Monday, January 02, 2012

Requirements for Public Storage Clouds

Cloud Computing is a major shift in IT delivery paradigm. Today, most enterprises have embraced cloud computing have started on a journey towards moving the entire enterprise IT into the cloud. As we look at the Cloud adaptation in enterprise IT - a major trend can be seen. Almost all enterprises are using the cloud for two things:

1. Data Storage
2. SaaS applications

Data Storage is one of the most expensive items in any enterprise IT systems. Data hoarding has created one of the biggest challenge to enterprise IT management, So IT managers have started to evaluate and embrace cloud computing for data storage. Today, it is not a question of "If" enterprise will embrace cloud storage; it is a matter of 'when'.

Individuals and Small or Medium enterprises have already embraced cloud for emails and collaboration and thus are using cloud for data storage for emails & documents to certain extent. In future, large enterprises will also adapt cloud storage - mostly private cloud storage and some of public cloud storage for non-critical data.

Public Cloud Storage Today

The early web based storage platforms such as Yahoo photos, Image Station, RapidShare were targeted at end consumers and created a negative mindset among enterprise users. There was always the concerns of security, data loss - in case the web service provider goes out of business or shuts down the service (Yahoo photos & Sony Imagestation was closed - forcing users to re-upload the files to a new service provider)

These public data storage clouds was designed for individual consumers who wanted to store the files and occasionally share the files, the loss of the file or non-availability was not a major concern.

The second generation web based data store -, Amazon EC2, Google Docs, Atmos, Picassa, Flickr, DropBox, Zoho, etc., were much better in availability but still suffered from security and performance issues. Stories of outages and suspension of public data store services are often headline news items.

As a result, enterprise users have serious concerns about using Public Clouds for data storage. Only few daring & bold companies have tried using cloud storage for data backups for non-critical data only.

The perception of public data storage clouds are not for enterprises is now deeply engrained in IT manager's minds and will take lot of efforts to change their mindset. (Even when IT managers are looking at public data storage clouds.)

Creating a Public Cloud Storage for Enterprises

Almost all of the public cloud storage services today were initially built for individual end users and then adapted for the enterprise, but this approach to create a public cloud storage will not work. Instead, one should start from ground up understanding the enterprise needs and developing solutions that work for enterprises.

In my opinion there are nine key requirements for a public cloud storage.

1. High availability
2. Security
3. Cost Effective
4. Scalability
5. Configurable
6. Measurable
7. Serviceable
8. Performance
9. Usability

These are high level requirements. Each of these requirements can be further broken down into sub-components that is essential for building the cloud storage system. In this article I am limiting to high level requirements from the customer point of view.

High Availability

100% uptime is the expected norm. Anything less will be treated with contempt. One of the main advantages of cloud is its high availability - even in face of extreme adversities. Enterprises view cloud storage as always ON - irrespective of performance.


Security breach and unauthorized access of data is the biggest fear of all CIOs. In 2011, Sony Online Entertainment systems was hacked two times and about 25Million users data was exposed to hackers. Such headline security failures are a business nightmare.

So enterprises will not trust the cloud storage without proper security. Having a secure VPN connectivity from the customer location to the cloud data store, along with encryption is a must.

Public Storage cloud service providers must match the best possible security that can be offered by the enterprise IT departments to gain their acceptance. The security requirements can be further distilled to Policy based security management, A Data Loss Prevention technology, and Encryption.

Cost Effective

The marketing hype of cloud storage has create a perception that cloud storage is much more cost effective than their current storage implementations. Switching to public cloud storage, enterprises can save on upfront investments, lower manpower costs, and operational costs - in terms of space, power and maintenance.

It is expected that the cloud storage service provider will have better technologies to increase storage efficiency and utilization. Technologies such as tiered storage dedeuplication, thin provisioning, object storage etc will reduce operational costs.


Current Peta byte users want storage service to be scalable to Exabyte levels. As data storage increases, the demand on network also increases. So service providers must build out an architecture that has both storage & network scalability built into the system.


Enterprise customers want their cloud storage system be configurable for optimum performance to meet their application requirements. As the workloads vary from the peaks to valley, the storage IO and network bandwidth must be monitored and configured to meet customer requirements. In addition, customers want tools to configure their cloud storage for different applications.


In cloud storage, customers want to pay for what they use, so all aspects of storage and bandwidth used by the customer must be measured, recorded and billed to customers accordingly. Customers also want to see the network/storage usage statistics, reports for each application type.

Customers want tools to know their current usage and usage trends so that they can plan their operations accordingly.


No matter how many self-service tools are provided to customers, there will be need for technical support personnel. Having a online tech support teams and on-call tech support is very important for enterprise customers so that their business is not affected.

One major complaint people have with Amazon/Google services is the lack of the lack of manned tech support.


Cloud storage has latency built into the service as it depends on Internet for connectivity. This implies that type of applications that can use the cloud storage will be limited by the network performance.

With increasing Internet speeds and innovative use of customer premises equipment (CPE) drives for caching can improve performance.

In the initial stage of public cloud storage, most enterprises will use cloud as a data store - a place to keep images and documents - which are latency independent. All real time application data are likely to be stored in data centers or stored at the SaaS provider.
But as cloud storage gains acceptance and most applications migrate to SaaS, performance becomes a critical success factor. So it is important to plan for performance in the initial planning of cloud storage usage.


Usability of cloud storage refers to the User Interface and user experience. Mainly the user experience of IT personnel who will be setting up & managing storage systems for enterprise.

The generation Z who will enter the workforce will not like command line interfaces of the Unix era. Users will expect a graphic, mashable architectures for the Interface that works seamlessly with their data management systems.

Closing Thoughts

Enterprise data storage will evolve to embrace public cloud storage. Initially enterprise customers will add public cloud storage as another tier of storage for user generated files (Documents, spreadsheets, images, emails etc). A typical usage will be in Emails, Filesharing and image storage.

Enterprise IT managers will have seriously look at public clouds for data storage and will evaluate service providers for the nine parameters described in this article.

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