File Storage Trends in Cloud Computing Era
Date: Monday , August 01, 2011
Cloud Computing is a hot trend these days and most technology firms, expert analysts and even the highly successful enterprises of today will probably agree that the future is in the clouds. Taking it to the cloud has a lot of advantages in simplifying things and minimizing cost by transferring the resources of each client into an infrastructure capable of storing insurmountable amounts of data and files. Having files stored in the Cloud brings additional benefits in that information flow can be greatly improved within an organization by allowing employees, customers, suppliers and partners to more easily share information. With Cloud computing files can be easily uploaded from anywhere in the world and then accessed from anywhere in the world quickly and easily.
Cloud File Storage Solutions for SMBs
Cloud file storage has been around for a while, but most solutions where oriented toward personal use. These solutions provide a great convenience to users since they do not have to care about the complexities of hardware management and backups, or internal and external threats from hardware malfunction and power outages. Cloud file storage has been popular with small and medium-size businesses and primarily used for archiving email, front office applications and secondary storage and backup. Some key players in this area include Box.net, Live Mesh, Drop Box, JungleDisk and of course Google Docs. Where most of these products do a good job at economically storing, retrieving and sharing files they typically do not support the heavy lifting required by enterprises such as dealing with extra large files and integrating with enterprise cloud apps.
Some larger organizations are using cloud file storage as part of their IT infrastructure, but currently most are researching the option. There are still concerns regarding security, data integrity and availability, along with the lack of tools and standards for auditing and data verification. Even with the concerns, the benefits of file cloud storage is compelling enough for most enterprises and cloud app providers push forward with developing and using file cloud storage.
Cloud File Storage Solutions for Enterprises
For enterprises, FTP has been one of the most common means for sharing files. As Cloud computing started to take hold and Cloud applications started to emerge most Cloud file storage was provided directly by the suppliers of the Cloud applications specifically for their applications. This left customers dependent on the cloud application supplier for file storage with no real independent storage alternatives forcing them to use whatever the application supplier offered. Today however, companies are emerging that specialize in Cloud Storage solutions offering alternatives to cloud users. Two key players in this area are Rackspace and Amazon Cloud.
Both companies offer similar features and capabilities but what really separates them is the underlining CDN, or Content Delivery Network. Amazon has built its solution on a propriety CDN platform which includes 17 edge servers for global access while Rackspace utilizes Akamia as its CDN platform. Akmia was a pioneer and developed the industrys’ first CDN. Today it utilizes 73,000 servers in 70 countries within nearly a 1000 networks which provides faster access to files across the network along with higher reliability.
Basically, the CDN employs intelligent software that controls the security and accessibility of files. Whenever a file is uploaded into the Cloud, multiple copies are made in different devices and zones which have separate power and network connections. Due to this data redundancy files will always be available even if there are power or network problems in certain areas. Whenever a file is accessed, a copy of the content is stored in cache on the edge servers in that location so that the next time it is accessed delivery time is greatly reduced.
These independent Cloud File Storage providers makes it a lot easier to upload and access files as opposed to using FTP, and also can significantly reduce Cloud storage costs for users that require lots of file storage in conjunction with their cloud apps. The primary challenge companies have today is to be able to upload and access file directly from within a Cloud app environment.
Enterprise Cloud Applications Integration Challenges with Cloud Storage Systems
Even with independent Cloud file storage alternatives, most Cloud file storage is still provided by the providers of Cloud applications and therefore it is difficult for users to take advantage of the independent solutions available.
One example of this is Salesforce, who was an early pioneer in SaaS (Software as a Service) and today is one of the leaders in Cloud Computing. They provide their own file storage solution and as such you will be required to get a third party or custom solution if you want to use an independent Cloud storage solution such as Rackspace or Amazon in conjunction with Salesforce.
Cloud Storage System Plug-Ins for Enterprise Cloud Applications
Luckily there are different companies that provide “plug-ins” which allow Salesforce users to store and access files in a independent Cloud file storage provider directly from the Salesforce environment. One such product is Cloud Drop from Mansa Systems. Not only does it allow Salesforce users to utilize the Rackspace cloud storage infrastructure, but it also provides a number of added value features that allow users to better organize and access files. Some value added features include the ability to create and manage complex file hierarchies via folders, version control, automatically store email attachments and advance search capabilities.
Even with off-the-shelve products like Cloud Drop, users may still need additional capabilities which require custom development. In situations where custom development is required it is important to find a developer who has expertise in both the Cloud app you are using and the Cloud File Storage infrastructure you plan to use.
Information has always been the life blood for any organization and as cloud computing continues to evolve so will the need for cloud file storage and the need to easily manage and access those files directly from cloud app environments. We can be fairly confident that in the future there will be more options and mechanisms for integrating cloud apps with independent cloud file storage infrastructures. Some of these may even be made available by the cloud app providers themselves. For now, however, you will need to look at third party products and / or custom solutions in order to take advantage of the independent cloud file storage infrastructures.
The author is CEO, Mansa Systems