The Changing Dynamics of Storage in the Cloud

Everything seems to be getting re-positioned as an "___ as-a-service" offering these days. Cloud storage, while a long-time favorite for home and personal computer users is going mainstream with businesses. My colleague, Dr. Katherine Jones, recently interviewed an exec at Nirvanix for their perspective on the phenomenon.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

Colleague Dr. Katherine Jones interviewed Steve Zivanic, Nirvanix’s Vice President of Marketing. Nirvanix provides Storage-as-a-Service (STaaS), bringing secure multi-tenancy and granular usage-based pricing to the world of enterprise data storage.

Katherine: With all the cloudy X-as-a-Service definitions out there, how does Nirvanix define Storage-as-a-Service?

Steve: First, access to storage capacity is over the Internet, or over a dedicated network, with multi-tenancy, guaranteed quality of service, and usage-based pricing. Like software-as-a-service, storage capacity becomes an operational expense rather than a capital expense. It’s not storage-as-a-service if you have a sales rep pushing maintenance fees and hardware upgrade costs upon you. And just calling a piece of hardware a private cloud doesn’t automatically make it storage-as-a-service. I believe that’s called marketecture.

Katherine: STaaS is gaining traction – but why now?

Steve: Customers clearly want to obtain their IT resources based specifically on actual business usage and company requirements. In the same way that data centers have to purchase, upgrade and pay maintenance for their application services, they pay for their storage devices and the software that makes them work plus ongoing maintenance fees. Buyers pay for storage capacity upfront, but don’t always have the insight or tools to determine how much capacity they really need. Thus they may be paying for excess storage or suffering because they just don’t have enough. Storage hardware is a commodity today; cloud storage services adds value via a innovative software layer that enables true usage based pricing. With Storage-as-a-Service, users always have the capacity they need and pay for exactly what they use, when they use it. No hardware to maintain, no hardware to upgrade, and no expensive yearly maintenance costs. All the hardware and software is maintained and updated by the service provider—the customer just pays for usage costs and receives a monthly bill, much like they do for water or electricity.

Katherine: Do companies worry about data privacy the way they used to in the multi-tenant application world?

Steve: Privacy and security are indeed a concern, but it all depends on who your service provider is. With Nirvanix, a company’s data is securely partitioned from that of other companies so there is no co-mingling of data anywhere. Data may be stored over multiple physical devices—but it is always succinctly separated to prevent access by others. Actually, the software that manages cloud-based storage is like other SaaS applications in its design for security and multi-tenancy. In fact, we are the only cloud storage service provider to allow security auditors into our data centers to perform extensive security audits. Amazon will not let you near their data centers, as they’re primarily leasing out their excess internal capacity.

Katherine: What kind of data is best stored in the Cloud?

Steve: Most companies today have huge amounts of unstructured data – and it is this that is maintained as STaaS. Think of all the PowerPoint presentations, images, emails, videos, internal social networking files, instant messages, texts and the like that companies collect – and keep – today. The content is huge, and much of that content is quickly taking the form of HD or even 3-D files, particularly in the entertainment sector. And it is that unstructured data that is most commonly moved to the Cloud first.

Katherine: What about mission-critical data?

Steve: Often a company keeps its structured Tier 1 data locally. First, the capacity for that data is already there, in the existing data center, in high-end tier one storage systems. Second, only this data—transactional data, for example--may require a single millisecond response time. It is the rapidly growing amount of unstructured data that most companies are eager to store in the cloud. For example, accessing a PowerPoint file or email attachment can take longer than one millisecond by most business standards, so there is no need to store it on expensive, monolithic storage systems. That type of data can be stored in the cloud and accessed in 100 or so milliseconds, thereby saving the company money and freeing up space on existing, premium-priced storage assets.

Katherine: We see SaaS-querade in the application space—companies trying to market single tenant, on-premise software via hosting as SaaS. Does this happen with storage as well?

Steve: Most definitely. These aging storage companies designed giant boxes for on-premise data center environments only; their products simply don’t support real Cloud storage. They want to show that they “get” the cloud space too, and are quick to take their antiquated hardware systems and “cloudwash” them—taking products that were originally designed for a different set of apps and claiming they are now “cloud-enabled.” You see this all over the industry. We see the same products that were ideal for “ILM” or “the virtual era” now being dubbed as “Cloud-ready.” Many companies keep pushing hardware and calling it cloud storage, when what they are really trying to do is protect their margins from the inevitable storage-as-a-service/usage-based pricing model that is becoming increasingly prevalent across the industry. Young engineers who grew up on the Web think Google, Amazon and Nirvanix for storage, not these big iron box mongers. These new IT architects will recognize these SaaS- and STaaS-querades. The IT architects of tomorrow are extremely savvy individuals who aren’t looking to be locked into massive up-front hardware purchases.

Editorial standards