Thursday, August 30, 2012

Everyone out of the house, this is an emergency!

This is not a drill. I hope this scenario never happens to anyone, but we’ve all gone through the mental planning process.  1) Kids, 2) spouse, 3) pets... What if there was 10 extra seconds (family photos?), 20 (special heirloom?)? Point is, we all prioritize the list of most important things to continue our lives as we go based on our situation and time to get out. 

We have a lot of conversations around business continuity / disaster recovery (BC/DR) in the cloud. Anywhere / anytime access, pay only for what you use, cloud lends itself to being the perfect platform to enable BC/DR for any organization. However, time and time again we hear customers saying they’ve looked at the cloud but it’s just too expensive when you run the numbers.

When we drill into what they’re trying to put in the cloud for BC/DR, it typically ends up being entire sets of organizational backups. While this might be great if you can afford it, the fact is, most of us can’t. So all your important data remains on tape; or worse, only on the servers they were generated on.

BC/DR is about speed to resume core operations. In business, the most important data is typically the most recently used. A current study showed that more than 90% of data is untouched over a 4 month period. Why would you want to pack (and later unpack) all of your data to get back to business when most of it isn't needed? Will you even have the tools to do it after the disaster?

BC/DR in the cloud should be looked at like evacuating your house in an emergency, and the time you have to escape is your budget. Start with your monthly budget.  From this you can easily determine the amount of cloud storage you can afford.  Then look at how many days worth of recently accessed data this translates into. Both Linux and Windows environments offer fairly simple ways to search (and copy) files based on last accessed date. Most organizations are surprised at how much time they will get on even a modest budget. 

From here it’s very straightforward, you copy the most recently accessed files according to your budget into cloud storage with automatic retention-time rules set on that data.  Then each night, just update the files changed that day with the same retention rules. That’s it! You now have a rolling storage repository of your most important data that can be accessed anytime and anywhere on the budget you set.

Contact us for more information on how to enable real BC/DR solutions using the cloud on any budget.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How-To: Use the Storage Connector with HP Cloud CDN

Now that HP Cloud's Object Store has moved to General Availability, I thought it would be helpful to post a How-To video we made about using our Storage Connector to easily upload content to HP Cloud Storage and then distribute it via HP Cloud CDN.

We wanted to highlight our Storage Connector's ability to upload your content to Cloud Storage - unaltered - so you can use it directly, such as distributing it through a CDN.  Object Stores, like HP Cloud Storage, are perfect for delivering content to a CDN because they deliver content via native HTTP REST, preventing you from needing an intermediate staging environment -- just stream your content straight from your object storage. Cloud Storage is so much more than an inexpensive and reliable place to park your data -- its a building block for new services delivered from the Cloud. We hope we demonstrate that with this video.

Enjoy, and please give us feedback!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cloud Storage is more than just Backup

Without a doubt, Cloud Storage is front-of-mind for Storage Professionals, System Architects and, really, anyone working in the IT field.  The extreme scalability and pay-for-what-you-use economy makes Cloud Storage a very attractive prospect and an easy way to extend an existing storage archive infrastructure.   While Cloud Storage is a great off-site backup for your data, treating Cloud Storage as just a "tape silo in the sky" misses out on a lot of power and capability.

The term "Cloud Storage" is bandied about a great deal has come to encompass any kind of Internet-accessible storage which is paid for on a per GB per month basis (or sometimes, even free).  This definition covers file sharing and archival systems like Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud, but it also covers service offerings like Rackspace Cloud Files, HP Cloud Storage, and Amazon S3.  In reality, these services are all built on a new storage paradigm called "object stores."

Understanding object storage is pretty simple; it is a system which lets you push in an object (a file) and returns a unique key for that object.  That key can then be used to modify that object, read it, or delete it.  Object stores also let you set metadata on your objects, allowing you to expose useful information about an object without having to actually download and read the object.  Simple, but this simplicity allows object stores to scale to amazing sizes and give consistent performance -- regardless of the number of users.

The flat key-value way of storing objects may sound limiting, but if you think about it, its actually very flexible when metadata is used.  Think about trying to organize your photo collection -- on a file system, you create a folder hierarchy based on, say, the month and year the photo was taken.  But, if you want to later group your photos by who is in it, with a file system you have to make copies, or move to a new folder hierarchy.  In an object store, all your images are in the same level, but metadata for date taken and subject is set on each image, allowing you to view your photos by date, subject, or any other tag set on the photo.  And it will do this whether you have hundreds, thousands or millions of photos.

The interface into object stores is an HTTP-based REST API.  While this might be a challenge for some, it serves as a boon to anyone with a service trying to use that data.  Take, for example, the HP Cloud CDN - your objects are easy to deliver through the CDN because all the requests are HTTP requests on the objects themselves, instead of a file buried somewhere in a hierarchy, and are delivered directly out of the object store, rather than having to be pre-staged on a web server.

Object Stores are powerful and flexible, and is how services like Dropbox, Pandora, Instagram, Twitter, and GMail (to name a few) are able to store, manage and deliver their content to their users.  Sure, its inexpensive, reliable, offsite storage, and makes a great addition to an IT disaster recovery plan.  However, object storage is capable of so much more.  To store, search, and process the never-ending volumes of data we are generating, businesses should think beyond just Backup.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deduplication for Cloud Storage, Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

We’re often asked about the deduplication capabilities of our storage connector (storage gateway) and people are initially shocked by our simple response: None at all! Aren’t reducing storage footprint and transfer bandwidth good things? Of course; but as with all good things, they come at a price.

There is no standard process for deduplication.  In fact, vendors spend quite a bit of time and money developing and protecting deduplication techniques.  To reduce the data footprint, deduplication algorithms analyze your content looking for bits of redundancy it can remove.  If you look at the resulting output in cloud storage, what you get is completely unusable blobs of data unless you use the same technology to rebuild your content.

From a usability perspective, deduplication is identical to encrypting your data, but with a key only the vendor knows. If you want access to your data, you must use that vendor’s technology to get to it. Under certain isolated scenarios, this may be acceptable. However, if cloud storage (public or private) is part of a long-term strategy to solve your data storage problems, this technology lock-in is a significant risk.

The promise of cloud is exciting because the technologies provide scalability and flexibility previously unattainable in IT organizations. Cloud storage not only provides a solution to the massive growth of data we are all experiencing, but provides the foundation for an entire class of applications that are being developed to manage, search, and process it. These applications use cloud storage APIs directly for efficient and scalable data access. Deduplicating the data first can lock you into one technology and out of many others. Switching technologies would require you to move all of your data back through one system, and into another.

Cloud storage connectors are critical today because most legacy systems can’t access cloud storage APIs directly. They make cloud storage accessible in existing environments and allow organizations to easily integrate these storage platforms into today’s workflow. When used properly, storage connectors can provide the bridge to both cloud storage and the next generation of applications. Choosing the right technology will give you the tools to start using cloud storage today, and the flexibility to continue using it with the applications of tomorrow.