Five Ideas For Billowing Cloud Storage

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This guest post has been authored by Pete Steege, who manages the Storage Effect blog for Seagate, which made our list of 15 Companies that Really Get Corporate Blogging.

RightScale CEO Michael Crandall defines Cloud Computing as “the notion of providing easily accessible compute and storage resources on a pay-as-you-go, on-demand basis, from a virtually infinite infrastructure managed by someone else.”  We may quibble with how to define the clouds, but I believe we can all agree on one core attribute: their propensity to expand.

There are some basic truths about storage technology that can help you survive and thrive in the billowing Clouds, whatever your particular business plan or financial model.

1. Video Will Drive Cloud Storage Growth

No contest: video will dominate Cloud Storage capacity growth more than any other content form over the next five years. EMC and IDC’s Exploding Digital Universe study showed that images and video account for more than 80% of all bytes that exist today. 

And video means more than movies and web clips.  Digital video surveillance is meeting or exceeding consumer HD content growth levels.  Whatever your target market, factor in the “Video Effect.”

2. Design For Change

Cloud Storage architectures vary greatly, but in one respect are all the same: the lowest cost per gigabyte/terabyte/petabyte wins.  And lowest cost in storage is a constantly shifting battlefield.  It’s not as simple as buying today’s biggest, cheapest drives. It includes power consumption, and as Robin Harris at StorageMojo points out, the number of people that are needed to manage it. Also consider how it will behave as it scales 10, 100 or 1,000 times.

Large-capacity SATA drives have been synonymous with massively scaled Internet datacenter storage.  Yet, while these drives account for the majority of bytes in the clouds, the winners in this industry have judiciously combined performance and capacity drives to make their business model work.  Their storage “special sauce” is the ability to adapt and improve their storage infrastructures as a whole – architectures as well as devices.   

How is this done?  They think at the system level first, and let that drive storage device strategy.  This is especially important now that Solid State Drives (SSDs) will soon be a valid option at the top of the performance pyramid.

3. Begin With The End In Mind

The biggest storage issue with building out a massive datacenter may well be what to do with all of those spinning drives full of sensitive content once you’re finished with them. Disk drives have a business life of 3-5 years.  Even if they can operate longer than that, the price-to-performance economics of the newer technology trump any longer term use. 

It’s imperative to develop a storage retirement plan that is cost efficient yet ensures that no customer data leaves the datacenter with your old drives.  Better to think it through at the drawing board stage than when you’re ready to retire Phase One.

Emerging self-encrypting drive technology will start to deploy in early 2009. These drives perform like normal drives, but everything on them is encrypted using government-grade AES algorithms. Retired drives can be wiped clean instantly by deleting the encryption key.

4. Availability Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Amazon’s recent S3 outages seem to some like nothing more than a painful but transitory issue for startups or small businesses with x86-based data centers.  But for Cloud Storage to break into the big leagues of larger companies, Big Iron uptime is the standard they must be compared favorably against.  Amazon’s performance isn’t there yet.  Will yours be? 

The storage lesson here is that mainstream cloud storage infrastructures will have to prioritize reliability as much as cost per terabyte.  That means more redundant architectures, a richer mix of enterprise drives, or both.   

5. We’ve Only Just Begun

I’m preaching to the choir here, but the astounding growth seen in storage requirements over the past few years will be viewed as quaint in five years. Video growth, coupled with the increasing value of content (driving more regulation and more copies of that content) will sustain the exponential trend. 

This is great news, but a cautionary tale as well. Today’s clouds will have plenty of market opportunity to grow into, if they can keep up without maiming their business model.  There will be plenty of newly forming Clouds nipping at the heels of those that can’t.

It all adds up to a core truth about storage in the clouds:  Content (and storage) is limited only by the ability to manage it. Be ready to billow to succeed.

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