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Flash cloud storage needed if performance is paramount

Most providers today can offer you cloud flash storage if your organization has a need for that kind of increase in speed of access to data -- and can afford the increased cost.

Do you ever think of the cloud as a giant storage dumping ground for backup or inactive data? What about a strategy involving applications in the cloud? Cloud storage performance for those applications is a more critical issue, as is the use of flash cloud storage.

Many very traditional organizations are adopting a cloud-first strategy, meaning that when they plan a new application, the first thought is to host it in the cloud, even before the data center. IT managers are even considering moving the applications they already have in the data center to the cloud.

In both cases, the thought is to store compute and storage resources in the cloud for applications that create and manipulate data. Since many of these applications have very demanding performance expectations, hosting that data on hard disk drives (HDD) will not deliver the required performance.

The good news is most cloud providers have a flash or RAM storage tier that applications can leverage, albeit at a greater cost per gigabyte. Managing this flash cloud storage and controlling costs is similar to how the IT department manages apps on premises. Modern applications should be able to interact directly with the cloud provider's storage; they should also be able to directly move data between the provider's expensive memory tier and the less expensive HDD tiers.

Legacy applications are a different story. Without a major rewrite, most of them can't directly interface with cloud storage protocols. But several independent software vendors are creating products that negotiate the communication between cloud-based storage and legacy protocols like iSCSI, NFS and CIFS. This means data centers can move legacy applications to the cloud with virtually no change to the existing software.

DRaaS: A new form of cloud compute

Even if an organization does not have a cloud compute initiative, many are considering the cloud as a disaster recovery target. Providers are now delivering disaster recovery as a service capabilities that are growing in popularity. DRaaS allows an organization to leverage the cloud as its disaster recovery site instead of the organization having to create a DR site of its own.

Flash cloud storage systems need to provide incremental and potentially unlimited scale, so a scale-out storage architecture is necessary.

While the economics of not having a data center on standby are compelling, the reality is that during a disaster, the DRaaS provider becomes the organization's compute provider -- and may have to be the compute provider for some time.

During this period, IT professionals should ensure the provider can allocate flash cloud storage and cloud compute resources to their applications that meet performance expectations.

Flash for cloud providers

A majority of large cloud providers have storage strategies that include flash. IT professionals need to decide how best to take advantage of these flash cloud storage strategies.

But smaller, more regional cloud providers are increasing in popularity. They typically use off-the-shelf cloud storage to build their offerings, and many have started as cloud storage or cloud backup services based on an object storage product. As they move into the cloud compute market, either through DRaaS or straight support of cloud-hosted applications, these providers need to develop a flash strategy.

Object storage is typically not going to deliver the performance a cloud application requires. These providers will need to look at flash offerings that will work in a multi-tenant environment. Flash cloud storage systems need to provide incremental and potentially unlimited scale, so a scale-out storage architecture is necessary. The system also needs to provide adjustable quality of service to ensure subscribers receive the performance levels for which they pay. Finally, the product has to be extremely cost effective so providers can remain competitive with both internal IT and larger providers.

Cloud-based applications are now a reality for almost all organizations. Applications are either starting their lives in the cloud or migrating there. As apps move, they will need flash-based performance. IT professionals need to confirm that flash is available to them and then determine how best to access it. Providers that don't offer flash to their subscribers should research a solution quickly.

Next Steps

More cloud storage providers moving to all-flash

How to jazz up your cloud storage with flash

Togglebox tosses hybrid for all-flash for cloud clients

This was last published in August 2016

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