The Troposphere

Oct 29 2008   6:12PM GMT

Cloud storage: What a difference a decade makes

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

When it comes to all the varieties of cloud services out there, cloud storage gets a lot of love from hosting providers such as RackSpace and the Planet, which have both made cloud-related storage moves of late.

But the skeptic in me wonders why hosting providers think that cloud storage will succeed when storage service providers (SSPs) of the late 1990s were such a blatant failure? I’m talking about companies like the dearly departed StorageNetworks, which rose to IPO stardom in 2000, only to shutter its doors two years later.

For one thing, said Rob Walters, the Planet’s general manager for data protection and storage, there’s a big difference between the storage used by SSPs of yore and today’s cloud providers. “The old SSPs used hardware like the EMC Symmetrix, the economics of which just didn’t work out,” he said. Cloud storage providers, on the other hand, rely heavily on taking commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and replicating it ad nauseum to get decent reliability and performance.

To that end, the Planet struck a deal last month with Nirvanix, a cloud storage provider that has written its own distributed “Storage Delivery Network” (SDN) and cloud-based virtual storage gateway, Nirvanix CloudNAS that runs on commodity Dell hardware. As part of the deal, The Planet customers can tap in to Nirvanix storage resources, and The Planet will act as one of the replicated nodes in Nirvanix’s geographically distributed SDN.

People are also looking to store data today that has different performance needs than what SSPs proposed to house, said Urvish Vashi, general manager for The Planet’s Dedicated Hosting, namely backup and archive data, plus Web 2.0 data like photographs and streaming video files. With these data types, “I/O to the disk isn’t the limiting factor, it’s I/O to the network.” In other words, for these files, it doesn’t matter if you store this data on a dog of a slow drive because access to it is limited by an even slower network.

And then, there’s the fact that things are just different now. Whereas 10 years ago public dialogue centered on security and privacy, people nowadays publish and expose every detail of their lives on blogs or sites like MySpace and FaceBook. Taking that idea one step further, the idea of hosting data on shared infrastructure just doesn’t phase companies the way it used to, Vashi said. “It’s less of an unusual choice than it used to be.”

I’m still skeptical, but willing to suspend disbelief.

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