Joining the cloud dots

Back in October last year I chatted with NetApp’s Phoebe Goh about how the continued growth in the public cloud meant that not only must we consider the place cloud would play in our data strategy but also how we join together our data locations (you can find that chat on this Tech Interviews Podcast).

A phrase Phoebe used throughout was “joining the dots” but how do you do that in practice? In this article, I want to explore that idea and to do that I thought I’d see if Phoebe’s company NetApp can help us achieve that.

For those who may not have looked at NetApp for a long time, it’s worth pointing out that they are no longer the same enterprise storage vendor you may remember. When they introduced the idea of the data fabric as a way of meshing multiple NetApp services together, for some it was just an attempt to try and remain relevant in an increasingly cloud focussed world. However, what they have successfully achieved is to take the data fabric strategy and turn it into a reality, embracing cloud as a core part of theirs and their customer’s data strategy as this rather impressive diagram shows.

The enterprise cloud

As impressive as this is, why have NetApp made this investment, are we not all just moving our data to the cloud and going to allow AWS, Microsoft and Google deliver our data services? Maybe not, during our conversation Phoebe raised the concept of “enterprise cloud”, what does that mean and why do we need it?

If we follow the cycle of cloud adoption, we see the usual trends, from enthusiastic early adopters and sceptics to today’s broad acceptance. The cloud is now a standard part of business life, therefore, as our adoption has matured so the cloud must also develop, from enthusiast’s platform to a stable and mature enterprise-class one. While that may explain what it means, why do we need it?

The answer, in my experience, is two-fold, firstly we need to ensure that when we are using cloud services, they offer the same enterprise-class capabilities we are used to. In storage terms I want the same predictable performance and cost, resilience, efficiency, and manageability, these have not traditionally been the focus of storage in the public cloud with its design based on scale and flexibility rather than enterprise capability.

Perhaps, more importantly, is the realisation that the cloud is not “all or nothing”. An established enterprise is unlikely to move all its infrastructure en masse, it is going to want to use cloud tactically, using cloud services as and when appropriate to deliver improved outcomes to their organisation and this is where joining cloud dots becomes important.

Joining the dots

The only way we can use cloud tactically is by providing a seamless integration experience that allows us to both exploit the strength of the cloud while maintaining the values of enterprise tech that the modern organisation demands. How do we do this? Let us explore NetApp’s approach who, in my opinion, have not only a comprehensive roadmap, but more importantly are offering solutions that an organisation can use today to integrate the cloud into their data strategy.

Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples from their portfolio.

Global File Cache

Enterprise data in the public cloud presents two issues, getting it there and accessing it from multiple locations without a performance penalty. Global File Cache (GFC) built on technology from Talend (a 2020 acquisition) addresses both issues. It allows us to build a single namespace that can be spread across many locations, including of course, via the use of another NetApp product, Cloud Volumes, the public cloud. The below diagram shows how we can integrate multiple locations in a single solution which allows users to access data regardless of its and their location, on-prem, another site, or the public cloud.

It also gives a seamless migration path to the cloud allowing us to move our data into a central cloud repository without interruption and while maintaining local access were needed across our enterprise.

Cloud Volumes

Cloud Volumes is at the heart of NetApp’s ability to offer enterprise-class cloud storage. NetApp are well known for their on-premises enterprise-class features such as storage efficiency, performance and scale,  but many of these are not natively available in the public cloud. This presents two issues; without them how do I maintain enterprise-class service? And without commonality between datacentre and the cloud how can I offer a seamless experience?

Cloud Volumes allows NetApp to do just that by providing a common enterprise-class data service, via their ONTAP operating system, across multiple locations. This allows an enterprise to build a multi-location data strategy around common features that offer data portability as well as to enhance and provide predictable performance, consistent management, security, control and, especially important to the cloud, drive efficiency to lower the cloud storage footprint and therefore reduce cost.

These are just two examples of how we can join the cloud dots. The public cloud is becoming a staple part of the modern enterprise’s data strategy, we need its scale and flexibility, as well as the access it provides to a wide range of services from analytics to AI, Development and DR. The public cloud is an important part of how we will deliver future IT services, but we need to be able to integrate it into much of our traditional infrastructure so joining the dots between our datacentre and the cloud needs to be an important part of any business’s modern strategy.

You can find out more about the work I do with NetApp at gardnersystems.co.uk and you can find more about NetApp at netapp.com.

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