Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Don’t Build Your Cloud with Iron!

I suppose almost everyone remembers cloud-watching as a child: lying on your back outdoors watching them morph from horse to dragon to spaceship to—well, you could find almost anything in those solid-seeming billows drifting overhead. And if someone had asked you then what clouds are made of, I can imagine any number of answers, and not one of them would have involved iron.

But that’s precisely what big-iron storage vendors like EMC, NetApp, and others would like you to think. The hoopla at EMC World last week in Las Vegas got me thinking about this, such as this quote from EMC CEO Joe Tucci’s keynote: “virtualization is the key to the cloud. This is the year when most, if not all, mission critical applications get virtualized and run on cloud topologies. This will be the year when all IT professionals will understand the opportunities [presented by the cloud].”

I couldn’t agree more with the first sentence: virtualization is the key to the cloud. And I hope this is the year when everyone understands cloud opportunities: especially the opportunity to get out from under the iron clouds that storage hardware vendors are pushing. (That image that makes me want to cover my head and run for cover!)

Virtualization software like VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V makes it easy to create virtual machines from a cloud of common CPU and memory resources without worrying about the iron behind the scenes. That’s a huge productivity boost for IT, so why not do the same with storage? Point-and-click creation of virtual disks—no matter whose storage hardware is behind them—would sure beat pushing heavy iron around.

Not surprisingly, private cloud providers like External IT, Host.net, and iomart hosting have been quick to recognize this opportunity. The single point of failure, hardware lock-in, and expense of big-iron storage solutions made it hard for them to provide the agile, cost-effective, highly-reliable infrastructure that their customers demand. So they’ve moved on to storage virtualization software that runs in the cloud like everything else and transforms all their storage assets into a single pool of storage that can very rapidly be “carved up” into virtual disks for customer applications or servers.

The benefits they talk about include:
  • High availability with synchronous mirroring of all storage resources
  • Disaster recovery with asynchronous replication
  • Zero-downtime SAN hardware refreshes
  • Improved storage performance from intelligent software cache
  • No hardware lock-in and easy migration of older storage hardware to lower tiers

So forget the rivets and virtualize all the way down to keep your cloud soft and agile.

(Photograph taken by
Karin Dalziel)

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