In the last five years, cloud has fundamentally changed the way companies think about data storage. The once hard-and-fast rule that you had to expand your storage footprint to avoid running out of capacity is dead. Or it should be, anyway, since cloud storage offers unlimited scalability at an affordable price. As the cloud and its associated tools have evolved, however, the list of cloud storage terms seems to be expanding as quickly as the volume of files in the average office. Understandably, this has created confusion, and one of the more common misconceptions is the idea that hybrid and cloud-integrated storage are equivalent.
On some level the conflation of these terms makes sense. In generic terms, hybrid storage means that some of your data is local and some is not. Experts have defined it as a family of solutions that integrates on-premises storage with cloud storage. Looked at this way, an enormous range of technologies can be crammed under the hybrid tent, from gateway-like appliances that stand between local storage and the cloud to Amazon’s Glacier system – a means of storing infrequently accessed backup and archive data. The definition is simply too broad.
The real difference between hybrid and cloud-integrated storage lies in how they take advantage of the cloud. The most common uses of hybrid cloud tend to treat the cloud as an extension of traditional storage infrastructure. Enterprises have grown accustomed to segmenting storage hardware and appliances into different tiers with particular performance or operational characteristics. For IS and IT professionals, moving data sets between these tiers, based on need, is the norm. Hybrid uses the cloud as one more storage tier with specific characteristics, and the hybrid approach is tuned for IT departments with the resources to be able to choose where data lives and the specialized storage expertise to utilize complex management tools to move it around.
The hybrid approach is effective for a number of use cases. If you know for certain that a large pool of data needs to be retained, but doesn’t need to be accessed in a high-performance manner, then using the cloud as an archive or backup tier is a good option. The same goes for companies with cloud-based applications that need to live close to specific data sets.
But we shouldn’t consider hybrid to be any system that uses both local storage and cloud. That’s almost like calling a traditional automobile a hybrid vehicle simply because it includes a battery. Yes, the battery is a critical piece, but it’s not integrated as completely as it is in a true hybrid vehicle. In the storage world, the hybrid cloud is evolutionary. It’s a positive upgrade in a familiar system. But cloud-integrated storage is revolutionary because it effectively brings the capacity of the cloud into local storage. And in doing so, it creates something entirely new.
Most enterprises and their IT departments aren’t simply dealing with massive data sets or whole workloads that are easy to separate. They have to manage file volumes split between active and inactive data, that need to be accessed in multiple ways – and they have to do so efficiently. This is why cloud-integrated storage was developed. This is what it’s made for. In a cloud-integrated storage system, the cloud isn’t just another storage tier. The cloud is a part of the storage. Active data is automatically cached on local hardware while the whole data set is kept in the cloud. This way, capacity scales in the cloud, so companies can stop worrying about regularly expanding their hardware footprints. Managing these files becomes simpler as well, and this is another key distinction. Hybrid solutions may offer a certain amount of automatic tiering, but not as much to cloud, and making it work requires complex policy configurations. With cloud-integrated storage, though, caching is automatic. Efficient caching algorithms ensure that infrequently accessed files, archive and backup all are in a secure pool of cloud storage.
Some enterprises are drawn to hybrid as a way to dip their toes into the cloud storage pool without fully committing. If your company does deal with whole workloads that can be moved around, then this is a good strategy. Hybrid is probably the right choice. But if your file volumes are split between active and inactive data, cloud-integrated storage is ideal. It also delivers a number of additional advantages, including automatic protection, cost savings and, in some cases, anytime, anywhere access to files – even on mobile devices. For more information on how Nasuni fits into this space, watch our quick video overview.
Amazon S3, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure are growing at an incredible rate. See how they compare in the 2015 State of Cloud Storage infographic.