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What Makes Cloud Storage Different from Traditional SAN and NAS?

Primary, Secondary, and Tiered Storage

Many in the IT industry seem to enjoy arguing exactly what does and does not constitute a cloud service. As I mentioned in my post on the controversy over private cloud services, I do not feel that these arguments are productive. We should focus on results and business value instead of arguing about semantics. However, the current crop of cloud storage solutions have many important differences from traditional SAN and NAS storage, something that seems to surprise many end users I meet. Cloud storage capacity is not your fathers blocks and files!

Primary, Secondary, and Tiered Storage

Most IT infrastructures contain a wide variety of storage devices, but these have traditionally been divided into two categories:

  1. Primary or production storage serves active applications and is accessed randomly. The primary category includes most familiar direct-attached disks (DAS), storage area networks (SAN), and network-attached storage (NAS). Newcomers in the primary category include content-addressable storage (CAS) and cloud storage services, including the Nirvanix Cloud Storage Service.
  2. Secondary storage is used for data protection and is normally accessed sequentially. Tape media and optical discs were the traditional secondary storage types, but disk-based systems including virtual tape libraries (VTL) have recently become popular. CAS and cloud systems are also often used for secondary storage due to their lower cost.

The performance and capability of primary storage systems varies greatly, as does the price. For this reason, many large organizations classify their primary storage into a number of tiers. Tier 1 storage typically boasts the highest performance, reliability, and cost. Fibre Channel SAN arrays from companies like EMC, HDS, and IBM have dominated this market for over a decade. Most organizations also offer less expensive lower-tier SAN, NAS, and DAS capacity in an effort to reduce their capital equipment cost.

Primary Storage Options

IT architects are faced with a dizzying variety of primary storage options. Dozens of companies build and sell storage devices, and these leverage a variety of connectivity protocols. Each type of storage presents a trade-off in a number of areas, from performance to cost. There is no intrinsic reason to reject one type or adopt another - the selection process must take into account the technical and business requirements of the application that will use it.

DASSANNASCASCloud
Example Seagate disk
Dell PowerVault
HDS USP
3PAR InServ
NetApp Filer
Windows server
EMC Centera
Caringo CAStor
Nirvanix
Amazon S3
EMC Atmos
Protocol SATA, SAS FC, iSCSI SMB, NFS API, XAM API
Access Method block block file/directory object

object/
metadata

Connectivity Copper cable Fiber optic
Ethernet
Ethernet Ethernet Ethernet
Internet
Throughput 1.5 Gb/s-
3.0 Gb/s
1 Gb/s-
10 Gb/s
100 Mb/s-
10 Gb/s
100 Mb/s-
1 Gb/s
1.5 Mb/s-
1 Gb/s
Latency 5-10 ms 5-10 ms 20-50 ms 50-100 ms 100-500 ms
Use case Bulk storage
OS/boot
Enterprise applications Unstructured data Archival data Offsite storage
Collaboration

A large number of options are available for primary storage

Enterprise storage technology has evolved a great deal over four decades. The first great step was the separation of the disk from the server in the mid 1960's. Over the next 20 years, protocols were developed to share disk storage among multiple servers, creating the first storage networks. The introduction of RAID in the 1980's led to the development of more virtualized SAN storage systems in the next decade. At the same time, networking companies developed file sharing protocols, creating the NAS market. By the end of the 1990's, the enterprise storage market was divided between block-based SAN and file-based NAS.

The limitations of these block- and file-focused paradigms led to the development of content-addressable storage in the first half of this decade. CAS systems discarded traditional protocols and concepts in favor of application-focused APIs and a universal naming standard for unique objects. Many early applications treated CAS objects as simple files. But applications soon developed to take advantage of the capabilities of the unique capabilities of these systems, especially in the document management and archiving space.

Enter The Cloud

Cloud storage was developed independently from all historical storage concepts, although it might appear to be an evolution of CAS. Both are object-based, use APIs rather than traditional storage protocols, and include per-object metadata. In fact, it is fairly straightforward to integrate today's cloud storage systems into applications developed to leverage CAS. But cloud storage goes further in terms of application integration and programmability (take a look at the Nirvanix API, for example). Vendors have added many features, from replication to indexing to media transcoding, each of which can be called by applications through custom APIs. Cloud storage also leverages the openness of the Internet and modern programming concepts, incorporating the Internet Protocol (IP), HTTP, SSL, REST, and SOAP.

This is not to say that cloud storage can only be used by specialized applications, however. Most cloud systems include basic web browser interfaces. More interestingly, many interface solutions have been developed to bridge traditional storage protocols to the cloud. One major contributor to the success of Amazon's S3 storage offering was Jungle Disk, a consumer-oriented application that allows users to automatically back up their files to the service. Nirvanix developed CloudNAS for enterprise users, which presents cloud storage service as a Linux filesystem or Windows drive. And EMC and Emulex recently revealed that they are working on a bridge between block-based SANs and cloud storage.

Although it can be leveraged by existing applications, often at lower cost, the real benefit from cloud storage comes when applications take advantage of its compelling distribution, collaboration, and programmability capabilities. The entire storage industry is moving toward greater levels of application awareness and integration. LUNs (fake disk drives) served up by SAN arrays are being hidden behind shared file systems in the server virtualization space. NAS is also being updated for greater integration with applications. This is a necessary step to bring about a real storage revolution that will see a transition from bulk management of capacity to granular management of data to integrated use of information.

That's why cloud storage is different, and why cloud storage matters!

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett has provided vendor-independent end user consulting on storage topics for over 10 years. He has been a storage columnist and has authored numerous articles for industry publications. Stephen is a popular presenter at industry events and recently received Microsoft’s MVP award for contributions to the enterprise storage community. As the director of consulting for Nirvanix, Foskett provides strategic consulting to assist Fortune 500 companies in developing strategies for service-based tiered and cloud storage. He holds a bachelor of science in Society/Technology Studies, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.