Future Proofing Your Storage
with Hybrid Cloud
The data deluge shows no signs of abating. How will IT teams cope?
by | Lenny Liebmann
Lenny is a freelance journalist who specializes in business technology. He is a contributor to the CDW family of technology magazines.
Organizations in every industry must handle a relentlessly growing volume of data. This growth is poised to accelerate dramatically as social media, the Internet of Things (IoT), streaming video and other sources generate even more information.
Not only is this data growing, but it is also becoming more important to enterprise operations, as advances in analytics generate insights that enable organizations to engage customers, adapt to changing market conditions and make better decisions.
IT leaders who want to make sure their organizations thrive in this data deluge face three central challenges:
- How do they scale up data capacity within budget constraints?
- How do they fulfill intensifying requirements for analytic performance, security, compliance and business continuity?
- How do they develop the flexibility they need to meet the demands of a future that no one can precisely predict?
Many organizations are arriving at an innovative answer to these storage questions: hybrid cloud.
What Is Hybrid Cloud Storage?
As the name implies, hybrid cloud storage combines storage in the cloud with storage that’s not in the cloud — that is, on-premises in a data center. In a true hybrid environment, data is managed as a common whole regardless of the location or medium on which data is stored (such as conventional spinning discs, solid-state flash media or even tape drives). In a hybrid environment, organizations can store their data wherever it makes the most sense operationally and economically at any given time. And it can be moved anywhere else whenever it makes sense to do so. To deploy hybrid cloud storage with capabilities that deliver value into the future, IT teams also require an intelligent storage management solution.
“Everybody wants storage that is cheaper, faster and more scalable,” says Steven Hill, senior storage analyst at 451 Research. “But the key to achieving those goals is intelligence — the intelligence to use the right storage resource at the right time for the right reason.”
This unified approach to storage represents a significant contrast to the way organizations typically handle storage. At most enterprises, various silos of storage have emerged over time. Core workloads such as enterprise resource management data may reside on one disk array. Documents — including those created in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — may reside on another storage device. Graphics files may be kept on still another device. Finance and legal personnel may upload data and documents to a secure private cloud for safekeeping, while sales data is maintained in a public cloud environment managed by a Software as a Service partner.
This fragmented approach to data storage is economically inefficient, because it limits economies of scale and forces IT staff to perform redundant tasks for each silo. The fragmentation of storage can also be dangerous, because it increases the odds that a staff member will fail to apply a critical security, compliance or backup policy to one of the silos.
These pain points and others are driving IT leaders to adopt a unified hybrid model for their data storage, especially as they face the prospect of having to store more data and get smarter about how they use and protect it.
Big Data’s Big Challenge
Big Data analytics has become a critical technical discipline for virtually every type of organization. The insights that can be gained from the massive and diverse types of data now available empower enterprise leaders to make smarter, faster decisions about a host of operational needs.
But data analytics presents serious technical challenges when it comes to storage. Analytics workloads often require the intake of large volumes of data that quickly become unnecessary once the desired analytic result is obtained.
Hybrid storage facilitates effective use of data analytics by:
- Providing elastic, on-demand storage capacity for transient data intake
- Facilitating the merging of third-party data feeds with internal information residing in the data center and cloud environments
- Keeping costs low even as scale grows
Hybrid cloud storage pays off in many ways as data volume, variety, velocity and uses keep growing:
Superior storage economics: By aggregating storage, hybrid cloud environments improve economies of scale. Hybrid cloud also enables IT managers to continuously migrate data to the least expensive appropriate storage option — which in many cases is a cloud-based service. “At most companies, 80 percent of data is inactive,” notes Bob Fine, director of product marketing at Dell. “So it doesn’t make sense to leave that data on high-performance media that has relatively high total cost of ownership.”
Unified management of all storage components also drives down day-to-day operational costs, since it enables IT staff to operate much more efficiently.
Flexible scalability: The cloud enables organizations to avoid spending large chunks of their capital budgets on storage infrastructure and eliminates the need to guess exactly how much capacity they will require at any point in the future. “Most companies would much rather opt for storage as they need it,” explains Deni Connor, founding analyst at SSG-NOW. “Plus, most smaller companies don’t have IT pros in-house who can spend a lot of time planning and strategizing about their long-term storage needs.”
Automated, policy-based management: Effective hybrid cloud storage uses management intelligence to automatically migrate less utilized data to less expensive infrastructure. This automation does more than save on raw storage costs; it also enables an IT team to greatly increase the size and diversity of its storage environment without having to increase staff head count. “Every organization needs multiple tiers of storage that fulfill its varying requirements for performance, cost and availability,” says Hill. “The question is: How do you make sure you’re putting the right data on the right tier at the right time?”
Enhanced business continuity: Many IT organizations still rely on numerous separate backup mechanisms to ensure business continuity. In the event of a disaster, their ability to recover data depends on these mechanisms. This fragmented approach to business continuity slows the time needed to recover and increases the risk of failure. Hybrid cloud environments can be engineered to more efficiently and reliably ensure that all essential business data is replicated to the cloud, where it can quickly be accessed for business continuity.
More trustworthy compliance and governance: Because intelligently automated hybrid cloud storage enables IT staff to define and reliably automate data storage policies, it greatly eases compliance with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. Automated policies also help enterprises to ensure that they don’t retain certain types of content to the point where retention becomes a drawback. “Anyone who’s ever been involved in legal discovery can tell you that you don’t want to retain unnecessary data for too long,” says Hill.
Keeping Data Safe – Everywhere
Data security is a critical concern. Any compromise can hurt performance, alienate customers and even result in costly legal consequences. The larger an organization’s data storage environment becomes, the greater its innate security risk, because the overall threat surface of the environment keeps growing.
Fortunately, a well-managed hybrid cloud storage environment can offset the inherent risk of a growing threat surface by ensuring that appropriate data encryption policies are enforced. Intelligent, metadata-driven storage policies can also ensure that sensitive data is hosted only by cloud providers that maintain appropriate levels of security – both logical and physical.
Effective data security also requires a multilayered approach that includes rigorous access controls, reliable user authentication, intrusion detection tools, behavior analysis and well-educated users.
Making the Move to Hybrid
Because hybrid cloud storage is a compelling solution to many problems, numerous organizations want to start transitioning to it sooner rather than later. Here are three ways to make that transition successful:
1) Invest in choices that harmonize. For hybrid cloud storage to deliver its full benefits, all storage components must be manageable from a common storage command center. IT decision-makers must make smart choices about the devices they buy and the cloud providers they engage. The ability of users to access data is essential, and an effective management solution will make access seamless, regardless of the medium on which data is stored.
2) Don’t forget the metadata. Hybrid storage success isn’t just about infrastructure. It’s also about intelligently automating the movement of data across that infrastructure. To do that, the storage management system needs the richest, most complete possible information about data objects, including the types of data they contain, how often the data has been used and its topical content. Metadata is critical to managing storage effectively and is particularly useful as IT teams make use of analytics solutions that provide a better understanding of their storage environment and how to optimize it.
3) Consider WAN acceleration. The more transparently users and applications can access data in the cloud, the more an organization can take advantage of the cloud’s lower costs and greater scalability. WAN acceleration technologies that enhance the speed of access to cloud data over the network can therefore play a key role in hybrid storage implementations.
Given the complexities of hybrid cloud storage — and the importance of tailoring both infrastructure and management policies to the specific requirements of each organization — a third party can provide valuable technical expertise and implementation experience. A skilled partner can also add value after an initial implementation by helping to keep the environment tuned to changing needs and supporting the various patching and upgrading work that must be performed over time.
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