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Future of Block Storage in the Cloud

Block storage is extremely good at block access response times and transaction processing and RAS

New York City, what a place. It's always alive. The moment I stepped out of the airport terminal, I knew I was in New York. Three "Private" Limo drivers started following me asking me where I was going, several cab drivers lined up at the curb looking towards me, eager to take me where ever my heart desired I suppose. I eventually hopped in a limo and headed toward my hotel, The Grand Hyatt. I did not stay at the Roosevelt Hotel because it was $100 more per night and during these bad economic times, I figured I needed to save the company $400.00. I have to say I was very disappointed with the food. I had very high expectations of NYC food. No, this was not my first time, but the first time not visiting a relative. I was free to experiment and try different types of food all over Manhattan. I have been to about 70 different cities in 8 years all over the world and NYC is by far the most expensive when it comes to good food. Which doesn't make sense. But then enough about my culinary adventures. Let's talk CLOUDs.

Once I registered and started mingling, everyone who was SOMEONE in Cloud Computing seemed to have swarmed to NYC - Amazon's CTO Dr. Vogels, IBM's Cloud CTO Kloeckner, Sun's Cloud SVP Dave Douglas and myself. Now I am not a Cloud Computing expert by any means. But I am an expert in Block Storage and Storage Infrastructure and I was interested in listening to some of these keynotes and attending several Cloud Storage related sessions to really dig deeper and determine why most were using a "Pizza Box" approach to Cloud Storage or Storage as a Service for public clouds and whether this, Cloud Computing, was the beginning of the end of Block Storage as we know it. While at the conference, I was able to get answers to all of my questions:

Are Storage Clouds or Compute Cloud for everyone?
Probably not. For transactional type databases or I/O, cloud is a very bad idea. For those who want to run 7/24/265 operations, it could actually be more expensive to run the operation on the cloud but that is relative as some offer as low as 10 cents per hour (or was it a month???) for compute with a nice size disk drive (not cloud storage mind you). Again, still not high performance, high capacity, high I/O capable, especially over the cloud (S3 that is).

Do clouds experience outages?
Do clouds lose data? Of course they do. Go to some of the forums and you will read horror stories all over the place. We all remember what happened to Amazon's S3 back in the summer of last year. Why is that? Does that have something to do with "Commodity" components for disks? I can't really say. Mind you, some of the issues I raise here are in some cases extreme but we all need to plan for the worse and hope for the best, especially when it comes to our data. There is something to be said about thoroughly testing code and cross platform interoperability testing performed by industry leading engineers. But that is just my view. That is one reason why Sun's Open strategy works very well because it's not only the few who get to test our code, it's the entire community. The community gets to write device drivers and everyone else gets to test it and comment on it and make it even better.

So what about "INTERNAL CLOUDS"?
Well, my personal feeling is, medium and large organizations who already have well-established datacenter practices and processes will probably jump on the CLOUD concept but more Private than public. New startups and very small business will probably jump on the public cloud to save upfront cost and starting and running the business initially and eventually once their business grows and all of a sudden they need scalability beyond just basic web front end and so on, I think they will look into a traditional, private datacenter or co-loc private cloud. WHY? Because public clouds are "SHARED" without much in terms of resource management among different virtual machines. Most guarantees (SLAs) are primarily geared towards uptime and nothing much else. If someone wants to actually be guaranteed specific CPU, memory and I/O at ALL times, they are going to have to start paying higher dollars as opposed to an Amazon EC2 type cloud.

This is where I think virtualization technologies that have specific distributed resource management technologies built in come into play: VMware VI3 and soon-to-be-released VI4 with very cool new features that I can't really comment on right now due to NDA. Sun xVM | Server of course and others such as MS Hyper-V. All offer resource management tools such as VMware DRS by which pools of CPUs and memory resources along with I/O can be created and managed automagically by the application itself. One could specify how much compute and I/O they want guaranteed and the resource manager tool can set policies, which then go ahead and manage these resource needs for the particular virtual machine. A win-win situation for the Cloud user and the Cloud provider.

This level of control, today, is possible primarily in an internal Cloud with all the cool things which go along with virtualization such as dynamic disaster recovery. Obviously, Storage is at the middle of it all. SHARED storage allows the CLOUD to even Exist. Even if it is commodity storage, it still has to be shared somehow. But for medium to large companies, a private cloud becomes more viable because they can move existing, enterprise class storage resources (such as the Sun Storage 6000 series or the Sun Storage 9900 series), take advantage of built-in technologies such as thin-provisioning (Think provision ONLY what is used and manage the scalability as needed), Remote Replication such as RVM for Sun Storage 6000 series and UVR / TrueCopy for Sun Storage 9900 series for Disaster recovery with integrated tools such as VMware Site Recovery Manager. ZFS can also be used to spread the data across several arrays and several types of arrays.

My Conclusions on the Future of Block Storage in Terms of Cloud
Block storage is extremely good at block access response times and transaction processing and RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability). I do not see enterprise storage going away anytime soon just because we can store TBs of data in the cloud. What matters is what we can and cannot do with the data. Enterprise block storage is here to stay and will continue to do what it does best. But why the push towards "Commodity Storage Components", specifically for public clouds (many many blade servers with large commodity disks)? Cost of course. Huge clouds such as Amazon S3 and others sit on commodity storage for a reason. They do not have to worry about offering high bandwidth, high I/O to the users because the users seem to understand what they can and can't do with Cloud Storage as a Service offerings and they use it as such: Archiving, long term retention and other similar types of usage.

More Stories By Said Syed

Said A. Syed has over 14 years of industry experience, including over 8 years with Sun. Said started with Sun as a System Support Engineer in Chicago supporting high-end and mid-range servers and Sun storage products. Said joined Sun's Storage Product Technical Support group in 2004 as the Sun Support Services global lead for Brocade SAN products. In this position, Said managed the Sun Support Services relationship with Brocade Support Services directly and supported world-wide Sun customers on high visibility, high severity escalations involving SAN infrastructure products and Sun's high-end and low-cost storage products, the Sun Storage 3000 and 9000 series arrays. In 2008, Said was promoted to Staff Engineer role within Sun's NPI and OEM array engineering group and is currently chartered with gaining in-depth understanding of how virtualization applications such as VMware ESX server, the Sun xVM platform, Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization, Sun Logical Domains (LDoms), Solaris™ Containers, Cloud Computing, and other similar applications interact with Sun's modular and high-end storage arrays, the Sun Storage 2500, 6000 and 9000 series arrays. Said is a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist - Hyper-V (MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V).

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