Creating a Data Center Compatible Cloud – Elastifile Briefing Note

Organizations spend months creating a “cloud strategy,” and then spend many more months attempting to execute that strategy, sometimes to successful completion but many times the project is abandoned. There are a multitude of problems when transitioning applications to the cloud. There is the problem of moving data to the cloud, transforming the application to run in the cloud and the problem of migrating the application or its data back to the data center. The underlying problem is that the cloud is, at its core, not designed to run the same applications that the data center runs, nor does the cloud run the same file systems and protocols.

The answer to these problems is to make the cloud data center compatible. The key though is to achieve data center compatibility but still leverage cloud capabilities like pay-as-you-go pricing, on-demand compute and infinitely scalable storage. Organizations need a cloud-native file system that is compatible with their existing applications. Additionally, that same file system needs to run both on-premises and in the cloud and handle the movement of data between the two locations. Also, the file system should run in multiple cloud providers including Amazon AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Comparing Cloud Integration Methods

There have been several attempts to simplify the integration of cloud storage so that traditional data center applications can leverage the resources it provides. The first is a storage gateway, which keeps the file system exclusively on-premises and then uses an on-premises appliance, acting as a cache, to move older data to the cloud. In this use case, the application’s primary computing remains on premises. Latency concerns also force the on-premises cache to be large, eliminating most of the potential for real cost savings.

The second method is using a cloud-side cache. With this approach, the primary file system remains on-premises, and active data is cached to the cloud. In this model, cloud compute is leveraged but only a minimal amount of cloud storage is needed. Latency concerns also remain as a cache miss means the cloud application has to wait for data from on-premises.

The third method places the entire file system in the cloud. Data in the cloud is persistent, and the file system provides enterprise-grade features and performance. The cloud-file system can automatically migrate data to and from on-premises file-systems but does not require a cut over to the new system. This third method enables applications to run in the cloud, without modification and do so at high performance without latency concerns, such as waiting for an appliance to send data from the on-premises data center.

However, cloud-based file systems are not problem free. The most common source of these solutions is from the cloud providers themselves. These cloud provided file systems support only a single cloud by their very nature. They also tend to lack enterprise-grade features and have specific limits to their capacity.

Introducing Elastifile v3.0

Elastifile provides an enterprise-class, scalable, multi-cloud file system. It provides the enterprise-class features and the performance that organizations expect and can run in a variety of public cloud environments. It enables an organization to migrate applications to the cloud without modification and enables them to move applications seamlessly between clouds.

Elastifile’s latest release, version 3.0, adds the ClearTier feature, which allows customers to drive down cloud storage costs by automatically tiering data between file and object storage, while keeping all files transparently accessible within the file system namespace. By leveraging object storage to hold inactive or infrequently accessed data, ClearTier enables organizations to drive the total cost of ownership (TCO) for cloud-based file storage as low as $0.03 per GB per month. Organizations control data movement via user-defined policies including 1) the targeted ratio balancing data between file and object storage and 2) the eligibility for data demotion, based on time since last access.

In addition to making it more cost effective to run applications permanently in the cloud. ClearTier also makes cloud bursting more efficient than other solutions that only support bursting to the more expensive file tier. Organizations can use Elastifile’s pre-existing CloudConnect feature to mobilize data from ANY on-premises NAS, placing that data into cloud-based object storage while retaining the file system structure.

When the customer is ready to “burst” to the cloud (e.g. to perform processing leveraging cloud-based compute resources), they can deploy an Elastifile file system in the cloud and ClearTier will provide applications with immediate visibility to the data that was staged in object by CloudConnect. In this way, cloud-based applications can immediately begin accessing and processing files with no need for a time-consuming manual data load into the file system tier. ClearTier will then manage the promotion/demotion of data between file and object storage according to the customer’s tiering policies. Finally, when the burst is over, CloudConnect can be used to send results back to the on-premises environment, if desired.

Conclusion

The primary challenge facing an organization’s cloud strategy is dealing with the differences between cloud and on-premises storage, followed closely by how to migrate data to the cloud. Elastifile addresses both challenges. It provides a data center compatible environment that traditional applications can run within, without modification. It also provides the ability to migrate data to cloud and support efficient cloud bursting workflows. Elastifile’s v3.0 release makes the cloud even more attractive with its addition of intelligent storage tiering, enabling organizations to drive the cost of cloud file storage down as low as $0.03 per GB per month.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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