What should be a Cloud Storage?

For us filesystem guys, NAS is the way to go. We are used to store files into network file systems via NFS and CIFS protocols and treating the NAS storage array like a refrigerator – taking stuff out and putting stuff back it. All that is fine and well as long as the data is what I would term as corporate data.

Corporate data is generated by employees, applications and users of the company and for a long time, the power of data creation lies in the hands of the enterprise. That is why storage solutions are designed to address the needs of the enterprise where the data is structured and well defined. How the data is stored; the data is formatted; and how is being accessed are the “boundary” of how the data is being used. Typically a database is used to “restrict” the data created so that the information can be retrieved and modified quickly. And of course, SAN guys will tell you to put these structured data of the data base into their SAN.

For the unstructured data in the enterprise, NAS file systems hold that responsibility. Files such as documents and presentations have a more loosely defined “boundaries”, and hence filesystems are a better natural fit for unstructured data. Filesystems are like a free-for-all container, and able to store and provide access to any files in the enterprise.

But today, as the Web 2.0 applications are already taking over the enterprise, the power of data creation does not necessary lie in the hands of the enterprise applications and users. In fact, it is estimated that the percentage of enterprise data now has exceeded 50% of the enterprise’s total data capacity. With the proliferation of personal devices such as tablets, Blackberries, smart phones, PDAs and so on, individual contributors are generating plenty of data. This situation has been made more acute with Web 2.0 applications, such as Facebook, blogs, social networking, Twitter, Google Search and so on.

Unfortunately, file systems in the NAS category still pretty much the traditional file systems, while the needs of a new type of file system could not be met by the traditional file systems. The paradigm is definitely shifting.  The new unstructured data world needs a new storage concept. I would term this type of storage as “Cloud Storage” because it breaks down the traditional concepts of NAS.

So what basically defined a Cloud Storage? I already mentioned that the type of unstructured data has changed. And the new requirements for unstructured data type  are:

  • The unstructured data type is capable of globally distributed.
  • There will be billions and billions of unstructured data objects created but each object, be it a Twitter tweet, or a uploaded mobile video, or even the clandestine data collected by CarrierIQ, can be accessed easily via a single namespace
  • The storage file system foundation for these new unstructured data type is easily provisioned and management. Look at Facebook. It is easy to setup, get going and the user (and probably the data administrator) can easily manage the user interface and the platform
  • For the service provider of Cloud Storage, the file system must be secure and support multi-tenancy and virtualization of storage resources
  • There should be some form of policy-driven content management. That is why development platforms such as Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress are slowing become enterprise driven to address these unstructured data types.
  • Highly searchable and have a high degree of search optimization. A Google search do have a strong degree of intelligence and relevance to the data being search as well as generating tons of by-product data that feeds the need to understand the consumers or the users better. Hail Big Data!

So when I compare traditional NAS storage solutions such as Netapp or EMC VNX or BlueArc, I ask the question of whether their NAS solutions has these capabilities to meet the requirements of these new unstructured data type.

Most of them, no matter how they package it, is still relying on files as the granular object of storage. And today, most files may have some form of metadata such as file name, owner, size etc, DO NOT, possess the capability of content-aware. Here’s an example when I want to show you:


The file properties (part of the file metadata) tell you about the file but little about the content of the file. Today, it requires more than that and the new unstructured data type should look more like this:

If you look at the diagram below, the object on the right (which is the new unstructured data type), display much more information than a typical file in a NAS file system. There additional information becomes the fodder to other applications such as search engines, RSS feeds, robots and spiders and of course, big data analytics.

Here’s another example of what I mean about these extended metadata, and a Cloud Storage storage array is required to work with these new set of parameters and a new set of requirement.


There’s a new unstructured data type in town. Traditional NAS systems may not have the right features to work with this new paradigm.

Don’t be white washed by the fancy talk of storage vendors in town. Learn the facts, and find out what is really a Cloud Storage.

It’s time to think differently. It’s time to think of what should be a Cloud Storage.