Cloud Storage Alternatives to Amazon and Google


By Sajai Krishnan

June 22, 2009 | Cloud computing is in the press a lot these days. What's all the fuss about? To seasoned IT administrators, this looks like the latest shiny new thing that IT vendors are pushing. You can’t blame users who roll their eyes and think, “Here they go again.”

But suspend your disbelief for a moment, there is something here. As the Economist noted in March, “something deeper is going on in the computer industry. Thanks to ever more powerful chips and new software, servers and other hardware can now be “virtualised”, meaning physically separate systems can act as one.”

This is true of compute clouds and storage clouds and something that could not have been done 3-4 years ago. I think of cloud computing as the 4th wave of computing—after mainframes, client-servers, and 3-Tier-Web. By the year 2015, cloud computing is going to be 20-30% of IT deployment, taking a spot alongside mainframes in the way that IT is deployed. 

Cloud computing is an overarching term. Simplistically, this tiers into three layers (see figure). Cloud applications, also known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), were well established before the industry called it ‘cloud’ anything. The cloud compute layer is where most of the vendor activity is today. This is because the server virtualization plays have done the heavy lifting already, allowing a proliferation of value-add plays.

Cloud storage is a relatively new concept that is becoming a more recognizable term among enterprises. Cloud compute and cloud storage are analogous in that both are bringing the benefits of commodity economics at very large scales in an easy-to-manage service model. And both can start really small, say with as few as 3-4 servers.

For many people, the term cloud storage conjures up an image of a giant public cloud storage service provider like Amazon S3 or the Google File System(GFS). However, there is more to cloud storage than massive globe-spanning storage clouds where one can rent storage capacity by the month. IT shops in the bio-pharma space or university research groups can easily deploy internal storage clouds in their environment, which can provide better performance than typical public cloud services like Amazon S3. These internal storage clouds can even be paired with the demanding compute environments that are often seen in these market sectors. Such clouds can start small, and scale as and when required.

Take, for example, the private cloud built by the team at the Stanford Genome Technology Center. This team had been struggling with ways to manage the rapidly increasing amounts of data generated by their genome sequencers. Each run of the sequencer analyzed human DNA and produced images varying in size from 100 gigabytes (GB) to 4 terabytes (TB) over a few days. These images were then fed into a high-performance compute (HPC) cluster for further analysis.

It is economically challenging to store these vast amounts of data on traditional storage solutions from the major vendors. Not only is it expensive, even managing the simplest mainstream SAN (storage area network) or NAS (network attached storage) solution requires a team of experienced IT staff. The Stanford team considered a storage cloud solution that enabled them to economically store data and easily scale based on their needs without management overhead. Without a dedicated IT staff, their solution needed to be simple enough to be managed by molecular biologists, not computer scientists.
Storage clouds directly deliver Moore’s Law economies for the vexing problem of managing exploding file storage costs in the bio-pharma space. Whether enterprises choose to build a petabyte scale cloud with hundreds of nodes for all their high-definition images or dip their toe in the water and build a small cloud is up to them. However, storage clouds within the enterprise are catching on; all the tools to build a private cloud are available online. In fact, with some understanding of Linux, deploying and managing storage clouds is even easier than deploying more traditional SAN or NAS solutions.

Sajai Krishnan is the CEO of ParaScale, a cloud storage start-up.
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    Agree that there are somne service providers that have not been mentioned. It pays to perform your due diligence. Just read about the DropBox breach.

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    This is a great summary of cloud storage service vendors! But as always smaller companies that help to manage cloud storage are forgotten ;-) CloudBerry Explorer for Amazon S3 is an example of a small tool that makes managing cloud storage easier. With FTP like client it makes managing files in S3 EASY It supports most of the Amazon S3 and CloudFront features and It is a freeware.

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