Flying high

Cloud computing has grabbed headlines over the past year as vendors seek to change the very model of enterprise computing, moving all elements to a subscription basis. With storage demands continuing to outpace the ability of IT managers to purchase equipment, cloud-based storage has suddenly become a very tempting alternative. Piers Ford reports on the possibilities.

Tags: Brocade Communications Systems IncorporationCloud computingCommVault Systems IncorporatedIntergence Systems Middle EastSymantec CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Flying high KHALIL: Currently cloud storage is mostly limited to offline uses where the network latency isn’t as big an issue.
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By  Piers Ford Published  February 7, 2010 Arabian Computer News Logo

Not since the term data warehouse was coined has there been such a buzz around a concept that, on paper at least, has the potential to revolutionise the way businesses manage their storage. Now, cloud storage has stepped up to the plate.

Everyone is talking about it in breathless terms as the data manager’s dream solution: storage delivered as a service on a pay-as-you-go basis, allowing the customer to ditch those power-hungry racks – and the real estate they occupy, not to mention the operating expenses, security overhead and the backup routines. All that responsibility can be packed up and handed across to the requisite service provider.

Except that the reality is not quite so simple. Like any other software as a service (SaaS) model, the success of cloud storage must stand or fall on the quality and availability of bandwidth – in this case, potentially, on an unprecedented scale given the size of the data explosion in the Middle East.  And there is a broad consensus among traditional storage vendors that to begin with, the technology itself is best suited to very specific types of data: streaming files typical of the media sector; geographical file sharing; and non-critical archived data that will usually only be called on for disaster recovery or regulatory requirements.

For the rest, and particularly on the transactional and system development fronts, latency shortcomings, the inevitable security issues that come with web-based models, and questions around guaranteed continuity, cloud storage is not yet sufficiently evolved to be a viable option.

But technology issues are not the only hurdle for vendors and service providers to overcome. There is also customer apprehension. IT managers are understandably still cautious about SaaS as a model for buying strategically important applications like data management.

“Customers in the region are at present undoubtedly exploring various opportunities for cloud services underpinned by cloud computing environments,” says Chris Carter-Jones, principal solutions consultant at Intergence Systems Middle East.

“They are linking cloud services to capex savings and cost reductions in leveraging utility-based models where charging is made against actual usage. However, many are wrestling with the relative cost-benefit and risk trade-offs, with particular concerns around security and apprehension about placing so much reliance and dependence upon these third party cloud service providers. This is perhaps unsurprising given the state of evolution of the outsourcing marketplace in general in the Middle East region.”

According to Carter-Jones, there is also a sense that many customers would still be unwilling to let their internal data be held in remote locations – which means that service providers will initially be under pressure to provide very localised versions of their presences rather than relying on the virtual, global model upon which the idealised vision of the cloud is based.

“Client discussions on data reinforce the message that localised presence is important for any organisations with an appetite to adopt, as they have understandable concerns about the integrity and geographical location of their data,” he says.

“Other concerns for our clients in this region include the diversity, availability and performance of internet connections into the cloud, which are of course critical in underpinning any successful cloud service, and which potentially represent a hindrance to rapid adoption given the less deregulated nature of local and regional telecoms markets,” he adds.

Carter-Jones thinks early adopters will start to come on board when “reputable” providers in the region begin to offer aggressive cloud storage pricing models.

“As a first step, customers have indicated to us that they may decide to undertake a cautious strategy that begins with managing less business-critical data in the cloud,” he says, “possibly combined with some form of limited disaster recovery function – with a view to increasing adoption subject to telecom services maturity and dependent upon their personal experience over time.”

Definition issues

One of the definition issues around cloud storage concerns the nature of the cloud itself. Major traditional storage vendors have established or acquired service arms to deliver the model: IronMountain absorbed LiveVault, for example, and Seagate owns i365, provider of the Evault cloud-connected service platform. But to date, most of these efforts have focused on ‘private’ clouds rather than the ‘public’ vision that is currently the main focus of the industry’s attention.

In the private cloud as with private networks, there is nothing revolutionary about the concept and many customers have been using it for years. “Private clouds are cloud infrastructures built, maintained and deployed by a specific entity such as a governmental agency or large corporation,” explains Johnny Karam, regional director, Middle East and North Africa at Symantec.

The security specialist has moved into cloud backup in a big way, offering online backup to both public cloud vendors and private sector clients. “The core value of cloud storage for enterprises is twofold,” he says. “Reduced capex and operating expenses. In the case of user engagement of public cloud, no capex is involved in a purely subscription engagement. In private cloud (and for public cloud vendors), it ideally utilises commodity server and storage hardware at a saving over brand name vendors.

“Operating expenses are reduced through the self-service model of cloud computing. For example, a company might opt for laptop backups to the cloud, such as our online backup services. This significantly reduces the support load of the IT organisation compared with in-house deployment for managing things such as daily backups, tape, and user requests for recovery.”

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