Multicloud storage is an approach to configuring multiple cloud storage services as a single architecture, which benefits business goals by diversifying and balancing the properties of different cloud deployments to create more effective and efficient systems. A common use case is to ensure cloud deployments are shared among geographically diverse data centers within the same region to achieve regionally redundant services. This could mean two data centers positioned on opposite US coasts servicing a multicloud architecture could provide service redundancy against outages on either coast. While this example demonstrates a common use case, geographic diversity, cloud service architecture is flexible, and multicloud provides a channel for developers to hobble together multiple services in innovative ways to achieve business goals, meet compliance, ensure data protection, and prepare for disaster and recovery.
Functionally, multicloud storage combines multiple native public cloud service providers (CSP) with potentially other private clouds, on-premise architectures, or managed service providers (MSP). Multicloud is complex enough to warrant using third-party software to coordinate services. These platforms bundle toolsets that allow for comprehensive monitoring and control of several cloud services into a unified architecture. These platforms have various capabilities, but are all challenged with:
Privacy and security among and between multiple services.
The practical integrations between services.
Performance issues such as latency between services.
Application delivering and standard workflows in different environments.
What is Cloud Storage?
The cloud and cloud storage are essentially synonymous. So, while on-premise storage means data storage housed and managed at a company’s physical location, storing data “in the cloud” fundamentally is the same as storing it at an off-site data center accessible by internet. The off-site cloud storage is most typically a third-party cloud service provider that could offer both managed and self-service features.
Managed features allows companies to out-source their IT needs to cloud providers, effectively reducing that departmental functionality to a budget line item. Highly visible examples of these services are SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) vendors, who manage the entire back-end and user interface for clients that simply pay for the service and may never even think twice about security, or data management. Likewise, IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) provides infrastructure, like servers, CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, network, under managed and self-service models.
Self-service models, or unmanaged models, are bare services that provide intrepid developers the basics for installing and self-managing their own environments. Self-management infrastructure and services are good for consumers who have the expertise, or require custom configurations. This approach will undeniably reduce CSP costs, but is offset with zero management or software support.
Cloud storage has many properties that make it a flexible solution that has become a source of innovation and advantage for many organizations. Utilizing cloud storage has allowed companies to easily comply with regulations and secure their data assets, as well as ensure they are adequately protected in the case of data disasters and loss. Developers can easily move in and out of environments as they experiment with workloads, as readily as enterprises can scale their data stores to meet the demand of their users.
How Multicloud Storage Works
Multicloud storage can be successfully implemented using a cloud management platform (CMP). CMPs provide the toolsets to monitor and control multiple cloud services and resources. These platforms unify cloud metrics across multiple environments—private cloud, public cloud, multicloud, hybrid cloud—to create visibility across environments and deliver insights about performance, security, and costs. These insights help many roles, IT admins, security analysis, and engineers, to effectively optimize cloud resources.
Multicloud management platforms, or sometimes cloud data controllers, tackle the fundamental problems of having multiple clouds—data must be migrated between clouds. The basic issue is that data is heavy compared to the compute power also found at data centers. Compute power can be engaged, or “spun up”, on-demand, whereas, if a replication of data is needed to help meet demand, it must first be copied, or transferred, from a source. Depending on the size of the data, this could take a significant amount of time. In other words, data needs to be positioned strategically in advance.
The cloud data controller provides the capabilities for organizations to move their data from on-premise data storage to cloud data storage. The controller creates a single global file system that encompasses both on-premise and object storage and cloud storage.
Requirements for Multicloud Storage
Cloud management platforms, or cloud data controllers, provide a global view of cloud resources, with controls to manage data between clouds. Generally, these applications are standalone solutions that create a namespace that spans both on-premise, and cloud resources, with features for automation and orchestration of data tasks, that help to maintain data integrity, protection, and security, for each data storage environment.
Single Namespace — Cloud platforms create global file systems that span multiple cloud spaces. These differ from cloud migration tools that simply migrate data between environments, but leave the separate management of each cloud storage pool to IT. A single namespace allows the incorporation of on-premise stores with multiple clouds, searchable through metadata searches across public cloud and private clouds.
Cloud Native Storage — The cloud data controller should accommodate storing data in formats native to the cloud storage provider, that is, data stored in Microsoft’s Azure Blob storage native format should be stored in native Azure Blob format, and if later copied to Amazon S3, it should be converted into native S3 format. Native formats help avoid requiring additional drivers or software, and leverage the compute resources native to those clouds.
Standalone Solution — Technically, cloud platforms are standalone solutions, but they may be sold as an add-on solution to a vendor’s core storage offering intended as the primary purchase. While bundles can be good, ensure that the offer matches business goal needs. These multicloud add-ons may fall short in features compared to other standalone solutions, moreover, they may precipitate vendor lock-in.
Automation and Orchestration — Universality is a key feature of best-in-class multicloud solutions, which is achieved through provision of an API set with a workflow engine that can be scripted to perform automations, and more complex orchestrations between cloud resources. Automations and orchestrations enable many of the benefits of implementing multicloud strategies.
Multicloud Storage Benefits
The overarching benefit of multicloud storage is diversification of storage over multiple deployments, leading to the following subsequent advantages.
Enhanced Data Protection and Security — Data protection means ensuring that data is secure from malicious actors, but also protected from corruption. By diversifying storage over a multicloud configuration, data can be secured and protected based on various cloud properties and data classifications. For example, data backups can be archived away securely encrypted, while operational data can be duplicated to multiple data centers for high service availability, and separated from regulated data securely stored in compliant on-premise data stores.
Increased Flexibility — With the advantages of configuring a diverse set of cloud environments comes choosing from a marketplace of cloud vendors. This flexibility, while requiring additional due diligence on the part of the consumer, helps organizations avoid vendor lock-in, and select the right partners to work with.
Cost Optimization — Choosing the right configurations and vendors also entails some cost controls. Several cost controls come into play, first vendor selection, most vendors operate on a pay-as-you-grow model, making costs predictable. Additionally, multicloud platforms will include cost monitoring functions that will help in comparing cloud usage and costs across services.
Multicloud Storage Challenges
Multicloud platforms are designed to remove many of the obstacles to configuring, monitoring, and managing multiple cloud storage services together. Common challenges include:
Cloud Integrations and Multiple APIs — Cloud integrations require the use of APIs to communicate seamlessly. While this is possible, cloud service providers are far from standardized, potentially creating misalignments between the API methodologies of disparate vendors. Carefully evaluate the features of cloud management platforms, which can offer solutions for API management, to ensure they are standards-based, and support necessary cloud service providers.
Privacy and Security — Any multicloud storage strategy must consider data privacy and security. While cloud storage does provide a greater threat surface over traditional on-premise network security, cloud security can be equally if not more secure, but must be managed. All resources within the cloud storage fabric must be aligned with overarching security policies, data must be protected through encryption at rest and in transit, and user access must be authenticated and authorized.
Inherent Data Network Latency — Data latency is a physical limitation of networks, which multicloud, through strategic positioning of cloud resources, attempts to overcome. Access to data anywhere, anytime, easily and quickly, becomes a greater challenge as more services are added to a company’s cloud storage fabric, and more data is communicated between services. While this is a challenge that can be overcome with forethought, it must be understood and planned for.
Solutions for Multicloud Storage
There are many vendors in the multicloud storage management space, and each of their products have several advantages and drawbacks. Multicloud storage management platforms come in three main varieties. Based on the strengths of the admin team, and the need of business application, organizations can choose between vendor specific, vendor agnostic, and open-source solutions.
Vendor specific multicloud platforms pair tightly with their ecosystem, for example, Microsoft Azure Management Tool integrates closely with the Microsoft ecosystem. Ease and familiarity with incumbent systems can make multicloud adoption smoother and faster.
Vendor agnostic platforms, like Cisco’s Workload Optimizer Manager, promises to integrate across multiple vendor systems. Cisco has penned many de facto networking standards, and is a powerhouse with the right equipment to support larger enterprise clients, but reasonably it could come with a steep price tag.
Not so with open-source platforms, like Redhat or Apache, which offer competitive multicloud management features but without the same licensing costs. While open source software is free, some enterprise releases require support payments. Non-monetary costs, like learning the open-source platform or troubleshooting open-source issues, show up in the time it takes to research an answer from the open-source community rather than a support hotline.
Multicloud Storage Use Cases
Multicloud storage provides strategic business benefits in several use cases that aim to enhance and bolster data protection, security, flexibility, performance, accessibility, and resilience. In short, cases using multicloud aim to ensure users have access to their data, anywhere, anytime, with minimal lag, delivered to them securely.
Clustering Mission-Critical Databases — This strategy exploits the advantage of using multicloud storage to isolate specific functional databases clusters in the cloud. This achieves two things, frees the functional database from block storage typical in on-premise data storage, and allows the database to be duplicated across multiple clouds. This allows data to migrate around to locations as needed, to be replicated and serve peak load times, and provide a shielding of mission critical data against downtimes.
Easing Disaster Recovery — Applications are also data. By distributing both data and apps that support business operations to multiple clouds, the same diversification mechanism can be used for disaster recovery plans. If systems are compromised, and the network goes offline, redundant recovery stores can help organizations rapidly bring services back up.
Backup and Archiving — A fundamental use of multicloud storage is to provide a reliable off-site repository for data backups and archives. Off-site replication can be less expensive, easier, and more reliable than on-premise archiving.
Resilience and Performance Strategies — Multiple data stores in different geographic locations is a key risk mitigation strategy. If one location experiences downtime, other locations can take up the workload until the system returns to normal. This approach can be pushed even further by diversifying vendors, in addition to diversifying the geographic location of data centers. Multiple vendors can balance workloads, in the case that one vendor services begins to underperform, others can take up workloads in the local area.
Compliance Strategies — Data carries with it regulatory requirements, and organizations dealing in data must guarantee and show their regulatory compliance. The general use case is to store regulated data, like personally identifiable information, or health information, on data storage that is physically located within the sovereign boundary of the country of regulation.
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