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Cloud storage solutions: Look to straight services as well as gateways, appliances

In this tip, find out how VARs can look not only to cloud storage providers, but also to other solutions such as cloud gateways and hybrid appliances.

IT departments are getting hit with pressure to jump into the cloud, often before they’re ready. Different divisions within a company may have already started using a cloud service, or maybe individuals have begun to use free cloud storage from companies like DropBox. Some of these cloud storage solutions have been exposed as major security risks—one good reason to take this cloud bull by the horns.

In “Cloud strategies: Plan carefully before jumping on the cloud bandwagon” on SearchCloudStorage.com, Arun Taneja offers some sound advice around implementing cloud technology. He urges storage managers to “follow the cloud” and develop the understanding and expertise of this new technology in order to leverage it effectively. He suggests testing different cloud providers’ solutions to understand how they work and to get a handle on where the problems could lie. In addition to potential security problems, as mentioned above, data recovery can become more difficult with cloud storage, especially with large data sets and low-bandwidth connections. Cloud storage services can also be lacking in overall functionality, like snapshots and management features.

Arun’s cautionary approach is good. After all, if you’re going to replace local storage with cloud storage, there are some services your users will expect and some capabilities IT will need.

For VARs, it’s important to look at more than just cloud storage providers and, as suggested, check out cloud storage solutions like cloud storage gateways and hybrid cloud appliances. If your customers are going to take Taneja’s advice, they’ll be looking for information on these cloud alternatives themselves, so you need to be prepared. Gateways provide the interface to Web services APIs and make cloud storage work within an IT infrastructure that’s used to traditional file and block protocols. In addition, hybrid cloud appliances have the local storage capacity to help address performance issues and usually provide services like snapshots and clones.

Cloud storage gateways can also support data efficiency processes like thin provisioning, deduplication and compression, which can bring down the cost of cloud storage, typically sold by the gigabyte and by the amount of bandwidth consumed. Some are even “application-aware” and include specific functionality that’s designed to support the needs of Exchange, SharePoint, etc. Gateways and hybrid cloud appliances can produce a more appealing cloud storage solution that VARs can show to more prospective customers.

These technologies can also provide a nice incremental strategy, a way for a company to use the cloud in a limited fashion and then expand to include more data and more applications as their comfort level grows. The fact that there are a number of these gateways and hybrid cloud appliance solutions available—and that they’re usually manufactured by newer companies—can make them a good fit for many VARs that are leery of working with large vendors.

For companies considering their own cloud, Taneja mentions solutions from major storage vendors and one from an existing cloud storage provider. Another option is a software virtualization package, which can be used to create a private cloud infrastructure using existing hardware. For customers, this managed cloud platform can be an attractive option from a cost perspective, but it may be a good option for VARs as well. For those seeing traditional integration business decline and overall margins erode as they’re forced to do more fulfillment deals, becoming a cloud provider may be the right move. Comprehensive cloud storage solutions that are economical can be the enabling technology they need.

Overall, this entire topic is an example of why cloud is a good opportunity for VARs. 

There are too many vendors selling too many “solutions” that are all called “cloud-something-or-other,” helping to create a lot of confusion within the customer community. This is a situation that’s perfect for VARs to demonstrate their value. They can wade in, drain the swamp of confusion and misinformation and lay out some clear options for their customers who are a little tired of the “cloud washing.”

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

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