In the rush to cloud, there are many tools and technologies out there that are brand new. I’ve covered a few, but that’s nowhere near a complete list, but it’s interesting to see what is going on out there from a broad-spectrum view. I have talked a bit about Cloud Storage Gateways here.

And I’m slowly becoming a fan of this technology for those who are considering storing in the cloud tier. There are a couple of good reasons to consider these products, and I was thinking about the reasons and their standing validity. Thought I’d share with you where I stand on them at this time, and what I see happening that might impact their value proposition.

The two vendors I have taken some time to research while preparing this blog for you are Nasuni and Panzura. No doubt there are plenty of others, but I’m writing you a blog here, not researching a major IT initiative. So I researched two of them to have some points of comparison, and leave the in-depth vendor selection research to you and your staff.

These two vendors present similar base technology and very different additional feature sets. Both rely heavily upon local caching in the controller box, and both work with multiple cloud vendors, and both claim to manage compression.

Nasuni delivers as a Virtual Appliance, includes encryption on your network before transmitting to the cloud, automated cloud provisioning, and caching that has timed updates to the cloud, but can perform a forced update if the cache gets full. It presents the cloud storage you’ve provisioned as a NAS on your end.

Panzura delivers a hardware appliance that also presents the cloud as a NAS, works with multiple cloud vendors, handles encryption on-device, and claims global dedupe. I say claims, because “global” has a meaning that is “all” and in their case “all” means “all the storage we know about”, not “all the storage you know”. I would prefer a different term, but I get what they mean. Like everything else, they can’t de-dupe what they don’t control. They too present the cloud storage you’ve provisioned as a NAS on your end, but claim to accelerate CIFS and NFS also.

Panzura is also trying to make a big splash about speeding access to MS-Sharepoint, but honestly, as a TMM for F5, a company that makes two astounding products that speed access to Sharepoint and nearly everything else on the Internet (LTM and WOM), I’m not impressed by Sharepoint acceleration. In fact, our Sharepoint Application Ready Solution is here, and our list of Application Ready Solutions is here. Those are just complete architectures we support directly, and don’t touch on what you can do with the products through Virtuals, iRules, profiles, and the host of other dials and knobs. I could go on and on about this topic, but that’s not the point of this blog, so suffice it to say there are some excellent application acceleration and WAN Optimization products out there, so this point solution alone should not be a buying criteria.

There are some compelling reasons to purchase one of these products if you are considering cloud storage as a possible solution. Let’s take a look at them.

  1. Present cloud storage as a NAS – This is a huge benefit right now, but over time the importance will hopefully decrease as standards for cloud storage access emerge. Even if there is no actual standard that everyone agrees to, it will behoove smaller players to emulate the larger players that are allowing access to their storage in a manner that is similar to other storage technologies.
  2. Encryption – As far as I can see this will always be a big driver. They’re taking care of encryption for you, so you can sleep at night as they ship your files to the public cloud. If you’re considering them for non-public cloud, this point may still be huge if your pipe to the storage is over the public Internet.
  3. Local Caching – With current broadband bandwidths, this will be a large driver for the foreseeable future. You need your storage to be responsive, and local caching increases responsiveness, depending upon implementation, cache size, and how many writes you are doing this could be a huge improvement.
  4. De-duplication – I wish I had more time to dig into what these vendors mean by dedupe. Replacing duplicate files with a symlink is simplest and most resembles existing file systems, but it is also significantly less effective than partial file de-dupe. Let’s face it, most organizations have a lot more duplication laying around in files named Filename.Draft1.doc through Filename.DraftX.doc than they do in completely duplicate files. Check with the vendors if you’re considering this technology to find out what you can hope to gain from their de-dupe. This is important for the simple reason that in the cloud, you pay for what you use. That makes de-duplication more important than it has historically been.

The largest caution sign I can see is vendor viability. This is a new space, and we have plenty of history with early entry players in a new space. Some will fold, some will get bought up by companies in adjacent spaces, some will be successful… at something other than Cloud Storage Gateways, and some will still be around in five or ten years. Since these products compress, encrypt, and de-dupe your data, and both of them manage your relationship with the cloud vendor, losing them is a huge risk. I would advise some due diligence before signing on with one – new companies in new market spaces are not always a risky proposition, but you’ll have to explore the possibilities to make sure your company is protected. After all, if they’re as good as they seem, you’ll soon have more data running through them than you’ll have free space in your data center, making eliminating them difficult at best.

I haven’t done the research to say which product I prefer, and my gut reaction may well be wrong, so I’ll leave it to you to check into them if the topic interests you.

They would certainly fit well with an ARX, as I mentioned in that other blog post. Here’s a sample architecture that would make “the Cloud Tier” just another piece of your virtual storage directory under ARX, complete with automated tiering and replication capabilities that ARX owners thrive on.

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This sample architecture shows your storage going to a remote data center over EDGE Gateway, to the cloud over Nasuni, and to NAS boxes, all run through an ARX to make the client (which could be a server or a user – remember this is the NAS client) see a super-simplified, unified directory view of the entire thing. Note that this is theoretical, to my knowledge no testing has occurred between Nasuni and ARX, and usually (though certainly not always) the storage traffic sent over EDGE Gateway will be from a local NAS to a remote one, but there is no reason I can think of for this not to work as expected – as long as the Cloud Gateway really presents itself as a NAS.

That gives you several paths to replicate your data, and still presents client machines with a clean, single-directory NAS that participates in ADS if required. In this case Tier one could be NAS Vendor 1, Tier two NAS Vendor 2, your replication targets securely connected over EDGE Gateway, and tier 3 (things you want to save but no longer need to replicate for example) is the cloud as presented by the Cloud Gateway. The Cloud Gateway would arbitrate between actual file systems and whatever idiotic interface the cloud provider decided to present and tell you to deal with, while the ARX presents all of these different sources as a single-directory-tree NAS to the clients, handling tiering between them, access control, etc.

And yes, if you’re not an F5 shop, you could indeed accomplish pieces of this architecture with other solutions. Of course, I’m biased, but I’m pretty certain the solution would not be nearly as efficient, cool, or let you sleep as well at night.

Storage is complicated, but this architecture cleans it up a bit. And that’s got to be good for you. And all things considered, the only issue that is truly concerning is failure of a startup cloud gateway vendor. If another vendor takes one over, they’ll either support it or provide a migration path, if they are successful at something else, you’ll have plenty of time to move off of their storage gateway product, so only outright failure is a major concern.

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