What is Hybrid Cloud Storage?

Nasuni Founder & CTO Andres Rodriguez explains hybrid cloud storage and its top three qualities in his latest blog.

January 3, 2024

What is hybrid cloud storage? The term has been repurposed several times in the past decade, so there is some confusion in the market. Today, a hybrid cloud storage solution is one that offers all the capabilities and cost savings of a cloud deployment and fast performance at the edge. Before I go into detail, first let’s put the accelerating interest in hybrid cloud storage in context.

Hybrid cloud storage is a direct result of cloud no longer being an option vs. on-prem. Now cloud has become the option.

In the past, using SaaS applications like Salesforce or Office365 was considered enough to satisfy a cloud initiative. Today, everything must go to the cloud. Large organizations want out of the data center business. They want to benefit from the capabilities, mainly around scale and security, and the all-important low cost structure of cloud deployments. There are new and more robust functions and services which are only available through the cloud, including advanced ransomware detection and recovery, agile deployments at a global scale, and centralized management of hundreds of sites worldwide. The combination of cost benefits and capabilities has become too compelling.

This trend of accelerating cloud migrations includes high-performance file storage services. Hybrid cloud storage recognizes that this will not succeed without decoupling the storage (now cloud-based) from the high-performance edge (anywhere you need it). That movable performance edge is what gives this revolutionary file infrastructure its hybrid quality.

Today when I meet with IT leaders there is a profound sense of urgency. Their CIOs and CEOs have mandated the move to cloud. The executives have heard of all the capabilities and cloud is no longer an option. It is a requirement. These larger market forces have generated intense interest in hybrid cloud. This has also spawned imitators — vendors who claim to deliver hybrid cloud storage solutions in hopes of capitalizing on a suddenly popular category — yet a hybrid cloud storage solution must have a very specific set of capabilities. Before I explain what to look for in a hybrid cloud storage solution, though, let’s consider what to avoid.

Hybrid Cloud is Not a Legacy Upgrade

Early hybrid cloud storage solutions focused on making it possible to put files in the cloud but did not really leverage the new scale architectures that were being offered by the hyper-scalers. Instead, they focused on making it relatively easy to transition from traditional storage to a cloud-backed variation. Cloud-backed but not cloud-native. Vendors sold companies on the idea that they could simply lift and shift their traditional infrastructure and file systems to the cloud. This approach failed for various reasons, including scale limitations, unexpectedly high costs, and management complexity. Yet two shortcomings have proven especially important.

The first centers on performance. Organizations need performance at the edge but what we have learned in these past few years is that they need that edge to be anywhere the business demands. You can’t do this efficiently without a true native cloud solution.

The second problem centers on consolidation. Let’s say you have a PB in a local data center. When you receive the executive mandate to move all those files to the public cloud, the lift-and-shift approach presents two options. You either put the files in a pure object storage repository and lose all performance access or you cram the data into the compute layer of the cloud to keep it close to your cloud applications. In this case, you retain performance, but your costs rise because the compute layer is so much more expensive. The complexity becomes overwhelming, too, as you will likely need to deploy multiple file servers to manage that PB.

You end up with infrastructure that is more expensive and more complex than your old environment. This is not what CIOs envision when they mandate cloud transitions.

Hybrid Cloud Delivers Scale, Performance & Security

As you evaluate hybrid cloud storage solutions, I would keep the above warning signs in mind and expect the following three qualities.

1. Fast Edge Performance

Hybrid cloud storage should provide high performance access to files anywhere it is needed — from remote users and small remote sites to large manufacturing plants. Organizations should be able to easily distribute VMs that extend LAN-like performance to all their locations. But hybrid cloud now goes beyond even that. You should be able to deploy a hybrid cloud solution in the cloud itself.

If you need to run everything in the cloud, then you will still need a hybrid solution because the cloud itself is not a uniform medium. In simple terms, you can think of the compute layer as fast and expensive, and the capacity layer as slow and cost-effective. A hybrid cloud solution should allow you to deploy a high-performance edge in the compute layer of the cloud while allowing your file data to scale in cost-effective object storage.

This is a new sort of hybrid arrangement in which you’re optimizing your use of both the high-performance edge in the cloud and the slower but less expensive capacity layer. A true hybrid cloud storage solution should be able to deliver the combination of cost-effective capacity and fast performance at any and every edge … including those in the cloud.

2. Effortless Scalability

The problem of files is a problem of scale and a hybrid cloud storage solution should scale in every dimension. The underlying file system should not max out. The larger solution should impose no limits on the size, number, or volume of your unstructured file data, or on the number of locations and users accessing this file data.

This scale must extend to every aspect of your file infrastructure, including the entire solution stack surrounding your file data. If you have 10 PB of file data, you don’t want 1,000 or even a few dozen cloud-based file servers. You should be able to collapse hundreds of file systems and backup solutions into a single cloud platform. This is what your executive team wants. This level of consolidation is paramount.

Hybrid cloud storage is not simply about managing capacity as you grow. It’s about relying on one technology to manage scale across all dimensions as you grow so that if you expand your file data tenfold you don’t end up with ten times as many problems. This is why you should not simply demand a scalable hybrid cloud storage solution, but one that delivers effortless scale, and is painless and cost-effective no matter how large your global environment.

3. Built-in Security

The other common theme is the importance of ransomware protection. Ransomware is a major concern of every executive, and your leadership team is going to want to know how you are going to mitigate the threat.

Any viable hybrid cloud storage solution should have built-in security that includes a comprehensive ransomware strategy. File storage and data protection don’t need to be separate elements provided by different vendors. They should be part of one integrated cloud-native platform with automated ransomware detection, protection, and rapid recovery capabilities.

The Cloud as Necessity

Consolidating your file data at scale lets you do many, many more useful things with that data. You will streamline operations, reduce your costs, and empower your organization with a new level of agility, as you have the ability to deploy file servers anywhere in the world. You can access data at scale for compliance or data intelligence purposes, and you can deliver an entirely new level of data protection. All of this grows out of having the data in one place that can scale forever. You’re not thinking about how to manage capacity any longer. You’re thinking about what else you can do with this data, and what other insights you can unlock to drive new business.

The urgency and necessity I mentioned above are driving our growth here at Nasuni. The move to cloud is no longer optional. Yet far too many enterprises have been burned by traditional storage vendors peddling cloud-washed solutions. Those solutions have failed, and they will continue to fail because they do not and cannot meet the needs of the modern global organization.

Hybrid cloud storage is a direct result of the collision between the shortcomings of traditional enterprise storage and the potential for radical simplification that we have come to expect from cloud services. It’s the next chapter in the evolution of file services. The source of the momentum and expanding market opportunity is coming from inside companies; it’s a pull not a push. From executive leadership to IT to analysts on the road or project managers on job sites, the needs of organizations to move towards more scale and greater simplification of the infrastructure stack is pulling this revolution in files forward. Hybrid cloud storage is no longer a curiosity to test on a small workload or niche use case. It’s no longer an option or an on-prem add-on. Hybrid cloud storage is the option. It’s the new file infrastructure.

Explore the benefits of hybrid cloud storage and understand how to evaluate solutions by reading Nasuni’s latest white paper here.

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