Cloud Gateways 101

July was a red-hot month for the cloud gateway market. EMC acquired gateway startup TwinStrata, and Panzura teamed up with Google to launch a free cloud gateway that included two terabytes of free storage, courtesy of Google Cloud Platform.

“It’s definitely a lot of different things coming together,” said Rachel Dines, senior product marketing manager at Riverbed, speaking on the recent activity. She pointed to the fact that cloud storage is becoming more mature while the volume of data enterprises need to manage is exploding. “I think we’ve started to hit this point of no return when they just cannot handle the amount of data growth they’re experiencing right now,” she said of enterprises.

The maturation of the market may have been a driver behind the Google/Panzura partnership. Barry Phillips, chief marketing officer at Panzura, said, “We saw the writing on the wall. Gateways will either become a feature of storage systems, of storage arrays behind the firewall…or they will become a feature of the cloud.” Amazon already has a cloud gateway and Microsoft has StorSimple. Google needed one, too, and Phillips said, “We were giving one away for free, so why not partner with them to do it?” But he stressed he doesn’t see cloud gateways as their own market. “It’s really a feature, either of a cloud or of an array.”

A growing interest in object storage is among the factors Nicos Vekiarides, vice president of cloud technology, enterprise and midrange systems division, at EMC Corporation, said is influencing innovations in the cloud gateway sector. “From a consolidation perspective, you’re talking about massive scale, so certainly everybody likes the idea of a smaller footprint, maybe even fewer data centers, and that’s one of the things that it enables,” he explained.

All the buzz around cloud gateways makes this a good time to gain a better understanding of the technology and its use cases.

Cloud gateways defined

Put simply, a cloud gateway (sometimes referred to as a cloud-integrated storage appliance) is a device—either software or hardware—that makes cloud storage look and feel like local storage. “Effectively, a lot of organizations scale their storage capacity using object storage from one or many cloud providers,” Vekiarides explained. “It gives it a very familiar interface, as well as management capability, but on the back end it essentially has a limitless pool of storage that’s all available on demand.”

Panzura separates cloud gateways from cloud controllers. “What we define as a cloud gateway is the ability to essentially use the cloud for your [data recovery], your backup, and your archiving solution,” Phillips explained. Gateways facilitate backing up individual sites to the cloud, and controllers enable all those sites to be on one primary storage. It isn’t necessary to use gateways and controllers together, but Phillips said the addition of controllers “reduces the total footprint because it reduces all of the common files and common blocks across all of those pieces.”

Of course, cloud storage doesn’t require any sort of gateway at all to use. However, enterprises that choose to leverage them get some tangible benefits. Data reduction is one. “You can get data reduction without an appliance, but not nearly at the same scale that you can with a cloud-integrated storage appliance,” Dines explained. She said her team is seeing up to thirty-times data reduction in some instances. That means 30 terabytes of data equals one terabyte stored in the cloud.

How gateways impact the network environment

In describing where a gateway product fits into the enterprise architecture, Dines explained, “The appliance sits in the data stream as the backup target.” The location within the enterprise is the same whether the organization uses a purpose-built backup appliance, tape or something else for storage. “They keep everything as it is, and all they need to do is swap out the backup target,” Dines said. The backup software points to the gateway, which in turn “handles everything in terms of streaming data out to the cloud.” Because the changes necessary to support a gateway are often minimal, deployment is quick and largely unobtrusive.

Ease of use is another upside to a cloud gateway. Vekiarides offered an example where much of the management overhead associated with cloud storage might be removed. “Where you have companies with remote or branch offices, you have administrators who then have to manage infrastructure at each. A cloud gateway can alleviate a lot of that burden.” A network environment with few internal IT resources, and that enables multiple sites to use the same backup target, is another example where simplified management would be a tremendous benefit.

Cloud gateway use cases

Backup, DR and archiving are the most common (and often the lowest risk) use cases for cloud gateways, but other situations are becoming more popular. One is for pure, primary block storage, though latency and distance may become a challenge. Another is similar to NAS share, where the appliances are used for file storage and collaboration. “This is definitely an emerging space, and a lot of organizations are really interested in this use case for cloud storage,” Dines said. It may still be perceived as somewhat risky, as it’s “definitely very latency-dependent,” particularly with highly critical data.

Vekiarides said he also finds that gateways typically fit well in virtual environments. “As we talk about things like a software-defined data center, it makes a lot of sense because now you can essentially spin up virtual editions of a cloud gateway appliance, and you can add storage, very dynamically create these environments that have hundreds of terabytes even into the petabytes of storage capacity using environments that are software-defined and really consisting of off-the-shelf type hardware,” he explained. With the growing base of software-defined environments and an increasing number of options in the cloud gateway arena, enterprises are likely to touch on one—or both—sooner rather than later.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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