Parallels Cloud Storage: Cloud-building tools for SMEs

The virtualisation specialist unveils its cloud storage tools, which are aimed at small and medium-sized hosting providers.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Getting cloud storage right is complex — especially when you're working with a mix of directly attached storage and storage area networks, and where you’re aiming to provide a high quality of service to a wide variety of users. As more and more business moves into the cloud, and as more and more data is created, it becomes ever harder to get the most from your existing infrastructure without adding significant costs — and creating additional risk.

The problem is increasingly acute for small and medium-sized service providers, who don't have the budget for the necessary CAPEX, nor the customer base to cover the resulting increased OPEX. It's a fine line for a CIO or a CTO to walk, but one that's become part of their day-to-day work.

Parallels might be best known for its MacOS virtualisation software, but that’s only about 30 percent of its business. The company has quietly been building a portfolio of tools to enable all sizes of service provider — from the largest telco to a small mom-and-pop hosting company — to deliver cloud services. It's a stack that offers everything from service automation and billing to self-service control panels that allow users to quickly configure bundles of sites and services. It also provides a large-scale containerisation platform that lets service providers deliver many virtual servers from a single machine.

There's one piece of the virtual host picture that's missing from the Parallels line-up: a storage component. That's finally changed, with Tuesday’s announcement of its own cloud storage environment. Most of Parallels' customers still use direct attached storage for their customers, with storage at one node used by all the virtual servers on that node. That has led to server storage being over-provisioned and under-utilised (with most only getting around 35 percent utilisation).

Parallels' new Cloud Storage tools work with existing hardware to provide a way of sharing directly attached storage (spinning disk or SSD) across a set of compute nodes. Data can be replicated across storage nodes, increasing redundancy — and keeping virtual servers running when disks fail. A set of metadata servers keep an index of where data is stored and can redirect clients to alternate storage locations in the event of failure. Existing directly-attached storage is used as a storage pool, and hardware and software RAID is no longer needed — and there's no need to invest in expensive enterprise drives, as the tools work with commodity hardware.

Parallels suggests that implementing their solution could save hosting providers significant amounts of money, noting that significant downtimes will increase customer churn. By having redundant copies of customer data in live storage, downtime becomes a matter of minutes and disks can be replaced in standard maintenance windows without affecting operations. The default is to split data into chunks and replicate them three times across an array of storage nodes.

Parallels Cloud Storage is a software solution, so it's significantly cheaper than implementing a SAN, making it a lot easier for smaller service providers to consider deploying. As it's designed to work with open-source platforms, it's also more in tune with the Linux-based virtual servers used by most small and medium-sized hosting providers (it also works in conjunction with Parallels' own Linux containerisation solution).

What Parallels has done with its Cloud Storage platform is very similar to what Microsoft is doing with Storage Spaces, while Parallels' Cloud Server bundle of its storage and virtualisation tools is the Linux-based hosting provider's answer to Microsoft's Cloud OS. As the way we build, deploy, and consume software continues to change, the old world of the monolithic server (even if it has been virtualised) is going away.

Clouds of compute and storage are the basis of tomorrow's infrastructure — and not just in the massive datacentres of the big service providers and cloud services. Clouds can be as small as one server, or a single rack. That means we need tools to build those clouds, and it's tools like Parallels Cloud Server that are going to be an important part of delivering this future.

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