The challenge of storage management
For many organizations today, storage, and how storage is managed, represent major opportunities to improve. For instance, organizations typically want to provision storage more quickly to fulfill business needs. They also want to simplify and standardize the way storage is administered, in areas like quota management, access management, and user monitoring.
Making these goals actually happen, though, is very challenging, partly because storage is usually deployed and managed in a silo-centric fashion. Instead of being provisioned on demand, in real time and in parallel with the business need for it, storage is tied to particular tasks and systems. It’s administered in fragmented ways as well — some of them automatic, some manual and time-consuming. So even if storage is available in one silo, it’s confined and managed within that silo. There is no standardized, unified way of ensuring that all storage, in all silos, is provisioned and managed optimally to yield the highest business value.
The emergence of cloud storage and its advantages
Cloud architectures can help solve these challenges. Clouds virtualize storage, rendering it a shared resource pool that can be allocated automatically and in a flexible way based on policies — to suit user requests, for example, or to support a spike in workload demand and keep a given service running as it should. So instead of being tied to particular silos, storage is shared in a fluid manner across them. And instead of being managed in a fragmented manner, storage is managed in a unified manner, based on business policies that take into account issues such as user privileges, project quotas, business priorities, security, and others.
This leads to many benefits. Storage-hungry services, for instance, can more easily scale; data can more easily and more comprehensively be replicated, archived, and protected; and it’s much easier to track and monitor how the total storage picture is changing over time, via reports. Storage users can provision IT resources on their own, pay for only the storage they consume, and access data in a timely way when they need it from any location via the internet.
Generally speaking, cloud storage offers an exceptionally fast, optimized way to keep storage aligned with business needs. Cloud storage is based on best practices, it reduces costs and complexity, it minimizes waste, and it helps organizations stay more agile and responsive to new business strategies and market demands.
How does cloud storage work?
How cloud storage works depends on the nature of the business, and the nature of the cloud involved, including the cloud model.
The simplest form of cloud storage, perhaps, would be a basic data server connected to the Internet. User requests to it would be routed back and forth over the Internet, allowing users to upload, download, or manipulate data as it exists on the server directly.
In the real world, of course, cloud storage is dramatically more complex. It typically involves hundreds, or thousands, of such servers; they create redundant copies of data, shared across servers, to help protect that data against loss, and they also distribute data geographically among data centers so that it can more quickly or easily support organizational needs.
Beyond these generalizations, though, exactly what “cloud storage” means, and how it’s implemented, can change based on the organization.
Large, enterprise-class organizations, for instance, may wish to utilize private cloud architectures created, owned, and managed by them — leveraging those clouds to provision and manage storage, and thus achieve all the benefits described above. In this context, it’s important for them to understand that making their existing storage “go cloud” is a process that will have to be handled in a governed fashion, based on best practices, just as the cloud itself should be. Specifically, they’ll want to follow at least three steps:
1. Hyper-efficient storage. Virtualizing storage is an essential first step; once virtualized, storage can be shared across systems, services, and silos and thus becomes far more efficient and better utilized. Efficiency can also be improved through deduplication and data compression, to ensure that information takes up no more storage than necessary.
2. Automated management. To ensure storage is administered consistently, and always in alignment with best practices, all processes related to storage management should be standardized and automated to the fullest possible extent. New capabilities can also arise in this way that will benefit the organization. Examples would include improved mobility of the workforce (which can now access cloud storage on the go from anywhere), and reduced disruption of business services (because the critical data those services use is now more completely and more quickly backed up and archived).
3. Optimization. Given these two earlier steps, the way the cloud manages storage can be optimized still further, creating even more value. A storage service catalog can be created, for example, that takes into account logical performance attributes such as capacity efficiency and I/O performance. Self-service provisioning and automated billing/departmental chargeback are also possible.
What about small and mid-market organizations? They, too, can often benefit from cloud storage, but through a very different implementation. Rather than creating cloud architectures and leveraging them to optimize storage provisioning and management, as described above, they can simply contract with a public cloud provider that supports these goals, then bills on a utility basis.
This way, the enhanced service scalability, data protection, and workforce accessibility strengths of cloud storage can still be realized — but the organization itself is not responsible for purchasing, integrating, optimizing, or managing the cloud infrastructure. Furthermore, since costs are generated on a utility basis, those costs will only climb when real storage utilization climbs. This helps maximize IT return on investment, always a pressing concern to small and mid-market businesses.
The experience and technology to optimize cloud storage
Cloud storage enables organizations to reduce time, cost, and complexity while increasing utilization, agility, flexibility, consistency and convenience. It gives you much more flexibility in terms of how you manage your storage capacity and how you migrate your workload and associated data at the right place at the right time. IBM offers the experience and technology to help organizations of all sizes become more agile and responsive to constantly changing business needs.
Among cloud storage solution providers, IBM is exceptionally well positioned to help both mid-market and enterprise-level organizations achieve these goals. No other vendor can match IBM’s proven expertise and track record of successful customer engagements with businesses of all sizes, in solving cloud storage challenges. IBM operates the IBM Smart Business Cloud, one of the largest compute clouds in the world, supporting more than 5 PB of storage.
Choosing the best cloud storage with IBM
IBM offers the industry’s most efficient storage technologies to facilitate successful cloud applications. For example, the policy-driven Active Cloud Engine helps improve storage efficiency by automatically distributing files to multiple locations (within or across data centers) and by moving desired files to the right storage tier based on priorities and costs, including tape, or even deleting expired files altogether. Additionally, it spurs team collaboration among geographically distributed users and reduces network costs by keeping files close to their place of primary utilization.
If your goal is to virtualize existing general purpose storage, transforming it into a cloud-optimized, shared pool, the IBM SAN Volume Controller can achieve exactly that — and that’s a critical initial step in making any private or hybrid cloud initiative a successful one.
For data protection via cloud-based backup and business continuity services, IBM offers specific solutions: IBM ProtecTIER, which provides in-line data deduplication to eliminate file redundancy, and IBM Real-time Compression (to ensure files consume the least storage possible). IBM also offers a number of solutions, using automated tiering and data compression, to support cloud-based archiving and records management.
For organizations interested in achieving the benefits of cloud storage without creating a cloud architecture of their own, IBM provides SmartCloud Storage Access services. Via its self-service portal, users can create new accounts in a matter of minutes and provision storage to them in proportion to business requirements. Once created, these accounts can be accessed any time, and anywhere, using any standard Web browser. And ongoing use of cloud storage can be tracked via easy-to-generate reports, as well as modified via user-defined capacity elasticity.
With IBM cloud storage capabilities, we pride ourselves on driving consistency, operational excellence, and enhanced customer value. That’s why eighty percent of Fortune 500 companies use IBM cloud capabilities and there are nearly 20 million public cloud users of IBM cloud services. IBM varied cloud storage technologies are designed for environments from large enterprises to small businesses and midmarket companies.
For instance, one of the oldest news agencies in the world in France uses IBM SAN Volume Controller to perform mirroring, creating a redundant storage architecture. This helps the news agency ensure reliability to meet client demands without interruption and stay ahead of the digital news media and deliver rich content in a demanding global environment. We have now formed a strong partnership with the news agency that plans to continue working with us to meet their evolving storage needs and its clients.
IBM has a long track record of creating value for our customers applying a breadth of expertise across a wide range of technologies in cloud storage around the globe. We demonstrate this expertise and commitment by integrating cloud storage technologies with compute cloud. It is this approach that provides the foundation for our partnerships with our customers, helping us solve the world’s ever emerging cloud storage challenges together.
Vincent Hsu is an IBM Fellow and the CTO for IBM Storage system. His responsibility includes future storage technology, system architecture and design and the solution integration. Prior to this position, Mr. Hsu was the Chief Engineer for IBM enterprise storage system.
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