating compute and networking. Storage features are often delivered through the use of plugins to virtualisation platforms or CLI/API wrappers that expose functions such as provisioning and reporting.

Private cloud storage products from the big six

So what private cloud storage products are available from the main storage suppliers?

NetApp: Many features needed for private cloud storage have already been built into NetApp’s operating system, Data ONTAP. These include multi-tenancy, quality of service (QoS) and a CLI-driven management interface. NetApp’s OnCommand management software provides interfaces to common platforms such as Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and System Center, through plugins and the OnCommand Powershell Toolkit.

NetApp also offers reference designs for onsite private cloud solutions through its FlexPod reference architecture designs.

NetApp is also looking to bridge the gap between private and public cloud storage by deploying NetApp hardware, co-located with the major public cloud providers such as AWS. This provides customers with the ability to move data into the cloud using technologies they are already familiar with, such as Data ONTAP SnapMirror.

EMC has a range of products that aim to meet the requirements of private cloud storage.

VMAX Cloud Edition – released in early 2013 – provides a management software API wrapper to simplify and automate the process of deploying VMAX storage to hosts. The solution also uses an “on-demand” purchasing model for capacity to allow it to grow over time without incurring large initial setup costs.

EMC also has products that cater for high capacity requirements through Atmos and more recently Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS). ECS takes the same hardware used for Atmos deployments and combines it with the ViPR 2.0 platform and ScaleIO, a software-based scalable distributed block-storage product. EMC pitches ECS as on-premises cloud storage at cheaper prices than today’s public cloud storage providers.

Through the acquisition of TwinStrata, EMC also aims to bridge the private/public cloud storage gap. TwinStrata’s CloudArray appliance allows local storage resources to be replicated to the public cloud and is rumoured to be planned for integration into EMC’s flagship VMAX platform.

HP has branded its public and private cloud offerings under the Helion name and offers managed private cloud using existing HP hardware, including C7000 blade servers and HP 3PAR storage. The HP 3PAR platform already supports most of the features required for private cloud storage, including multi-tenancy, QoS, API/CLI-driven management and strong reporting capability. 3PAR solutions can also be upgraded and transitioned to new hardware dynamically using software features such as 3PAR Peer Motion.

Dell offers private cloud capability as part of its vStart packaged converged infrastructure, which uses Dell servers and either Compellent (Fibre Channel) or Equallogic (iSCSI) storage hardware. They are delivered with management plugins that provide the ability to manage private cloud storage from within VMware vCenter or Microsoft System Center.

IBM provides all the features of private cloud storage through its IBM SmartCloud Storage Access products. This is a file-based solution that enables customers to provision and manage storage through a web-based portal. In addition, IBM offers its existing storage range for private cloud, including IBM FlashSystem, Storwize and XIV hardware platforms.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) provides packaged private cloud infrastructure based on its server technology and storage platforms, including VSP G1000 and HUS (Hitachi Unified Storage). Private cloud storage can also be built using the Hitachi Content Platform, a high-capacity scalable object store. 

The hardware platforms provide many of the required cloud features (multi-tenancy, scalability, always-on operations) and HDS has worked hard to bring these all together into integrated solutions through the Hitachi Command Suite, with more than a dozen individual components covering management, reporting, provisioning and analytics.

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