Part 1: Why Cloud Storage

A visitor to this blog was asking my opinion on cloud storage vs. traditional storage (“storage storage” was the exact wording for the latter). There are probably as many opinions about this topic as there are cloud storage marketers – and probably even a lot more –  but that doesn’t keep me from giving mine. Since it was taking me a bit too long to write this article (time was the problem, not content), I’ve decided to write this out in multiple parts. In this first part I’ll give my idea on why we are moving to cloud storage.

The fundamental concept of digital storage has not changed a lot since we first used computers: to keep data on a medium to be able to access it at a later time. The requirements related to storage and the technologies that make it possible to meet those requirements have evolved a lot more, however. For requirements, think of the size of storage environments, availability requirements, compliance regulations, virtualization support etc. On the innovation side, think of RAID schemes, SAS and SATA disks, SSD and so on.

So let’s not try to define traditional storage but immediately focus on the requirements (read “needs”) and technology that brought us to the largest innovation we’ve seen in the storage industry since … uhm … floppy disks.

 More data, larger files

The most important driver towards cloud storage is the amount of (unstructured) data that needs to be stored. We live our lives in a very digital way and produce content constantly. Think of the pictures and home movies everyone is producing everyday, or the quality of movies that are being produced for our entertainment. Hollywood productions are now multi-petabyte projects.  Industry analysts expect digital storage consumption to increase with 3000% over the next decade, but storage budgets will hardly increase. Also, enterprises are not planning to drastically increase the staff that manages storage environments so every storage administrator will have to manage a lot more storage in the future.

The kind of data we store has also evolved: the 80ies were all about structured data (databases, block based storage, SANs) and the 90ies were about unstructured files (think of the growing number of word and excel documents we were all producing and the success of Netapp’s NAS systems for file-based storage).  But the properties of the content created today (larger files) require the data to be treated as objects, large objects. File systems either do not support the number of files/objects we store or are just obsolete; think of how picture libraries like Picasa replace the file system.

 Always available, we never delete

We live our lives online and want our data to be accessible all the time, synched to several devices, backed up to several geographic locations and available to friends, family and colleagues.

We also seldom delete any data. Why would we? We might need it one day, put it in the archive. Only a small amount of data is deleted because of regulations. And those archives need to be accessible as well. In many companies access latency of days or hours is no longer acceptable. Use disks, forget about tape!

Cheap, damn cheap

Finally, storage needs to be cost-efficient. Since the budgets don’t increase, we have to save on the energy bill, real estate and management.

Conclusion

Today’s storage requirements are all about availability, scalability and efficiency, both for consumers and enterprises. The only way to meet those requirements is by building storage infrastructures that are popularly called Cloud Storage:  large storage environments that are always online and available over the internet, which support many and large objects and which scale … infinitely.

My next post will explain how to build such infrastructures

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~ by tomleyden on July 13, 2011.

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