The Infrastruggle

Extending Data Management To The Cloud

Dternity has a solid solution worth considering.

Cloud services have become increasingly popular as mechanisms for sharing files, for data collaboration, for backing up or archiving data, or simply for adding space to cramped on-premises storage infrastructure. While some firms have made a deliberate choice to leverage cloud storage as part of a strategic initiative to improve data availability, survivability or cost-efficiency, many have simply grown their storage repository into clouds and now find themselves with a highly distributed and loosely connected storage infrastructure. Comparatively few have thought through the challenges for managing data across such a sprawl; a huge mistake in the long run, whatever your objectives for using cloud storage.

Thinking it Through
Lately, I have visited many firms that are beginning to leverage cloud storage. In many smaller firms, and even some larger ones, the use of cloud storage was not carefully thought out in advance. In some cases, employees began using data-sharing services or cloud-based storage containers without consulting corporate IT as a means to improve the accessibility or share-ability of their files or data sets. Copying files into the cloud made them available from any hotel room, customer facility, and in most airplanes, airports, trains and so on.

Some firms sought out online backup or DR-as-a-Service (DRaaS) providers to enable quick conformance with overlooked legal or regulatory mandates on data protection, or simply to offload data protection to branch offices or road warriors themselves. And providers of such services have tended to add basic archiving to their menus, enabling companies to park data in their mostly tape-based archival repositories instead of standing up their own archives on-premises.

These firms have taken a "gradualist" approach to integrating on-premises and cloud-based storage. At some point, according to the IT managers I have interviewed, there will be a need to sort out the strategy: to make sure that the right data is being kept in the right place with the right set of protection, preservation and privacy services for the right amount of time. For some reason, that review keeps getting pushed out into the future.

By contrast, other companies have held off on embracing the cloud storage concept until they can figure out the best way to add capacity and services to meet present and future business computing needs. You can usually tell who these folks are by their vocabulary. They speak of cloud storage infrastructure expansion as inevitable, but they pay a lot of attention to protocols, gateway technologies, latency, and most importantly coherent management of the data itself. They check to see if the online backup cloud's facility is physically remote from their production datacenter (as it should be, to prevent both original and backup data from being consumed by the same disaster). They want to ensure that archival data, despite its less frequent access or update characteristics, is still accessible and retrievable within certain timeframes and that it is stored in a manner and on a medium that ensures the greatest durability and lowest bit error rates around (that would be tape, by the way).

The Dternity Template
It is worth noting that, while an increasing number of cloud service providers are embracing tape for archival data storage, not all of them know their way around the technology yet. One provider, Dternity,  should be viewed as a template for the industry. Their Dternity Media Cloud Service provides the kind of attention to detail and standards-based support to make it the darling of the medical imaging cloud archive market; a challenging and highly-regulated market segment.

Dternity has the same physical componentry going for it as an AWS or Google or Azure cloud. Their personnel are some of the best trained in the world, and certainly on par with the best that the industrial farmers of the cloud world can offer. They support all of the latest protocols for moving data across networks (or for doing "cloud seeding" using tape cartridges and the Linear Tape File System to move mass quantities of data into the cloud archive platform). And they support readily-installed gateway hardware to simplify the secure handling of access and retrieval of data from the Dternity Media Cloud into the workspace -- whether virtual or physical -- whenever needed. The other guys may eventually catch up, but Dternity is currently the maestro of tape-based cloud archiving, and probably the service provider with the deepest bench in tape expertise.

But what really distinguishes Dternity from the others is the data management technology it uses under the hood: StrongLink, from StrongBox Data Solutions (SDS). StrongLink is a cognitive data management "operating system" of sorts. SDS has developed StrongLink after years of supporting the needs of Dternity customers and developing solutions to challenges that are endemic to hybrid storage infrastructure, data access and data sharing.

StrongLink serves as a "controller of controllers" providing a data management facility that controls the placement and migration of data across heterogeneous infrastructure, where heterogeneous refers to a mixture of storage equipment vendors, storage topologies and storage media. It is a cognitive management platform that applies data management policies intelligently, after a near real-time consideration of the status of each storage device, each storage service provider, and each file or object being stored.

At the time data is created, StrongLink adds it to a global namespace that tracks the status and location of the data. Data management policies define what kinds of resources should be provided to the data: a combination of the right hardware (in terms of capacity, performance and cost), the right protection, preservation and privacy services to apply to the data or its storage containers, in the right location and for the right amount of time.

To ensure that data is migrated to the right storage resources with the right services at the right time, StrongLink maintains an Internet of Things-style inventory of the status of the data itself, the storage infrastructure (local and cloud) available for storing bits, and the availability and burdening of storage services brokers that will need to supply the data with the right protection, preservation and security wherever it is hosted.

Cognitive Data Management
A cognitive data management capability such as StrongLink is the centerpiece of a strategic hybrid cloud storage model. Such a capability enables the granular management of insane quantities of files and objects across a highly distributed landscape. In so doing, it eliminates the Herculean burden associated with managing data by manual means over time. A lot of cloud vendors claim that they reduce complexity and cost in storage, but without a cognitive data management capability like StrongLink, their claims fall more into the category of "marketecture" than architecture.

From a practical perspective, StrongLink cognitive data management delivers flexibility to business IT planners. New gear can be rolled out, older gear retired, and cloud services added without disrupting access to data. Data is relocated transparently to appropriate storage hosts and services are applied to the data according to policy and with little operator intervention, and all locational information is automatically updated in the StrongLink namespace, so users never lose access to their data.

Finally, StrongLink provides an historical audit trail for data, identifying versions and copies that makes accommodating compliance requirements or legal holds a straightforward process. Same goes for deletion: when a file or object reaches end of life, all copies of the file or document can be identified so that appropriate actions can be taken.

StrongLink grew up in the Dternity cloud and is a significant part of what differentiates Dternity from other cloud storage and archive services. Offered by SDS as a stand-alone product, StrongLink is now being tapped by strategic IT planners to manage data within datacenters, across branch office networks, and in hybrid cloud topologies. The capabilities of StrongLink to integrate the disciplines of data management, data compliance and governance, storage resource management and storage services management are constantly improving to meet the new challenges of software-defined storage silo'ed behind hypervisors, as well as the more demanding needs within companies for dataset sharing and analytics.

From Sprawl to Infrastructure
The good news is that the gradualists may be able to deploy StrongLink in order to improve their control and management of the data now spread across a hodgepodge of heterogeneous cloud and physical storage. Deploying the technology and developing some data management policies might be just the thing to convert storage sprawl into storage infrastructure. StrongLink is already available and operating as the cognitive manager of Dternity Media Cloud services. If you are in the market, have a look.

Editorial note: the author has no financial relationship of any kind with Dternity.

About the Author

Jon Toigo is a 30-year veteran of IT, and the Managing Partner of Toigo Partners International, an IT industry watchdog and consumer advocacy. He is also the chairman of the Data Management Institute, which focuses on the development of data management as a professional discipline. Toigo has written 15 books on business and IT and published more than 3,000 articles in the technology trade press. He is currently working on several book projects, including The Infrastruggle (for which this blog is named) which he is developing as a blook.


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