Think All Public Clouds Are The Same? Think Again.
One would think that the rationale to place data in a public cloud is universal. Not so. The variety of reasons chosen by users also points out the varying capabilities of public cloud services. The industry has a tendency to lump all public clouds in the same bucket. In fact, I’ve seen some presentations putting Box.net next to Terremark next to Rackspace. But, as the cloud market matures it is becoming clear that each offering is different, as some are designed with consumer-level features and are trying to move upstream, while others are designed with enterprise-level features and working to scale downstream.
On the topic of enterprise clouds, I spoke to two of Nirvanix’s customers recently, one just before the holiday season and one yesterday. Both conversations exemplified what was important to them and why they chose the Nirvanix public cloud service, the Cloud Storage Network.
The National Geographic Society HQ is located in Washington, DC and they just shifted to the Nirvanix public cloud. Until about three months ago the corporate system archive was kept on optical disk systems. This included all the source files for National Geographic issues, going back to 1888, source photographs, PDF files and a variety of other data used by writers, photographers and editors. The vast library of video files is kept elsewhere. Just a few years ago the IT group had migrated all this data from a tape-based system to optical disks and the migration had taken about one year. Then the optical disk drive vendor had gone out of business. Perhaps this was the right time to take a more strategic view and not buy another physical system to manage and maintain on their data center floor. IT was no longer interested in doing rip and replace of systems every three to five years and then spending a year migrating the data to the next system. They felt they were in the constant business of doing updates and data migrations, leaving them with less time for doing strategic work. This time they decided to choose a strategic solution that would free them from this IT bondage.
Dan Backer, Director of Infrastructure Systems at National Geographic, liked the idea of going to the public cloud so that his users could access the data from anywhere in the world. He would never have to do another data migration; would only pay for the storage he actually used; could free up space in the data center for other strategic initiatives, and never had to worry about data protection again. His research led him to Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, Microsoft Azure and several other public cloud offerings, besides Nirvanix. He chose Nirvanix for several reasons.
First, Dan highlighted that he liked the fact that the Nirvanix sales and support team behaved and interacted with him much in the same way as the enterprise sales team from his previous storage vendor. It was not a credit card oriented, self-service, “visit our support forum” type of business discussion.
The Nirvanix team understood his storage needs, the sensitivity of his business data and the importance of a true geo-diverse, global namespace (which will become more important to him in the future). He liked the fact that Nirvanix could create a private cloud on his premises, if and when he needed it, and that it could be federated seamlessly with the Nirvanix public cloud, to deliver a true hybrid cloud. He could pay by the drink. He didn’t have to pay additional charges for downloading data, bandwidth usage and enterprise support, as he would for AWS S3, for instance. He liked the fact that he could do a robo copy of terabytes of data and send the physical disks and tapes to Nirvanix for uploading via their White Glove Data Transfer service. And while he was paying for storage, his data would be protected automatically by Nirvanix, by keeping a live copy (not a DR copy) in another node, in another state. He also liked the fact that the Nirvanix cloud automatically grooms archived data so any silent data corruption over the years is corrected and he never has to worry about it. He knew that all data is encrypted in flight and at rest. He also knew that at some point in time he could enable the subscribers of National Geographic to access select files, without having to change or expand any system footprint in his data center. He would simply ask Nirvanix to provide global access through up to eight data centers spread around the world and that these eight nodes would, without any ifs ands or buts, look like one namespace. No other public cloud service delivered on all these requirements.
This is Dan’s first venture into the cloud. He is very optimistic and enthusiastic about the cloud and taking a measured and methodical approach to migrating archival data to Nirvanix. National Geographic is similar to one of Nirvanix’s other big media customers, NBCUniversal, who started with a 40TB archive and grew that to over 2 petabytes over the course of 24 months, uploading north of 100TB per month. We will do another pass at Dan in a year or so to gauge his experience. For now he is definitely one of the leaders in the enterprise shift to the cloud.
We also spoke with DRFortress, a managed service provider who operates out of a former large-scale Equinix data center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Fred Rodi, President of DRFortress, needed to expand his portfolio of managed services to include cloud storage. He had the choice of buying equipment from a major storage vendor and building a cloud on his data center premises but this would require a huge investment, hiring people to manage the infrastructure and training them, and dealing with all the maintenance issues. If he went down the public cloud path he would need to keep his customer’s data in CA or Oregon, given current offerings from Amazon and other cloud providers. But that would introduce huge amounts of latency for his Hawaiian customers and send his bandwidth charges through the roof. From Fred’s view, he was located in the middle of the Pacific ocean and ideally wanted to provide a local cloud on his premises but still have access to a public cloud on the mainland, but only if it all looked like a single cloud with a single namespace.
DRFortress is located very strategically approximately halfway between Asia Pacific and the West Coast of the US. For a number of customers in APAC, Hawaii could offer a lower latency alternative than having to go all the way to the West Coast. This midpoint location would be even more strategic if the cloud they used all shared a global namespacethat stretches across countries and data centers and pools all data into a single globally accessible repository.
As he researched the alternative solutions available in the marketplace he narrowed his choice quickly to Nirvanix. Why? Because Nirvanix is the only one that offered a true hybrid cloud that was fully managed as a service with usage-based pricing. In essence, this means he could create a private cloud in his data center using an exact architectural equivalent of the Nirvanix CSN and tie that to all eight locations of the Nirvanix public cloud. This would give him instant global presence and all nine locations would present a single global namespace for his customers. But the best part for him was that Nirvanix would manage the cloud instance in his data center and that he would continue to pay by the drink. To him this definition of “hybrid cloud” made infinite sense. Fred indicated that Amazon provided “security by ambiguity” and didn’t allow third party data center inspections and audits which he grew concerned about. Fred also took a look at other companies claiming to have a cloud storage service, such as Savvis, but found that they had no actual web-based object store, only raw disk coupled with servers in tightly bound cloud compute nodes.
Public clouds have come a long way in the past three years. An increasing number of enterprises have some of their data in one or more public clouds today. As the industry starts to mature it is becoming clear that all public clouds are not created equal. In fact, beyond the obvious there are vast differences between public cloud offerings. They differ in how they deal with multi-tenancy, what they mean by global namespace, whether or not they charge for bandwidth and data transfer, how they define a hybrid cloud, and whether they provide a fully managed service or just support a “cloud framework” that you deploy and maintain yourself.
Are you looking to include public cloud access in your strategic IT plans for 2012? Do the homework. While it all looks similar on top, the icebergs are right under the surface.
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