Using storage as your on-ramp to the cloud

November 07, 2014

Cloud as a backup and archive tier  is a relatively new concept and has been gaining steam as a viable data protection solution.  It can rid you of most capital costs by eliminating the need to acquire additional hardware and software.  Operational expenses are reduced as the need for equipment maintenance, facility maintenance, and in some cases, dedicated staff are no longer required.

In this post, I'll discuss how different cloud storage options with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and NetApp can be used to augment or even replace your current backup and archive infrastructure.

Microsoft acquired a company called StorSimple in 2012. A StorSimple array is a specialized iSCSI hybrid array that can be used mostly for Windows shares and SharePoint data.  Like most Hybrid arrays, StorSimple will tier data between flash and disk. What makes it unique is that it tiers cold data off to a virtual StorSimple appliance in Azure.  Rather than maintain a separate storage system for archive, you can leverage the cloud to archive data you may need to retain.  The device is managed on the same Azure dashboard alongside the virtual appliance in the cloud.  Microsoft has been aggressive in pricing the array, in some cases offering the device free if a certain amounts of credits are spent on Azure services.

NetApp offers their NetApp Private Storage or NPS which allows you to place a NetApp filer in a datacenter directly connected to either Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.  In doing so you could enjoy the benefits of elastic storage in the cloud while still using a full-fledged NetApp filer.  This requires you to have a second array to replicate to, plus it has to be housed in a tier 1 datacenter directly connected via AWS Direct Connect or Azure ExpressRoute

At NetApp's Insight 2014 conference in late October, NetApp announced its Cloud ONTAP operating system, a virtual storage appliance, which lives in the Amazon Web Services cloud and will soon be available in Microsoft Azure. Now with Cloud ONTAP, you can pay-as-you-go through Amazon or buy subscription licensing through NetApp.  Both on-premises and cloud storage would be managed through a single point using OnCommand Cloud Manager where customers can setup SnapMirror replication, SnapVault for backups, or even use storage on it with VMs also running in the cloud.

There are also options to backup directly to the cloud without the need of on premises storage.  Amazon and Microsoft allow you to backup directly to their cloud storage offerings.  Even enterprise backup software can be used to backup to cloud services.  Naturally, Microsoft's Data Protection Manager (DPM) can backup directly to Azure storage. CommVault Simpana can leverage AWS as a storage tier.  Finally if you want an appliance for backup to the cloud only, NetApp purchased SteelStor from Riverbed, an appliance that can backup data from applications and servers to a cloud provider of your choice.

Regardless of what service provider you use to copy data to the cloud, many offer end-to-end encryption, guaranteeing security for data in motion.  No longer do you have to track and hope off-site backups eventually make it to their destination.

While many businesses remain apprehensive of putting data in the cloud, there are many hybrid options available that are secure, robust, and reliable. Additionally many of these solutions will drive down operational and capital expenses making it favorable over traditional backup and archive infrastructure.  Mainstream vendors such as Amazon, NetApp, and Microsoft (partners of Sparkhound) are fully embracing hybrid cloud systems to accommodate  business needs for companies of all sizes and industries.   

In conclusion, using cloud storage as a backup and archive tier can be an easy and secure solution to help your organization on-ramp to the cloud.


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