5 min read

Storage Needs To Be A Utility

Why should storage be different than electricity or water? Though there is no complete storage-as-a-utility solution yet, IT pros can integrate products to create one.
8 Great Cloud Storage Services
8 Great Cloud Storage Services
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Water and electricity are both common utilities. You can get water from any fountain, tap or hose. The same goes for electricity -- plug into any outlet and get the power you need. As a user of this utility, you don't have to worry about how water or electricity is delivered. You just access what you need, however and whenever you want it.

Why should storage be any different? As a user, you should be able to access any file that you have permission to, wherever that file is located and no matter where you are -- regardless of the device you're using. This "any-to-any" access method is what essentially makes storage a utility.

I've been involved in storage for most of my career and the technologies and protocols have been more evolutionary than revolutionary -- mainly because storage systems have been reliable and high-performing. But the industry is now experiencing some rapid changes to due advancements in software and software-as-a-service (SaaS). (Disclosure: I sit on the board of directors at Egnyte, a cloud storage and file-sharing provider.)

Software's impact on hardware-centric industries is not new. Software-defined networking and software-defined data centers have revolutionized these industries from a management perspective. Software-defined storage promises to provide the same revolution in the management and efficiency of storage.

[ Want to know more about Egnyte and its competitors? See 7 Cheap Cloud Storage Options. ]

But the addition of software and SaaS to the storage industry offers the ability to create a utility-like access model because of the simplified accessibility. So how does it work?

Let's say I'm on my iPad at the airport. I might need a file that's on a storage device in my office in San Jose, Calif., or even New York. Or maybe it resides on cloud storage service like Amazon S3 or Google Cloud Storage. Shouldn't I have a simple view from my iPad into all the different locations where my files are, even if these are all different storage devices and clouds from different vendors?

And this is about more than mobile device access; storage as a utility is just as important for geographically distributed teams who are collaborating on the same project and need to operate as if they're in the same room. Even if they are 3,000 miles apart, both teams need to access the same file locally, especially if the file is large, and each team needs local access to the latest version of this shared file. They shouldn't have to worry if it's hosted on a large storage device (NetApp, EMC, IBM, etc.) in one location that's automatically synced with a branch storage device (NetApp, Netgear, etc.) in another location. They just know they need fast access to the synced file.

This "any storage to any device" utility concept will also require "any-to-any" storage infrastructure. You'll need to connect any storage device to any storage device so that files are replicated in real time across different locations for fast local access and collaboration. And you'll need to connect any computer or mobile device to any storage device, so files can be accessed without going through the cloud. You'll also need any computer or mobile device to connect through any cloud to any other computer or mobile device.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

The storage industry is getting close to putting the pieces together to create a storage-as-a-utility infrastructure, but unfortunately the two elements needed for this ideal solution, outlined below, are still separate.

File sharing and sync solutions provide the ability to connect any computer or mobile device through the cloud to share files with another computer or mobile device. Some of the more enterprise-focused solutions in this space also provide the capability to connect any computer or mobile device directly to any storage device so that files can be accessed without going through the cloud. Some of the top vendors in this space include Box and Dropbox.

Cloud storage gateway solutions provide the ability to connect any storage box device to any storage device so that files are replicated in real time across different locations for fast local access and collaboration -- although most of these solutions require an expensive hardware appliance in each location instead of leveraging the existing storage device that is already in place. Some of these solutions provide computer and mobile device access to the files once transferred to the cloud, but don't provide the direct access to storage devices (without the cloud) needed by most enterprises for security, risk and regulatory concerns. Top vendors in the space include StorSimple and Panzura.

What's missing is a combination of both of these solutions. By combination, I don't mean procuring and deploying each of these separate solutions, as that really only provides a 1+1=2 return. It will take an integration of these two types of solutions to get the 1+1=3 offering needed to offer storage as a utility.

Of course, storage as a utility is just a means to an end. The ultimate answer is a single solution that will solve all the use cases a global enterprise company must deal with, whether it's mobile device access, remote access to storage devices, large file transfer, site-to-site replication, business continuity, or file sharing and collaboration with employees, clients or partners.

Solutions like this are available today. Do your homework upfront to make sure you are not getting a solution that meets only half your needs.