Cloud storage appliances: Backup and recovery made simple

Cloud storage appliances: Backup and recovery made simple

Summary: Why should you integrate cloud backup appliances into your IT environment? Because you've made this decision before.


Cloud. Cloud. Yay cloud!

If you're not an IT decision maker, I did not write this article for you. Go away. Your mother is calling you and wants you to clean up your room in the basement.

OK, now that we're left with just the adults in the joint, let me put this in very simple terms that I am sure any stressed out, overworked CIO or CTO can understand: Your storage is very expensive.

Like many organizations, you are probably always on the verge of having to buy another frame, another chassis, and trays of drives because you've got VM and filer sprawl. And the guy or gal who has the authority to sign the purchase orders to get you those new frames, chassis, network infrastructure, et cetera, likes to say no a lot.

They do this because they love to make you miserable. They enjoy it. They have a big giant rubber stamp embossed with "Denied" on it in a 1920s-style font with a pad of red ink next to them, and they relish every moment to use it when one of those POs comes across their desk.

Sound familiar? Do I get it? Are you still with me? Good.

If you can't get new storage frames, then you have to by definition free up that storage. Chances are you've got a lot of infrequently used files, but maybe because of regulatory reasons or other business drivers, you have to retain that information. So where to put it?

Where to put. It.

So in the olden days, you had to solve this problem with things like physical boxes of printed paper documents and DLT tapes, and because you didn't have enough physical real estate to store the stuff and that real estate was expensive, you shipped it offsite. In armored trucks, in many cases.

But unlike Iron Mountain or similar services, it's not expensive to retrieve that infrequently used stuff, and it also happens extremely quickly. It's also more secure than that armored truck.

Now, back in those days of yore, the 1990s, you used services like Iron Mountain to cart truckloads of that stuff out your door. And I am sure there were many conversations at the time about the pros and cons of doing that.

Certainly, one-off retrieval of documents and tapes wasn't cheap when it had to occur, and there were some trust issues about the transport of those documents and tapes offsite, but, overall, it was a net win for your company and a good idea, and you were probably wondering why after all was said and done, you did not do it sooner.

Cloud-based storage is the same deal. You use it to move all sorts of infrequently used stuff offsite, in a secure fashion, so you can free up space on that storage that's a pain in the ass and expensive to buy.

That's certainly the primary use case, but there are others, which I will get into momentarily.

However, unlike Iron Mountain or similar services, it's not expensive to retrieve that infrequently used stuff, and it also happens extremely quickly. It's also more secure than that armored truck.

No, really, it is. When stored in the cloud, be it Amazon's, Microsoft's, Google's, or anyone else's, these "Cloud Storage Gateways", as they are called, transport your data using military-spec network encryption protocols and then store it in an encrypted file format that is machine unreadable should anyone actually invade the target datacenter, which by the way is geo-redundant if you want to pay for that premium.

Armored trucks can be broken into, and there were a number of instances during the early 2000s where major financial and government institutions simply lost DLT tapes on them and had major public fiascos.

Yes, I'm sure the NSA can tap your MPLS and OC lines, but, honestly, they have better things to do with their time.

So first of all, cloud storage is cheap. How cheap? Take a look at the Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure price lists, for starters. It's way, way cheaper than your frames.

Now, you're probably thinking that you gotta use a whole lot of programmatic API junk to integrate this stuff with your line-of-business apps. Nope.

So all of these Cloud Storage services have APIs, but you can literally just drop one of these gateway appliances into a rack, or even run one as a virtual machine, and point your servers at it using an iSCSI connection over your IP network and let it do all that API stuff.

Your servers just see the gateway as just another LUN. A block storage device like all the others you have, just like on your SAN or your NAS filer.

There are many companies that make these gateway devices.

The vendors that make these gateways or have the functionality included in their storage systems include Amazon, Microsoft, CTERA, Riverbed, EMC, IBM, F5, Twinstrata, Barracuda, Nasuni, and Panzura. I've linked to all of these so you can examine their offerings closely.

Obviously, Amazon and Microsoft have products that are optimized for their own clouds. Amazon's is provided as a free VM that runs on your on-premises VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-V systems, and Microsoft's StorSimple is three configurations of physical appliance containing a mix of SSD and SAS disk.

All of these solutions, including the cloud-agnostic ones listed above, can be used not only to cache and front-end your on-premises data and transparently offload and retrieve the infrequently accessed stuff to and from cloud storage, but they can also be used for disaster recovery scenarios.

Many of these appliances have snapshotting capability and essentially act as virtual tape libraries.

If your datacenter has a catastrophic failure, you can use another appliance/gateway at another location to remotely restore that data to a set of servers from that cloud storage.

This is also the part of the article where I tell you where I work for a company that owns a cloud and makes said gateway devices (Microsoft/StorSimple).

But you knew that already, so I'm not going to recommend anything in particular, but I will tell you what questions to ask your vendor so you get the functionality that you want. Here's a whole bunch:

  • What's the capacity/scale of the solution; ie, how much can be cached or stored locally on a per-volume (LUN) basis, and what is the maximum number of volumes that you can store per VM?

  • Can you do local snapshots? Can you do cloud-based snapshots?

  • Can you do incremental snapshots with storage optimization?

  • Is the restore process WAN optimized?

  • Do you provide application consistency for your data protection? (ie, VSS integration for enterprise services and databases)

  • Do you de-duplicate the primary storage and the snapshots?

  • How do you do data encryption to and from the cloud provider?

  • Do you supply a high-availability architecture for your gateway device?

  • Do you support multipath I/O (MPIO)?

  • Does your appliance support non-destructive upgrades?

  • Do you have an SLA for local storage performance on the appliance?

  • Is the gateway plug and play and self-contained?

  • Is the gateway certified for my vendor hypervisor of choice's VMs (VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM, Xen, Unix)?

Are you planning on bringing cloud-integrated storage using a gateway appliance into your IT environment? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Cloud, Enterprise Software, Storage, Disaster Recovery, Storage: Fear, Loss, and Innovation in 2014


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Your article is based on a false premise

    Which is simply that the cloud is secure. Given the vast number of breaches that have occurred in just the last 6 months this is a laughable assertion.

    And we're talking big companies with vast budgets too. A few years ago it was Sony. Google, Target, these were all large businesses with *lots* of cash to throw at security.

    But the dirty secret of the cloud is it only takes one miniscule hole, one infinitesimal mistake and your data is an open book to the highest bidder.

    Cloud security is an oxymoron. Don't believe me? Look here:
    • Good link! That's a lot of breaches.

      However, I didn't see any cloud storage sites on the list. My eyes aren't so great these days. Please point to one or two for me.
      • Didn't see any either

        But once cloud becomes more popular, do you doubt the hackers won't become interested in it? They go for what's most useful to them.

        And while I couldn't find any data storage (IE Amazon, etc) I will note the *NSA* had a MASSIVE data breach, so did Homeland Security, the DOD, the military (all branches!)--and if they can't keep their data safe, do you really expect data storage sites to be able to block every single one of the millions of attacks they'll be facing?

        Think about it. How many Android attacks did we see when it first came out? How many do we see now? Put all your eggs in one basket and the weasels will feast...

        And that's assuming you ignore state-sponsored attackers. China's very interested in commercial espionage and do it as a matter of course. I doubt the NSA would be very interested, but given the complete contempt they've shown for the rule of law, it's not impossible. China, however, is a whole other kettle of dead fish.

        And when a few companies archive all that tasty data, they become big fat targets.

        Just remember. Attackers only have to be lucky once. Defenders have to be lucky every single time. Do the math.
        • Android Attacks?

          Like Android phone attacks?
          How many times has your phone been attacked?
          Why the hell would anyone want to attack your phone?
  • Cloud storage appliances: Backup and recovery made simple


    The CLOUD is nothing more than SERVER FARM STORAGE ! Really, its nothing NEW ! Just something RENAMED to make people believe it is NEW or INNOVATIVE.

    I am so tired of the LAME BRAINS in the TECH INDUSTRY renaming things to try and entice people who don't know into thinking that it's something new when it's not.
    • But

      But it is in the cloud!! LOL I agree
    • It's not entirely a useless term

      "Cloud" indicates that the user does not know/care WHERE the server farm storage is located. It's not in your datacenter, it's not a dedicated co-lo server. It's ambiguous to the user, hence "in the cloud".

      If you have a better term to indicate that concept, by all means let's hear it so the tech industry can adopt it.
      • It also...

        Means self-service and rapid provisioning, which is a fairly new concept in IT, even if the servers themselves are in "farms".
      • agree with you Aep528

        It is a term that tech and non tech people can kind of agree on. Since the internet cloud was so widely adopted, this is actually a better term than anything I can think off.
        I'd be open to ideas for a better term, as I think you would be too, but don't just criticize the name without any suggestions.
      • The "Cloud."

        Why not call it OSaaS (Off Site as a Service). That is what it is. Everything else is a XaaX, so why not the cloud. I have run across people who take offense because I say, disparagingly, that "cloud" is just a flowchart object, and in my opinion; it should remain as such. It's just a advertising gimmick at its best. Something for the "Kool-Aid drinkers."
        Tim Yaw
    • It isn't a new term and it has been in use since the mid 1990s.

      It was originally a term to describe connectivity for enterprises using the public Internet when using point to point VPN and the symbol of a cloud was used commonly in network diagrams as early as 1994.

      The elasticity/self-service aspect stuck when Amazon released their Elastic Compute Cloud in 2006 after which "Cloud Computing" was used generically to refer to utility computing systems of similar design.
  • How about data integrity?

    A question you didn't have on your list is to ask what measures the provider takes to assure data integrity over long periods of time. Cloud data centres are just as prone to bit rot as any other data centre, and the more data you have the greater the chance of some corruption.

    I'd be looking for measures akin to those used in ZFS: checksumming, scrubbing and self healing
    • Good points, but process control is easily miffed after the sale.

      I'd be interested in their warranty for long term data integrity. Without a warranty, then I'd be forced to continuously monitor their service quality.

      If they offer no warranty, or if it's a token promise to refund your fees, then your own employees have a much higher incentive for quality.
  • Here's the deal

    The following topics are interlinked and cannot be resolved without a new global trading and technology agreement:
    - privacy (personal and from advertisers/monetisers)
    - security (as in terrorism)
    - data integrity
    - value for money
    - IP (as in piracy)
    - power cooperation ... in global interests, not USA totalitarianism
    At the heart of all this is IT.

    If Governments and corporations behave in a civilised and efficient fashion I will give up my privacy for the sake of security, to facilitate efficient commerce and the general good.

    If America continues asis, in particular tries to imprison me in a locked-down cloud hugely favouring institutions without due democracy ... then you have a technology war on your hands. I've made this comment in other posts, from the film War Games, where the supercompter spends the equivalent of aoens trying to win 'the game' [USA - Russia thermonuclear war] ...
    ... concluding 'the only way to win the game is not to play'.

    My specific MSFT requirements for W9 and S2015:
    - switch locking the NSA in/out
    - switch locking companies in/out (a proper 'do not track')
    - replace NTFS with a more robust fs
    - switch as in OneDrive, but for companies as well, determining whether symbolic file links are in MSFT cloud central or on the interworking device
    If MSFT doesn't provide them I will begin switching to UNIX and GOOG, leaving a few legacy Windows systems for the odd power EXCEL or PHOTOSHOP session in some small part of the company/home.

    And if you think I'm going to swallow expensive subscriptions ... now who was it mentioned expensive?
  • Cloud Backup

    Cloud a joke. It will never gain traction because it literally takes forever to do an average [business] backup....days, maybe even weeks.

    The only way it'll become mainstream is if, and when, Internet speed from ISP's become cost effective for the everyday user.
    • This article isn't about small businesses or everyday users

      With consumer-grade broadband. We're talking about enterprises that have internet connections or private cloud connections with SLAs.
  • How you should spend your time

    House painting would be good. Somewhere that you could talk condescendingly to the client and get away with it. They know you will be gone in a day and you can't do much harm anyway.