Cloud Storage Gateway - The 5 Dirty Secrets - Nasuni
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Dirty Secrets: 5 Weaknesses of Cloud Storage Gateways

(Updated June 1, 2018) The last research from Gartner on the cloud storage gateway market in 2016 stated it’s “at a crossroads due to low customer adoption and the tenuous financial condition of small suppliers.” We agree. Original cloud gateway vendors that were designed around controller-centric architectures have been marginalized by Enterprise File Services platforms with cloud-first architectures that work with any on-premises or public cloud storage. The remaining gateway solutions are provided by the cloud vendors themselves, who see them as necessary to driving utilization of their own cloud storage.

The 5 Weaknesses of Cloud Storage Gateways

In this blog, I’ll explain in technical detail the 5 dirty secrets (plus 2 new bonus ones) of why cloud storage gateways are phasing out, and why Enterprise File Services solutions have emerged from this now defunct category as the modern, cloud-based way for organizations to store, protect, synchronize and collaborate on files across all locations at scale.

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1. A Cloud Storage Gateway Doesn’t Support CIFS/NFS

Almost all applications used by enterprises today are compatible with the CIFS/SMB and NFS file sharing protocols. As a result, applications can read from and write to any file server or NAS device that supports these standards.

This is not the case with a cloud storage gateway. Amazon’s S3 API has become the de-facto standard for reading from, writing to, and managing cloud object storage. If you’re using a cloud storage gateway, your apps must be completely rewritten to support this new standard.

The better alternative is to leverage the same approach as traditional file storage – use a file system. For decades, file systems have provided a “middleware” layer that enables users and IT to store, organize, secure, protect, and manage files from any application. A file system designed for object storage that supports CIFS/SMB and NFS protocols can provide this same level of broad application compatibility.

This is what solutions like Nasuni Cloud File Services can offer. Nasuni is powered by the first file system designed for cloud object storage – Nasuni UniFS®. It speaks CIFS/SMB and NFS on one end and S3 on the other, so existing apps, drive mappings, and scripts will all keep working without rewrites.

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2. A Cloud Storage Gateway Will Result in High Egress Costs

Public cloud object storage has been widely viewed as only usable for archive or backup data, which is rarely accessed. That’s because the egress charges incurred each time data must be retrieved make public cloud object storage too expensive to store active data sets, such as frequently used files typically stored on NAS devices and file servers.

Cloud storage gateways don’t help with egress charges. But a file system designed for object storage solves this problem, enabling public cloud storage to be cost-effectively used for NAS and file server use cases.

An object storage-based file system like Nasuni UniFS minimizes egress charges by caching just the active pieces of itself – files and metadata – anywhere file access is needed, typically on-premises in main, remote, and branch offices. By using physical or virtual edge appliances that support the same CIFS and NFS file sharing protocols as traditional NAS (see #1 above), and intelligent caching algorithms that ensure a high cache hit rate, this modern file system minimizes the need to request files from public cloud storage, reducing egress charges in the process.

A modern file system designed for object storage also compresses and de-duplicates file data before sending it from the edge to the cloud. This can reduce the amount of object storage needed to store enterprise files by an average of 40%, saving on both cloud storage subscription costs and the egress charges to retrieve the file data from the cloud.

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3. A Cloud Storage Gateway Doesn’t Offer High Performance File Access

Latency has been a major blocker to using object storage for day-to-day file sharing. Having to connect to public cloud object storage every time a file is needed would frustrate users, since the network bandwidth from each office to the public cloud is rarely sufficient to provide the LAN–speed access they’re used to. And the cost to fix the latency issue in all locations would be astronomical.

Private cloud deployments in which object storage is hosted on-site also have latency issues. While users in the main office will enjoy fast, LAN-speed access to the object storage in the data center, users in remote and branch offices will have the same performance challenges they have with traditional NAS. VPN or other remote access approaches will be required, resulting in slow access over the WAN. Or, object storage will have to be replicated from the data center to the remote sites at significant cost.

Cloud storage gateways don’t solve the latency problem. But a file system designed for object storage does. Solutions like Nasuni overcome the file latency challenge in the same way they solve the egress charge challenge. Edge appliances can be deployed in any location to cache actively used files from public or private cloud object storage. The appliances look like regular file servers or NAS devices, presenting shares via standard protocols (e.g. CIFS, NFS) for high speed file access. Yet they require, on average, only 20% of the hardware resources because they are only caching the active files. Enterprises can choose from flash-optimized physical appliances or use existing hyperconverged infrastructure or flash arrays as virtual edge appliances.

All appliances are automatically synchronized with the latest version of every actively used file, so users are always connecting to their local edge appliances at fast, local LAN speed. Intelligent caching algorithms yield cache hit rates of nearly 99%, so there is rarely any need to request files across a slower public internet or WAN connection.

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4. A Cloud Storage Gateway Doesn’t Provide a Hierarchical Folder Structure

The flat address space used by cloud object storage is one reason it is so scalable. It’s also another reason is has not been suitable for traditional NAS and file server use cases.

The human mind likes to organize information in a hierarchy. This is why the filing cabinet, with its drawers, folders, and subfolders, has been used as the metaphor for computer file systems since the dawn of the computer era. Users want their group shares, project directories, and home drives organized in a hierarchy that is familiar and easy to navigate.

Cloud storage gateways – because they don’t offer a file system – cannot provide this familiar hierarchical folder structure. But an object storage-based file system such as Nasuni UniFS does by layering a file and folder structure on top of the flat address space of object storage. Enterprise IT organizations benefit from unlimited scalability, while keeping users happy and ensuring fast acceptance and adoption.

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5. A Cloud Storage Gateway Doesn’t Offer Advanced Data Protection

Traditional file storage is typically protected in two ways:

  • Third-party backup software with full and incremental backup schedules periodically protects files and enables them to be recovered to various points in time. Recovery times depend on whether the backups are to tape or disk, and whether the media is on or off-site.
  • Snapshot software captures a point in time copy of the file storage, usually on another disk array. Because snapshots are costly, with full copies on disk, snapshots are not typically retained for more than 1 week, and are often overwritten by the next snapshot.

Cloud storage gateways don’t provide either method of data protection. They do leverage the underlying object storage platform to offer a geo-replication option to create copies of objects in other locations. But this is intended for disaster recovery, and doesn’t address the need for file-level recoveries at multiple recovery points.

An object storage-based file system enables object storage to surpass traditional file storage when it comes to file-level recovery points and recovery times. The most advanced object storage-based file systems like Nasuni UniFS offer continuous versioning, which captures snapshots of files as they change, encrypting, de-duplicating, and compressing them and storing the delta differences in object storage.

Each delta change is stored as its own file version using a Write Once Read Many (WORM) approach that prevents erasure. By creating an unlimited, immutable version history of every file in object storage, the need for file backup software, hardware, and media – and the IT overhead to manage it – are eliminated, as are the associated costs.

Solutions like Nasuni also enable any version of any file to be recovered through self-service or IT-assisted interfaces, significantly improving upon the recovery times (RTOs) and recovery points (RPOs) offered by traditional file storage.

6. A Cloud Storage Gateway Doesn’t Offer Multi-Site File Collaboration

Since you made it this far, here is the first of 2 more bonus “secrets.” Digital transformation requires businesses to become thoughtful and flexible in the way they invent and adapt. They must innovate in an agile way. They must tap the intellectual horsepower of their employees – wherever they may be – to design products and services that are differentiated from the competition. This level of collaboration cannot be accomplished without a fast, efficient way to store and synchronize files across multiple locations – which a cloud storage gateway does not provide.

Cloud storage combined with a global file system like Nasuni UniFS, however, offers a simple, high performance, and cost-effective solution to storing and synchronizing files across multiple sites at scale. The global file system stores all files and metadata in private or public cloud object storage. High-speed internet bandwidth is used to securely propagate just the changes to active files across edge appliances. With every appliance kept constantly in sync, users across all locations will think they’re working on one big, fast local file server.

Changes made to files in different locations are automatically aligned based on their date and time stamps and stored in object storage as independent versions if the file system offers global volume management capabilities (which Nasuni UniFS does). By storing just the tiny fragments of each file that have changed and leveraging the low cost of object storage, the file system provides an infinite version history of every file without impacting IT budgets.

File locking is another powerful capability a file system like Nasuni UniFS offers that a cloud storage gateway doesn’t. Nasuni Global File Lock™ ensures only one user anywhere in the world can make file changes at a time. It is architected as a scalable cloud service with redundant lock servers and lock server failover built-in to help minimize the data loss – and productivity loss – caused by version conflict.

7. A Cloud Storage Gateway Locks You in to One Cloud Vendor

Cloud storage gateways are typically designed with one goal in mind – get data into that vendor’s cloud storage as fast as possible, and keep it there. Yet, most enterprise IT organizations are moving to cloud storage to free themselves from hardware vendor lock-in, and don’t want to face the same issue again with cloud vendor lock-in.

A global file system and an independent Enterprise File Services platform like Nasuni that supports cloud storage from any vendor avoids this issue. Nasuni supports public cloud storage such as Amazon S3 and Azure Blob (Object) as well as on-premises (private) cloud storage such as Dell EMC ECS, IBM Cloud Object Storage (formerly Cleversafe), Hitachi Content Platform (HCP), and Western Digital HGST, among others. You can even use more than one at the same time with Nasuni, as its edge appliances can mount volumes to different cloud storage platforms in the same deployment.

Well, that was longer than I planned. But hopefully it gives you more perspective on why Gartner is forecasting the demise of cloud storage gateways. And why Nasuni is growing faster than ever.

Let me know what you think by commenting below. Or, if you have a private or public cloud-first initiative, or you’re just looking for a more modern, scalable primary or archive file storage solution, test drive Nasuni in your own environment.

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