Working with new technologies, rapid rates of change, the excitement of the unknown are good reasons to work in IT. The constant change keeps things fresh and interesting.
The thing that gets me excited though, is the business innovation that occurs with the application of the right mix of technology to otherwise everyday business problems. At Kloud we get to do this all the time!!
I’d like to share with you some simple use cases for cloud services that we have recently been a part of that makes IT Managers and Systems Administrators look like stars.
When talking to IT Managers and Systems Administrators, I often hear the following issues:
- Storage – We just don’t have enough and its expensive to expand on our existing SAN investment
- Backup and Restore – We do it, but it’s slow cumbersome and we are not sure we do it well
- Disaster Recovery – We have a plan, but it’s not agile and we could do it better
So how can the cloud help in this regard? Well at Kloud Solutions we are platform agnostic, in fact we can help architect solutions that make use of your favourite cloud platform, be it Amazon Web Services (AWS), Windows Azure perhaps both or maybe something else. The key is to start small with something simple. I like to choose a single problem to solve, then expand on it to add more functionality and solve another related issue. With pay for what you use pricing models and no lock in contracts, it’s easy to get started and low risk. So let’s take a look at the storage use case in more detail.
If you provision a LUN and give users write access, they will use it, in fact they will probably create multiple copies of the same stuff. Furthermore they are likely to tell you that it’s all really, really important and you can’t delete it or archive it. I guess if I was an end user I’d probably do the same thing. As an end user of a system I have simple requirements of storage. I want to store a file and know that in a week, a month or a year down the track when I want it, it will be there and I won’t need to log an incident with the service desk to get it back. Simple really. In reality we know that to store that file, at a minimum we need to store it on a disk array for redundancy. Furthermore, we also need to back it up in case of corruption, deletion or wider spread disaster.
So how can the cloud help me here? Both AWS and Azure have methods for expanding an organisations storage into the cloud, with some great features too. Best of all its relatively quick to implement.
Ok I like AWS, how can it help?
AWS have a product called “Storage Gateway” with “Gateway-Cached Volumes”. This is essentially a virtual machine (VM) that you download from AWS and run on your VMWare based Hypervisor on premise. The Storage Gateway will need to have some locally attached storage assigned to it for caching purposes. The Gateway-Cached Volumes enable you to provision LUNs like a regular SAN. The Storage Gateway stores you primary data in Amazon S3 storage buckets, whilst retaining your frequently accessed data on the locally attached storage. The brilliance with this is that it is largely transparent to your end users. The files that are in regular use are already cached on the Storage Gateway. Older files that are not frequently used are a little slower to download, but are then added to the Storage Gateway’s cache as a frequently accessed file. This gives you virtually limitless storage capabilities at ridiculously low costs to provision.
How do I back it up?
Once your data is in the AWS S3 storage buckets you can take advantage of some really cool AWS features that can replace traditional tape backup systems.
Point in time snapshots of your storage volumes can be created. Snapshots can be taken on an ad-hoc basis or scheduling can be configured. Best of all snapshots are incremental backups that reduce storage charges. When a new snapshot is made only data that has changed since your last snapshot is stored. In addition compression is used to further reduce your storage charges.
If a restore of your data is required it can be performed in minutes as opposed to days. Cloud based Snapshots offer offsite data protection via the cloud.
Ok what about Disaster Recovery?
Ok so now you have been busy provisioning LUNs all over the place, your users love the new storage, but you can’t sleep because you are worried about disaster recovery. What happens if there is an extended outage with the VM hypervisor infrastructure that hosts the Storage Gateway VM? Fear not, AWS Storage Gateway for EC2 to the rescue! Storage Gateway for EC2 is a cloud hosted version of the storage gateway that can mirror your production environment in case the on premises infrastructure goes down. The EC2 Storage gateway gives you access to all the data in S3.
This of course can be expanded out to a full blown DR scenario. By using this in conjunction with Amazon EC2 you can create VMs of your critical application servers. In the event of a DR situation you can launch your application EC2 VM instances and access their storage via your AWS Storage Gateway in EC2.
So what if I want to use Azure?
Microsoft recently acquired StorSimple and now offer the StorSimple appliance for Windows Azure. StorSimple is a hardware appliance that’s a rack mountable cloud-integrated storage unit. The StorSimple appliance works in a similar fashion to the aforementioned AWS Storage Gateway. In this case, however, it’s a physical device with a mix of high performance solid state and cheaper regular hard disks. The StorSimple appliance works in the same manner as the AWS Storage Gateway allowing you to provision LUNs with recently used files cached on the appliances internal storage and the data being stored in Azure blob storage.
How do I back it up?
The StorSimple appliance has a whole bunch of smarts built into it. Snapshots of your data can be scheduled on a point in time basis or taken in an ad-hoc basis. Snapshots are also incremental so when a new snapshot is taken only the data that has changed since your last snapshot is stored. De-duplication is also performed, meaning duplicated files are only stored once to further reduce your storage requirements.
Restores of your data can be performed in minutes as opposed to days. By storing data in Azure you are also providing offsite data protection. You can finally retire that cumbersome tape storage system yay!!
Ok what about Disaster Recovery?
Ok so what happens if our primary site with the StorSimple appliance goes down? Backups that are made with the StorSimple appliance in the cloud can be recovered to a different location so it’s just a case of provisioning another StorSimple appliance connecting it to Azure and restoring the data. Microsoft are also working on a Virtual Machine version of StorSimple that could be run in the Azure cloud.
So there we have it, a couple of practical, and scalable solutions to common storage problems that can be implemented quickly and adapted to the requirements of an enterprise.