The Year Ahead in Cloud Computing

The pressure to create a cloud presence will only become stronger in 2011. What IT needs to know to be prepared.

By Nicos Vekiarides, CEO, TwinStrata

From cave drawings and stone tablets to file cabinets and data server racks, the way we store our data is continually evolving. The adoption of cloud storage by small and midsize businesses (SMBs) is an inevitable next step in that evolution. In 2010, many companies dipped their toes into the cloud storage pool with basic backup and archive operations. In 2011, expect to see those same companies dive right in.

In the face of flat or shrinking budgets, companies can no longer afford to overlook cloud services. New “pay-as-you-go” pricing models for cloud services provide customers with an alternative that no longer requires them to invest large sums of their precious IT budget into dedicated and frequently underutilized data servers. Cloud’s ability to simply ramp up as more capacity is needed has solved the inherent problem with cloud’s predecessor, dedicated IT infrastructures, and their associated fixed capacities. Besides significant cost-savings, there is also a convenience factor in the cloud’s ability to provide access to data from anywhere -- something you couldn’t dream of with the old, stagnant racks of storage.

With all the savings in costs, time, and resources that cloud storage promises, SMBs can now focus on building applications that support their business growth. In 2010 we saw how cloud has turned the tables in the data center realm; in 2011 we will see cloud transition from a “viable alternative” to a storage staple.

This article forecasts a few of the more interesting trends that will be happening in the 2011 cloud storage arena.

Traditional Disaster Recovery Going the Way of the Dodo

Evolution is the key to survival, and for many SMBs fighting their way through a painful recession, survival is the name of the game. Thanks to cloud services, 2010 brought along with it the means for companies to stay afloat by giving them access to cloud storage’s economy of scale. SMBs are continuing to readily adopt the cloud as a viable strategy to attain increased automation, capacity, and adaptability in their data center.

No longer burdened by physical storage’s high entry price and hidden costs (utilities, operation, and rental space), SMBs will continue their data center transformation with an even greater reliance on the cloud. The evolution in storage we saw in 2010 will progress to the data center as a whole in 2011. Many of the typical data center’s off-site services, such as disaster recovery (DR), will find a natural home in the cloud, without dedicated off-site infrastructure and administration.

Let’s face it -- traditional backup and recovery operations continue to have the same issues they had 20 years ago, especially with the proliferation of remote-office locations. Tape-based DR solutions are the modern equivalent of ancient papyrus scrolls, and their associated business and technological problems are well documented -- restore times of anywhere from 24 hours to one week and failure rates of up to 60 percent. Data-driven companies should think twice about using tape for DR now that cloud is here -- a major outage can be disastrous, possibly even business-ending, while waiting for tapes to be found. Furthermore, tape’s modern-in-the-90s successor, disk-to-disk, is neither an economic nor an elastic solution when expanded off-site.

With instant recovery options, zero-footprint snapshots, and cached volumes, cloud backup and recovery will drive the growth of cloud storage. SMBs using cloud will thrive, while other segments using traditional off-site DR solutions will continue to incur great expense and be viewed as a bit prehistoric.

Progression of Compression

With the proliferation of cloud storage and recovery systems and an ever-increasing amount of data being stored, cloud storage providers will need to provide faster access to customer data than is currently available with today’s standard gigabit Ethernet connections. However, ubiquitous infrastructure improvements will take time and will most certainly not be completed before the end of 2011. Thus, in the short term, better compression technologies will emerge.

Today’s compression technologies still struggle with images and rich media. Although new and improved data deduplication methodologies are on the horizon, the fact is that pushing large and varied data volumes to the cloud across existing network infrastructure will continue to present a challenge. As we move into 2011, a greater number of companies of all sizes will choose to utilize cloud storage, and as they do, better compression technologies will be a must. Emerging technologies will be critical to ensure satisfactory performance going forward.

Storm Avoidance Built-in

Last year marked the establishment and introduction of policy-based cloud provider platforms that will become the standard for cloud providers of the future. In the year ahead, cloud providers will increasingly tailor their offerings to meet unique customer requirements.

SMBs can expect the emergence of cloud-service portals that will allow users to align their specific business needs with the entire ecosystem of cloud service providers and automatically select and implement the optimum combination of solutions across applications and desired outcomes. These portals will provide users with a catalog of criteria-driven QoS options consisting of availability, access, recovery, performance, cost, and security SLAs to name a few.

Beyond cloud-provider policies, software solutions that work across multiple cloud providers and on-premise clouds will enable customers to address single-provider failures and enhance availability to reach new levels. These software solutions, combined with emerging industry standards, will also remove the risk of provider “lock-in” and enable true portability across providers.

The Winds of Change

Cloud storage winds fueled by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others are moving at hurricane speeds. In fact, those not yet on the bandwagon are conspicuous in their absence. The interesting question is whether or not the big storage vendors will continue “cloud watching” from afar. Companies that currently buy a large amount of IT infrastructure will most certainly be evaluating and adopting cloud solutions for cost savings and convenience. The pressure to create a cloud presence will only become stronger for those waiting in the wings.

What would more cloud service players mean for end users? Competition, and when there is market competition, customers win. Companies aggressively competing for a larger slice of the growing cloud pie will start to offer more economical data plans, reliable data access, and extended data security measures for their customers, making the use of cloud infrastructure increasingly attractive.

Nicos Vekiarides is the CEO of TwinStrata (www.twinstrata.com). You can contact him at nicos@twinstrata.com.