infoTECH Feature

January 29, 2015

The Future of Storage in the Web-Scale World

IDC predicts that 2015 will be a year of accelerating innovation on the Third Platform of computing—social, mobile, cloud and big data—that is rapidly transforming IT. The analyst firm is noticing early-stage enterprise investment in “Third Platform” workloads that leverage web-scale architectures typically seen in hyperscale environments. Enterprises in the Asia Pacific sphere (APAC), for example, are focusing IT spending on Web-scale cloud systems built by agile development teams to enable new business capabilities.

Given recent advancements in technology, it is becoming increasingly clear that even a linear growth trajectory for storage is insufficient to deliver the quantity of storage needed for data produced by the Internet of Things. Current architectures have bottlenecks that, while merely inconvenient for legacy data, are simply untenable for the scale of storage needed today.

In an effort to meet the demands of this technology hypergrowth, major enterprises are deploying Web-scale architectures that enable virtualization, compute and storage functionality on a vast scale.

Overcoming Performance Challenges

A key element in Web-scale storage design is its insistence on removing all bottlenecks from storage architecture. A bottleneck that functions as a single point of entry can become a single point of failure, especially with the demands of cloud computing on big data storage. Adding redundant, expensive, high-performance components to alleviate the bottleneck, as most service providers presently do, adds cost and complexity to a system very quickly. On the other hand, a horizontally scalable web-scale system designed to distribute data among all nodes makes it possible to choose cheaper, lower-energy hardware.

Solving performance problems like data bottlenecks is a big concern for cloud providers, which must manage far more users and greater performance demands than do enterprises.  While the average user of an enterprise system demands high performance, these systems typically have fewer users, and those users can access their files directly through the local network. Furthermore, enterprise system users are typically accessing, sending and saving relatively low-volume files like document files and spreadsheets, using less storage capacity and alleviating performance load.

For a cloud user outside the enterprise, however, it is a different story. The system is being accessed simultaneously over the Internet by an order of magnitude more users, which itself becomes a performance bottleneck.  The cloud provider’s storage system not only has to scale to each additional user, but must also maintain performance across the aggregate of all users.  Significantly, the average cloud user is accessing and storing far larger files – music, photo and video files – than does the average enterprise user.  Web-scale architectures are designed to prevent the bottlenecks that this volume of usage causes in traditional legacy storage setups.

Scale-Out Storage

It’s important that Web-scale architecture be built on software exclusively, with no reliance on hardware. Since hardware inevitably fails (at a number of points within the machine), traditional appliances – storage hardware that has proprietary software built in – typically include multiple copies of expensive components to anticipate and prevent failure. These extra layers of identical hardware extract higher costs in energy usage, and add layers of complication to a single appliance. Because the actual cost per appliance is quite high compared with that of commodity servers, cost estimates often skyrocket when companies begin examining how to scale out their data centers. One way to avoid this is by using software-defined vNAS or vNAS in a hypervisor environment, both of which offer a way to build out servers at a Web-scale rate.

Data Distribution

Even though the data center trend has been moving toward centralization, distributed storage presents the best way to build at Web-scale levels. This is because there are now ways to improve performance at the software level that neutralize the performance advantage of a centralized data storage approach.  

Since cloud services need to be accessed from locations all over the world, service providers must be able to offer data centers located across the globe to minimize load time. With global availability however, come a number of challenges. Load is active in the data center in a company’s region. This creates a problem, since all data stored in all locations must be in sync. From an architecture point of view, it’s important to solve these problems at the storage layer instead of up at the application layer, where it becomes more difficult and complicated to solve.

Global data centers must be resilient to localized disaster – such as a power outage – that puts a local server farm offline. If a local data center or server goes down, global data centers must reroute data quickly to available servers to minimize downtime. While there are certainly solutions today that solve these problems, they do so at the application layer.  Attempting to solve these issues that high up in the hierarchy of data center infrastructure – instead of solving them at the storage level – presents significant cost and complexity disadvantages. Solving these issues directly at the storage level through web-scale architectures delivers significant benefits in efficiency, time and cost savings.

A Flexible, Cost-Effective Option

There are clear trends pointing to ever-increasing demands for cheap storage, and if companies continue to rely on expensive, inflexible appliances in their data centers, they will be forced to outlay significant funds to develop the storage capacity they need to meet customer needs.

Budgets, network environments and corporate priorities all change in response to market demands. Having an expansive, rigid network environment locked into configurations determined by an outside vendor severely curtails the ability of the organization to react nimbly to market demands, much less anticipate them in a proactive manner.  Web-scale storage philosophies enable major enterprises to “future-proof” their data centers.  Since the hardware and the software are separate investments, either may be switched out to a better, more appropriate option as the market dictates, at minimal cost. 

Architecture for the Future

The future of storage demands web-scale architecture. New data storage philosophies – including software-defined storage and hyper-converged infrastructures – are enabling Internet service providers, major enterprises and global organizations to scale to huge compute environments with integrated virtualization components. If you need to be able to store the quantities of data in a way that Facebook (News - Alert) or Amazon does, then web-scale storage architecture is the answer.

About the Author: Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, Stefan has designed and built numerous enterprise scale data storage solutions designed to be cost effective for storing huge data sets. From 2004 to 2010 Stefan worked within this field for Storegate, the wide-reaching Internet based storage solution for consumer and business markets, with the highest possible availability and scalability requirements. Previously, Stefan has worked with system and software architecture on several projects with Swedish giant Ericsson (News - Alert), the world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and services to mobile and fixed network operators. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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