Is denying public cloud storage a storm in a political teacup or something more?

Ah, India! The country that gave us the Silicon Valley of Asia in Bengaluru, and exports over USD$150 billion software and IT services to the world.

Last week, the government of India banned the use of non-sanctioned public cloud storage such as Google® Drive and Dropbox®, plus the use of VPNs (virtual private networks). This is nothing new as China has banned foreign VPN services, Dropbox®, for years while Google® was adjusting its plans for China in 2020, with little hope to do more it is allowed to. I am not sure what the India’s alternatives are but China already has their own cloud storage services for a while now. So, what does this all mean?

India bans public cloud storage and VPN services

Public cloud storage services has been a boon for over a decade since Dropbox® entered the scene in 2008. BYOD (bring your own devices) became a constant in every IT person’s lips at that time. And with the teaser of 2GB or more, many still rely on these public cloud storage services with the ability to sync with tablets, smart phones and laptops. But the proliferation of these services also propagated many cybersecurity risks, and yes, ransomware can infect these public cloud storage. Even more noxious, the synchronization of files and folders of these services with on-premises storage devices makes it easy for infected data to spread, often with great efficacy.

Banning these widely available cloud storage applications is more than an inconvenience. Governments like China and India are shoring up their battlegrounds, as the battle for the protection and the privacy of sovereign data will not only escalate but also create a domino effect in the geopolitical dominance in the digital landscape.

We have already seen news that India is asserting its stance against China. First there was an app called “Remove China App” that came up in Google® Play Store in 2020. Also in 2020, the Ministry of Information Technology of India also banned 59 apps, mostly from China in order to protect the “sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

This is not the war of 2 of the most populous nations of the world. Underneath these acts, there are more things to come, and it won’t just involve China and India. We will see other nations follow, with some already in the works to draw boundaries and demarcate digital borders in the name of data security, privacy, sovereignty and protection.

I hear of some foreign vendors lamenting about such a move. Most have already either complied with China’s laws or chose to exit that market. This recent move by India may feel like a storm in a teacup, but beneath it all, the undercurrent is getting stronger each day. A digital geopolitical tempest is percolating and brewing.

Unstructured Data Observability with Datadobi StorageMAP

Let’s face it. Data is bursting through its storage seams. And every organization now is storing too much data that they don’t know they have.

By 2025, IDC predicts that 80% the world’s data will be unstructured. IDC‘s report Global Datasphere Forecast 2021-2025 will see the global data creation and replication capacity expand to 181 zettabytes, an unfathomable figure. Organizations are inundated. They struggle with data growth, with little understanding of what data they have, where the data is residing, what to do with the data, and how to manage the voluminous data deluge.

The simple knee-jerk action is to store it in cloud object storage where the price of storage is $0.0000xxx/GB/month. But many IT departments in these organizations often overlook the fact that that the data they have parked in the cloud require movement between the cloud and on-premises. I have been involved in numerous discussions where the customers realized that they moved the data in the cloud moved too frequently. Often it was an erred judgement or short term blindness (blinded by the cheap storage costs no doubt), further exacerbated by the pandemic. These oversights have resulted in expensive and painful monthly API calls and egress fees. Welcome to reality. Suddenly the cheap cloud storage doesn’t sound so cheap after all.

The same can said about storing non-active unstructured data on primary storage. Many organizations have not been disciplined to practise good data management. The primary Tier 1 storage becomes bloated over time, grinding sluggishly as the data capacity grows. I/O processing becomes painfully slow and backup takes longer and longer. Sounds familiar?

The A in ABC

I brought up the ABC mantra a few blogs ago. A is for Archive First. It is part of my data protection consulting practice conversation repertoire, and I use it often to advise IT organizations to be smart with their data management. Before archiving (some folks like to call it tiering, but I am not going down that argument today), we must know what to archive. We cannot blindly send all sorts of junk data to the secondary or tertiary storage premises. If we do that, it is akin to digging another hole to fill up the first hole.

We must know which unstructured data to move replicate or sync from the Tier 1 storage to a second (or third) less taxing storage premises. We must be able to see this data, observe its behaviour over time, and decide the best data management practice to apply to this data. Take note that I said best data management practice and not best storage location in the previous sentence. There has to be a clear distinction that a data management strategy is more prudent than to a “best” storage premises. The reason is many organizations are ignorantly thinking the best storage location (the thought of the “cheapest” always seems to creep up) is a good strategy while ignoring the fact that data is like water. It moves from premises to premises, from on-prem to cloud, cloud to other cloud. Data mobility is a variable in data management.

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The young report card on Decentralized Storage

I kept this blog in my queue for over 4 months. I was reluctant to publish it because I thought the outrageous frenzies of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), metaverses and web3 were convoluting the discussions on the decentralized storage topic. 3 weeks back, a Google Trends search for these 3 opaque terms over 90 days showed that the worldwide fads were waning. Here was the Google Trends output on April 2, 2022:

Google Trends on NFT, metaverse and web3

Decentralized storage intrigues me. I like to believe in its potential and I often try to talk to people to strengthen the narratives, and support its adoption where it fits. But often, the real objectives of decentralized storage are obfuscated by the polarized conversations about cryptocurrencies that are pegged to their offerings, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) and plenty of hyperboles with bewildering facts as well.

But I continue to seek sustainable conversations about decentralized storage without the sway of the NFTs or the cryptos. After dipping in my toes and experiencing with HODLers, and looking at the return to sanity, I believe we can discuss decentralized storage with better clarity now. The context is to position decentralized storage to the mainstream, specifically to business organizations already immersed in centralized storage. Here is my fledgling report card on decentralized storage.

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IT Data practices and policies still wanting

There is an apt and honest editorial cartoon about Change.

From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Who-Wants-Change-Crowd-Change-Management-Yellow.png

I was a guest of Channel Asia Executive Roundtable last week. I joined several luminaries in South East Asia to discuss about the topic of “How Partners can bring value to the businesses to manage their remote workforce“.

Covid-19 decimated what we knew as work in general. The world had to pivot and now, 2+ years later, a hybrid workforce has emerged. The mixture of remote work, work-from-home (WFH), physical office and everywhere else has brought up a new mindset and new attitudes with both the employers and their staff alike. Without a doubt, the remote way of working is here to stay.

People won but did the process lose?

The knee jerk reactions when the lockdowns of Covid hit were to switch work to remote access to applications on premises or in the clouds. Many companies have already moved to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) way of working but not all have made the jump, just like not all the companies’ applications were SaaS based. Of course, the first thing these stranded companies do was to look for the technologies to solve this unforeseen disorder.

People Process Technology.
Picture from https://iconstruct.com/blog/people-process-technology/

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Please cultivate 3-2-1 and A-B-C of Data Management

My Sunday morning was muddled 2 weeks ago. There was a frenetic call from someone whom I knew a while back and he needed some advice. Turned out that his company’s files were encrypted and the “backups” (more on this later) were gone. With some detective work, I found that their files were stored in a Synology® NAS, often accessed via QuickConnect remotely, and “backed up” to Microsoft® Azure. I put “Backup” in inverted commas because their definition of “backup” was using Synology®’s Cloud Sync to Azure. It is not a true backup but a file synchronization service that often mislabeled as a data protection backup service.

All of his company’s projects files were encrypted and there were no backups to recover from. It was a typical ransomware cluster F crime scene.

I would have gloated because many of small medium businesses like his take a very poor and lackadaisical attitude towards good data management practices. No use crying over spilled milk when prevention is better than cure. But instead of investing early in the prevention, the cure would likely be 3x more expensive. And in this case, he wanted to use Deloitte® recovery services, which I did not know existed. Good luck with the recovery was all I said to him after my Sunday morning was made topsy turvy of sorts.

NAS is the ransomware goldmine

I have said it before and I am saying it again. NAS devices, especially the consumer and prosumer brands, are easy pickings because there was little attention paid to implement a good data management practice either by the respective vendor or the end users themselves. 2 years ago I was already seeing a consistent pattern of the heightened ransomware attacks on NAS devices, especially the NAS devices that proliferated the small medium businesses market segment.

The WFH (work from home) practice trigged by the Covid-19 pandemic has made NAS devices essential for businesses. NAS are the workhorses of many businesses after all.  The ease of connecting from anywhere with features similar to the Synology® QuickConnect I mentioned earlier, or through VPNs (virtual private networks), or a self created port forwarding (for those who wants to save a quick buck [ sarcasm ]), opened the doors to bad actors and easy ransomware incursions. Good data management practices are often sidestepped or ignored in exchange for simplicity, convenience, and trying to save foolish dollars. Until ….

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HODLing Decentralized Storage is not zero sum

I have been dipping my toes into decentralized storage. I wrote about “Crossing the Chasm” last month where most early technologies have to experience to move into the mainstream adoption. I believe the same undertaking is going on for decentralized storage and the undercurrents are beginning to feel like a tidal wave. However, the clarion calls and the narratives around decentralized storage are beginning to sound the same after several months on researching the subject.

Salient points of decentralized storage

I have summarized a bunch of these arguments for decentralized storage. They are:

  • Democratization of cloud storage services separate from the hyperscaling behemoths of Web2
  • Inherent data security with default encryption, immutability and blockchain-ed. (most decentralized storage are blockchain-based. A few are not)
  • Data privacy with the security key for data decryption and authentication with the data owner(s)
  • No centralized control of data storage services, prices, market transparency and sovereignty
  • Green with more efficient energy consumption compared to Bitcoin
  • Data durability with data sharding creating no single point of failure and maintaining continuous data access services with geo content dispersal

Rocket fuel – The cryptos

Most early adoptions of a new technology require some sort of bliztscaling momentum to break free from the gravity of the old one. The cryptocurrencies pegged to many decentralized storage platforms are the rocket fuel to power the conversations and the narratives of the decentralized storage today. I probably counted over a hundred of these types of cryptocurrencies, with more jumping into the bandwagon as the gravy train moves ahead.

The table below is part of a TechTarget Search Storage article “7 Decentralized Storage Networks compared“. I found this article most enlightening.

7 Decentralized Storage Compared

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Rethinking data processing frameworks systems in real time

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…”

Except the stream isn’t gentle at all in the data processing’s new context.

For many of us in the storage infrastructure and data management world, the well known framework is storing and retrieve data from a storage media. That media could be a disk-based storage array, a tape, or some cloud storage where the storage media is abstracted from the users and the applications. The model of post processing the data after the data has safely and persistently stored on that media is a well understood and a mature one. Users, applications and workloads (A&W) process this data in its resting phase, retrieve it, work on it, and write it back to the resting phase again.

There is another model of data processing that has been bubbling over the years and now reaching a boiling point. Still it has not reached its apex yet. This is processing the data in flight, while it is still flowing as it passes through processing engine. The nature of this kind of data is described in one 2018 conference I chanced upon a year ago.

letgo marketplace processing numbers in 2018

  • * NRT = near real time

From a storage technology infrastructure perspective, this kind of data processing piqued my curiosity immensely. And I have been studying this burgeoning new data processing model in my spare time, and where it fits, bringing the understanding back into the storage infrastructure and data management side.

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How well do you know your data and the storage platform that processes the data

Last week was consumed by many conversations on this topic. I was quite jaded, really. Unfortunately many still take a very simplistic view of all the storage technology, or should I say over-marketing of the storage technology. So much so that the end users make incredible assumptions of the benefits of a storage array or software defined storage platform or even cloud storage. And too often caveats of turning on a feature and tuning a configuration to the max are discarded or neglected. Regards for good storage and data management best practices? What’s that?

I share some of my thoughts handling conversations like these and try to set the right expectations rather than overhype a feature or a function in the data storage services.

Complex data networks and the storage services that serve it

I/O Characteristics

Applications and workloads (A&W) read and write from the data storage services platforms. These could be local DAS (direct access storage), network storage arrays in SAN and NAS, and now objects, or from cloud storage services. Regardless of structured or unstructured data, different A&Ws have different behavioural I/O patterns in accessing data from storage. Therefore storage has to be configured at best to match these patterns, so that it can perform optimally for these A&Ws. Without going into deep details, here are a few to think about:

  • Random and Sequential patterns
  • Block sizes of these A&Ws ranging from typically 4K to 1024K.
  • Causal effects of synchronous and asynchronous I/Os to and from the storage

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Storage Elephant Compute Birds

Data movement is expensive. Not just costs, but also latency and resources as well. Thus there were many narratives to move compute closer to where the data is stored because moving compute is definitely more economical than moving data. I borrowed the analogy of the 2 animals from some old NetApp® slides which depicted storage as the elephant, and compute as birds. It was the perfect analogy, because the storage is heavy and compute is light.

“Close up of a white Great Egret perching on top of an African Elephant aa Amboseli national park, Kenya”

Before the animals representation came about I used to use the term “Data locality, Data Mobility“, because of past work on storage technology in the Oil & Gas subsurface data management pipeline.

Take stock of your data movement

I had recent conversations with an end user who has been paying a lot of dollars keeping their “backup” and “archive” in AWS Glacier. The S3 storage is cheap enough to hold several petabytes of data for years, because the IT folks said that the data in AWS Glacier are for “backup” and “archive”. I put both words in quotes because they were termed as “backup” and “archive” because of their enterprise practice. However, the face of their business is changing. They are in manufacturing, oil and gas downstream, and the definitions of “backup” and “archive” data has changed.

For one, there is a strong demand for reusing the past data for various reasons and these datasets have to be recalled from their cloud storage. Secondly, their data movement activities still mimicked what they did in the past during their enterprise storage days. It was a classic lift-and-shift when they moved to the cloud, and not taking stock of  their data movements and the operations they ran on these datasets. Still ongoing, their monthly AWS cost a bomb.

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