Private storage cloud: If you build it, they will come

Dean Sheehan, CTO of iWave Software, explains the benefits of the private storage cloud and why he views public storage clouds as a threat to enterprise organizations.

Private storage clouds represent the ideal intersection between our insatiable need for more storage, available quickly and conveniently, and the investment in and utilization of existing enterprise storage infrastructure. In fact, private storage clouds are the best possible solution to an enterprise's current and future storage needs. However, public storage clouds present a credible threat to enterprise organizations and their IT departments.

The age of instant gratification

"Instant gratification is not soon enough."

- Meryl Streep, American actress

This is the age of instant gratification. When we want something, we want it now. As arguably the finest actress of her generation, Streep is a keen observer of human behavior, and her comment is an insightful look at current times.

Gone are the days when we would wait patiently to get something we want. This desire for instantaneous satisfaction is not limited to stubborn teenagers; adults are equally susceptible. If we want information, we have Google. If we want products, we have Amazon. If we want storage, we have Google and Amazon, and several others like Microsoft and Rackspace. This was not always the case.

In the past, if a department manager at an enterprise had any storage requirements he needed fulfilled, he had only one option: the enterprise IT department. This process invariably took time because there was no escaping the chain of command. The request had to be routed through the proper channels and approved at different hierarchical levels in the organization. Consequently, it took anywhere between a week to a few months before a request was fulfilled and the storage requirements met. Subsequent modifications, even minor ones, faced the same problem. This was not an ideal way to do business, and yes, the requesting department manager was often frustrated. However, there wasn't much he could do about it. That is not true any longer.

With the likes of Amazon and Google offering storage in the cloud, the same requesting manager now has another option: bypass IT and get on the public cloud. Now this may not be the ideal solution, but faced with the alternative of the traditional IT paradigm with bureaucratic delays, it does seem to be a more convenient solution. Therefore, in today's age of instant gratification, enterprise IT, and the good governance it provides, faces the very real possibility of becoming redundant.

The convenient option is always more popular

"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer and poet

The above quote is frequently taken literally, with more than 4,400 patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for new mousetraps and thousands more unsuccessful applicants, making mousetraps the "most frequently invented device in U.S. history," according to Wikipedia.

Consider the case of computing power as used by scientists in research institutions. A decade ago, when only supercomputers costing millions of dollars could run simulations, scientists had to apply to use the resident supercomputer in batches. Today, when the average personal computer can crunch numbers as fast as yesterday's supercomputers, scientists can run complex simulations on their desktops, thereby reducing the demand for specialized supercomputers. In fact, many of today's supercomputers are developed by connecting multiple personal computers together since it's a much cheaper option than building one from the ground up.

Now, storage is no different from any other computing product or service; if there's a new and more convenient alternative available, it will be more popular than the older version. And with the advent of cloud computing, a new and more convenient option is available in the form of cloud storage.

Cloud storage has nothing to do with storing data in the clouds. The "cloud" in the term refers to the ubiquity of the service and how it is perceived by the end user. Thus, even if the data is physically stored on servers, the user perceives it as being in a virtual cloud. There are multiple advantages that such storage clouds can offer over traditional, standalone servers:

  • Scalability - Cloud storage allows for space to be dynamically allocated and used as per requirement. Moreover, this can be done with a few commands in a matter of minutes, as compared to the weeks required to scale up with traditional storage.
  • Disaster recovery - Cloud storage allows for improved disaster recovery because of its distributed nature.
  • Load balancing - Cloud storage allows for fewer connection bottlenecks with dynamic rerouting of traffic. This allows for both faster saving and subsequent processing of data.
  • Mobility - Cloud storage allows access to any authorized user over the company local area network (LAN) or Internet. This enables more convenient sharing of information and coordinated working.
  • Cost savings - Cloud storage requires fewer dedicated IT staff members for maintenance. Operating expenses are also reduced by using only as much storage as is required, neither more nor less.
Now, there are two possible ways that such storage clouds can be constructed - by using storage of third-party providers or by using existing internal enterprise IT infrastructure. The former is a public storage cloud and the latter is a private storage cloud.

Why is the private storage cloud better?

For a small business, the public storage cloud is the best option because it will entail no capital expenditure. Moreover, with a limited IT budget, a small business can use a third-party vendor like Amazon or Google to get adequate data security. However, for an enterprise, the private storage cloud is always a better choice. Here's why:
  • The enterprise can use its own IT infrastructure and skilled personnel. Although the number of dedicated people required will still be fewer than with traditional storage, use of in-house personnel with knowledge of company culture and requirements enhances the experience for the end consumer.
  • With a private storage cloud, the enterprise can ensure that its proprietary best practices are applied to the storage and its use. Also, this will ensure that all regulatory requirements are followed and auditable.
  • Cloud computing technology is still developing and lacks industry standards. Placing valuable enterprise data with one public storage cloud provider to then find you are dissatisfied with the service is going to cause problems that will ultimately incur time and money to resolve. Private storage clouds, which are based on existing enterprise IT, prevent such vendor lock-in.
  • Finally, there have been several data breaches and outages in public clouds recently. With a private storage cloud, data security is the responsibility of enterprise IT, which has a greater sense of ownership, accountability and personal stake in the matter.

Given the convenience offered by public storage clouds to the end-consumer, there is a real and present danger to enterprise organizations. The challenge to IT departments is clear: raise your game, better the public storage cloud providers by providing similar levels of convenience and cost, and make sure the scale of enterprise IT is large enough, while ensuring good governance and control is still enforced. There's no risk to building a private storage cloud. No one wants to circumvent internal services. If you build it, they will come.

Dean Sheehan is the chief technology officer at iWave Software. He is responsible for the company's overall product management and also serves as the principal architect for iWave Automator. Dean brings more than 18 years of industry experience in distributed systems and distributed transaction software development, which is primarily focused on the financial services industry. Dean holds a first class honors degree in computer science and professional management qualifications from Canterbury University.