Hybrid cloud technology projects popular among storage pros

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Hybrid cloud technology is making its way to the top of many priority lists in IT shops facing more pressure to store and protect data without increasing capital expenditures and data center footprints. For many data storage professionals, hybrid clouds are a sensible starting point for any cloud implementation. In this expert video, Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Wayne Pauley answers questions regarding some of the immediate benefits storage pros can expect from a hybrid cloud project and how the gateway market is changing.

Why is hybrid cloud the most common cloud storage project to start on?

Wayne Pauley: First of all, there are a lot of vendors out there that have delivered some really good technology, so from an IT point of view, there's that part of it. Also, there's just a lot of consumer-based tools that we have today that have made it fairly easy for anyone inside of an organization to place things in a cloud through a hybrid connection.

What criteria should be looked at when deciding whether or not to employ hybrid cloud technology?

Pauley: Let's back up a little bit and say, first of all, if it's an IT project, there's certainly the common suspects -- doing it for data protection capabilities, extending what you're doing. So if you have on-premises data and you don't have a [disaster recovery] DR or off-site data protection capability. Another is archiving; you want to do something that's more long-term, and you want to move things that you have to keep for, let's say, regulatory reasons, off to a remote site and keep it for a long period of time. And, again, you don't want to use the resources that you have on-premises for that. The other one is what the consumers are doing. Internal consumers are consumers, as well. Keeping Word documents, PowerPoints, etc., maybe having to share them with other people in other organizations or in other parts of the business. It's very easy to take something off your iPad or your Surface, and use that drop-box kind of technology. So, those are the quick and easy [projects], and some of the first reasons why people are doing it.

What are the chief selling points for hybrid cloud storage?

Pauley: I think the chief selling points are going to be that you don't have to stand up a lot of technology on the floor to do it. Many of them are pay-as-you-go, which is one of the benefits of cloud, so you're paying for resources as you use them. There's not a big capital expense up front to do it. Many of the products are very easy to use as well, so there's not a big learning curve or you're not going off to the vendor's training for a week and having to deal with something very complex. Those are some of the key reasons.

Would I already need a private cloud in place to start a hybrid project?

Pauley: We can get into the definitional semantics of that, but let's just say that if you have a virtualized data center or are using virtualization on the floor, and what you want to do is move some of the data to a cloud service, I don't think that you necessarily have to have an on-premises private cloud. I think there are some benefits to doing that, but now we're getting into, 'Are you going to turn what IT is doing today into IT as a Service?' and 'Are you going to federate?' and all the other things that come along with that. I think those are deeper questions [regarding] where you're trying to go from a strategic point of view.

Is a gateway always part of a hybrid cloud storage setup?

Pauley: I don't know that it's always part of the scenario, but I think it's one of the easiest ways to kind of get started without having to make a big investment. Gateways are going to give you some of the benefits of dealing with latency problems because many of them cache data before they send it on. We were just talking to one of the gateway vendors yesterday -- we had a briefing with them -- [and] one of the things they provide is a 100% [service-level agreement] SLA guarantee, which is unique because the providers themselves won't give you that.

So, they're [gateway vendors are] going to provide some cushioning and protection that you won't necessarily get from a cloud provider directly.

Some gateway vendors are trying to position themselves as controllers, and for more than just backup. Is this viable?

Pauley: I think one of the things that we've seen, talking to the gateway vendors ourselves, is that many of them have started with very specific applications that they're providing. I think they're getting enough revenue in, and they're getting established enough, and they've learned what works and what doesn't work from a cloud provider point of view. They're starting to move on to the 'Can we broaden what our offering is?' [question]. So, we started off with data protection or archiving or [virtual desktop infrastructure] VDI, which is another approach, and now they're starting to think about, 'Can we take this gateway and do some other things with it?' I think we're going to see continued evolution of the space.

So whether they're a controller or not, I think there's a lot going on with what we like to call 'the arms dealers,' the traditional manufacturers of storage and technology. And they're starting to service-enable their technology. There was a recent announcement of a vendor who's done that. So, that shift is going to continue to occur, and there will be options where smaller companies will want to use a gateway because it's a less-expensive alternative. And then there are the traditional manufacturers who are going to start to transition what they're offering on the floor that will be able to natively talk cloud as well.

Finally, what are some pitfalls to watch out for when using hybrid cloud storage?

Pauley: I always like to caution people to think about not just the SLA of the intermediary, but are you going to be impacted by the SLA of the provider on the back end? So SLA, security … sometimes there's a lot of fight around them. You want to make sure you really understand the terms of service [and] the terms of termination. And you want to understand how data is going to flow, and how you're going to maybe, if you wanted to, down the road, back out of the service. What are going to be some of the challenges there?

Let's say that you've bought into the whole thing: It works for you, it's good economics for you, but now you're having some problems with the SLA. How do you protect yourself by either moving the data from one provider to another provider on the back end or bring it all back in-house? You want to think about the exit strategies that you are going to have to at least plan for. Hopefully, you won't have to deal with them, but you want to build them into your plan as well.

And those are points you want outlined in your contract, obviously, with the provider. How can I get my data out? How long does it take? Can I transfer it?

Pauley: Right. All of those things. And of course, are there special costs or fees associated with the termination as well, because some of them are still a little bit challenging, and you need a good lawyer to read through those contracts.

About the presenter
Wayne Pauley is a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. His focus is on cloud computing, IT as a Service and the software-defined data center.

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