Is cloud storage right for you?

As companies store more video content and archive information to comply with the law, virtualization and cloud computing will have an influence on storage purchasing decisions.

Although storage vendors such as NetApp Inc. are touting Fiber Channel over Ethernet that technology is still in its early stages, according to Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

“We’re still in the first generation of Fiber Channel over Ethernet,” said Steve Scully, IDC’s research manager for continuity, disaster recovery and storage orchestration. He added there will probably not be significant sales of Fiber Channel over Ethernet products until next year.

For its part, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp is “getting close” to having end-to-end Fiber Channel over Ethernet products.

Last week, NetApp announced it is reselling Emulex Corp.’s OneConnect Converged Network Adapter. NetApp is hoping to sell both its own storage products and OneConnect so companies can run both Internet Protocol and Fiber Channel over Ethernet traffic through the same ports and over the same cabling.

“Within NetApp, we’ve always had a technology philosophy that protocols shouldn’t determine the solution,” said Val Bercovici, who works in the office of NetApp’s chief technology officer and carries the job title of Cloud Czar. “We try to not tie a solution to a particular protocol.”

Bercovici said corporate IT departments have spent a lot of money on dedicated storage networks using the Fiber Channel protocol. But now, NetApp is touting Fiber Channel over Ethernet as a means of increasing efficiency by having storage traffic share 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks with other traffic.

“We have seen a deliberate movement away from Fiber Channel-only networks to increasingly IP and Ethernet,” he said.

Companies who have invested in Fiber Channel will probably continue to buy Fiber Channel products, especially those who depend on large transaction processing applications and large databases, said John Sloan, lead analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

But with Fiber Channel over Ethernet, “you can  have your cake and eat it too,” Sloan said.

He added a lot of companies are installing virtual server applications using VMware Inc.’s products on NetApp’s storage gear. Along with Cisco Systems Inc., VMware and NetApp recently announced Secure Multi-tenancy Design Architecture, which combines Cisco switches and servers with NetApp’s FAS storage and VMware’s vSphere and VShield products. The vision is to let large corporations and service providers use the cloud computing model to provision software and store corporate customers’ data.

The “virtualization of workloads” has influenced the way companies buy storage products, Sloan said. It will also affect the way companies manage storage, because instead of managing the disks themselves, the management will be “abstracted” from the storage disks through a virtual layer.

Although virtualization may enable cloud computing, some users have unrealistic expectations of that business model, said Eric Pitcher, vice-president of technology at Islandia, N.Y.-based CA Inc., which on Thursday closed the sale of cloud computing vendor 3Tera Inc. CA is formerly known as Computer Associates and its core business is systems management software.

“I’m neither negative nor positive” on cloud computing, Pitcher said. “It has its place.”

Users need to understand the pros and cons, he said. For example, if you think you are going to reduce the cost of running the IT department, you need to know in detail what your IT staff do every day. If you think cloud computing will reduce the amount of time and efforts you spend on managing hardware, you need to study your own systems, Pitcher said.

He pointed out modern servers often go for long periods without failing.

And if you’re thinking of using a cloud storage provider, you need to ask how often you will need to access your data, Pitcher said.

“Why would I pay monthly for something I’m not touching for the next three to five  years?”

Pitcher also recommends users thinking of backing up their servers to cloud storage providers need to compare the bandwidth of their telecom providers with the capacity of their servers. For example, he said, a T3 line can transfer 45 GB in a day.

“If your server is bigger than 45 Gig you won’t get all your data back in a day if all your secondary data is in the cloud.”

Whether you store data internally or externally, the data should be stored in the same location as the application server accessing it, said Eran Farajun, executive vice-president of Toronto-based Asigra Inc., which makes software designed to backup and recover data stored with cloud providers.

But storing data with a cloud provider can help you access archived data either more quickly or at less cost, he said. For example, he said, if you are notified by a lawyer that you must find every file pertaining to a certain person or issue, you might not be able to find it quickly enough if it’s backed up to tape instead of disk.

“Using cloud storage lowers operational costs around e-discovery,” he said.

But if you’re using a cloud provider for backup, you need an exit strategy, Farajun added, meaning you have to be able to move it easily from one provider to another.

Passing a compliance audit is another consideration, CA’s Pitcher said.

“Say I’m using a hosted server, such as a customer relationship management application, on the Web,” Pitcher said. “What do you say to your auditor when they ask if your data is protected? Do you say the service provider is protection it? At the end of the day, it’s my data.”






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