Designing a File Storage Infrastructure – CTERA Briefing Note

The combined value of files that an organization creates and stores is higher than its most mission-critical applications. The ability to collaborate, share and retain files both within and outside the organization dictates how competitive that organization is in its market. The distribution of file data though must be done in a way that secures and protects it to maintain file data value and maintain compliance with an ever-growing set of regulations. The problem is that most organizations have no formal file storage strategy, leaving users to establish their own, which puts a critical organizational asset at risk.

File Storage Challenges

Organizations should store file data as close to the user of that data as possible. The problem is that users no longer come to a single office to work. IT needs to distribute data to where users are; in branch offices, home offices, coffee shops, and planes. The distributed nature of users creates two challenges for organizations designing a file storage infrastructure. First, there is the problem of getting those users close to the data. A large network attached storage (NAS) system or file server at the central office won’t do the job anymore. Putting small NAS systems in every office and letting road warriors store all their data on their laptops creates a data protection nightmare and is expensive as well as inefficient. File Sync and Share, even Enterprise File Sync and Share solutions are not complete enough to build an entire file storage infrastructure.

The Cloud Challenge

The cloud seems like a logical solution, but it creates its own unique set of challenges. First, there is a latency problem. Creating a cloud-based NAS as a central repository means that all access must go through the internet. While cloud latency is less of an issue for large offices, smaller offices, and complete mobile users may be disappointed. There is also a bandwidth issue. As unstructured data continues to consume more and more space, the process of moving thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of files, to the cloud or even to an on-premises object store creates challenges. Another challenge is that users are not always connected. Internet connections still occasionally go down or are so slow that they are unusable. It seems these slowdowns occur when users need data most. Finally, there is the overriding security concern of the public cloud. While the tools to make the cloud as secure as any data center exist, they do need correct implementation. The problem for cloud-based data is that a mistake in the cloud exposes an organization’s data to far more potential hackers than a mistake made on-premises.

The Goal of a File Storage Infrastructure

A file infrastructure should present an organization’s users with file data “as a service,” which means users don’t need to think about where their data is in relation to where they are working. The infrastructure automatically responds to their requests and makes sure the data is where they need it. The user experiences a global file system which sits in front of all of the various locations (edge, primary data center, cloud) where they store data. Larger offices have filers that cache data for instant, low latency access. Road warriors have their data synced between local storage and the global file system, so they have continuous access.

Defining Cloud Storage

Many cloud providers build their cloud storage systems on object storage. Object storage is ideal for storing unstructured data thanks to its low cost and almost limitless scalability. The file storage infrastructure should support object storage whether it is on-premises or in the cloud. IT should do more than leverage it for storing data, it should also enable organizations to archive older unstructured data stores to it, lowering costs and reducing NAS sprawl.

Addressing Security

One of the primary purposes of a file infrastructure is to enable collaboration and file sharing. The solution should combine that sharing with strict data security. Encryption is a table stakes capability. Beyond encryption, the solution should provide strong authentication and data loss prevention tools, like prohibiting downloads, automatic watermarking and a preview only option.

Using CTERA as a File Infrastructure Solution

CTERA can easily be confused with a purely Enterprise Sync and Share solution but it is actually a complete NAS or file server replacement with content collaboration capabilities plus a data protection platform. Architecturally, CTERA customers can use either an on-premises edge filer appliance or virtual machine. The edge filer caches the most active data set from a cloud-based or on-premises object storage system. To either the on-premises object store or cloud storage, CTERA adds full filer capabilities like snapshots, volume management, and security. To further lower costs and reduce Internet bandwidth consumption, the CTERA solution deduplicates and compresses data. The system is scalable. If the organizations max out the capabilities of a single CTERA appliance, they add another to address the additional load.

Users can access data via mapping directly to the appliances or using native applications for Mac, Windows, iOS or Android. There is also a web interface for accessing data from a guest computer.

All data is encrypted at its source leveraging AES-256. CTERA provides private-key management, so there are no third-party accesses to data. It also provides full Active Directory as well as 2-factor authentication. In addition to standard data loss protection like download prevention and watermarks, administrators can control the file-sharing policy by file name, user or group. For stolen laptops, it provides remote data shredding with is more secure than remote wipe. The CTERA solution even includes centralized Anti-Virus protection to quarantine infected files easily.

StorageSwiss Take

It is critical for organizations to protect and manage their unstructured data, but they also need to make that data readily accessible. The challenge is providing accessibility while also ensuring data is protected and secure. CTERA enables the organization to not only improve the way they manage, store and distribute unstructured data; they also improve the data’s security. The solution seems like an ideal fit for organizations looking to move from NAS or file servers to either object storage or cloud storage. The caching engine ensures that users not only maintain performance but see an improvement while the security and data protection features improve how an organization maintains access to those files in any situation.

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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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