How Enterprises Can Rise Above Data Gravity for a Better Life in the Cloud

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Today’s enterprises are more distributed than ever before. To conduct business on a global scale, a larger company may have research and development in one country, manufacturing sites in others, and sales and support offices spread across key regions in between. Smaller enterprises, despite not having an international operational presence, can also have dispersed workforces. This is due to the pandemic, the widespread acceptance of remote work, as well as the need to acquire much-needed skills, from beyond usual borders to counter talent shortages.

Naturally, this means business data is being generated everywhere, whether it’s from a laptop at home, a mobile device at an airport or via equipment at a manufacturing site halfway across the world. In turn, people and apps must be able to access this data in real-time to support fast, precise, decision-making, even if they’re far removed from its original source.

In short, speed is a need, flexibility a must, and traditional data storage approaches will quickly prove a bust nowadays. Even the ubiquitous cloud delivers unacceptable performance when facilities and users are scattered and have less than robust connections. So, what’s an enterprise to do? 

A matter of gravity

Basically, what’s theoretically needed is ever-expanding network attached storage (NAS) that maintains the benefits of standard file infrastructure but shifts the capacity off traditional hardware into cloud object storage. This can deliver limitless capacity, while significantly reducing costs.

Unfortunately, having file data stored in the cloud and workloads on-premises can result in serious performance issues because remote access and data consolidation don’t play well together. In fact, the combination can create “data gravity” that complicates and slows the movement of data, worsened by the latency that often accompanies remote access.

The resulting lack of speed and flexibility presents significant issues when decisions must be made in seconds in order to prevent potential loss or generate revenue to the tune of millions of dollars.

Living on the edge

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome data gravity and enable reliable access and performance no matter where employees or operations are located. For instance, some providers of file data services deploy virtual filers with the ability to cache heavy workloads and frequently accessed data. Living locally at the edge, this puts data closer to a company’s end users, which in itself ensures better performance.

Of course, end users aren’t keen to change, so the performance must be as good as standard NAS. What’s more, access needs to be familiar or adoption will fail. That said, when looking at such solutions, be sure end users can interact with a traditional POSIX file-based interface that is indistinguishable from what they would see with a NAS. And while file data can be stored on a company’s cloud of choice, be sure it is entirely transparent to end users.

Always keep in mind that the goal is to provide users a reliable, familiar experience that will also enable the company to take advantage of the economics and scale of cloud.

Some added protection

A gold or master copy of every file should always be maintained in the cloud. As end users work locally on cached files or create new ones, the deltas can be versioned to the location, allowing for snapshot functionality that’s similar to a modern NAS filer. Further, with some approaches, files can be chunked, deduped, encrypted and stored as objects. In doing so, files become immutable objects stored in the cloud, which makes for interesting capabilities when it comes to protecting against threats like ransomware.

For instance, in such an attack, encryption would impact cached, locally accessible files. However, a strong platform will keep a complete, versioned history of every file as immutable objects in the cloud. So, once a threat is detected and quarantined, a company can easily restore individual files, folders or even an entire file system to a point just prior to the incident. It can then fully and quickly restore from those immutable, unencrypted objects.

Tests have shown that it’s possible to restore access to millions of files in just minutes, dramatically reducing the downtime costs that results from traditional backup.

Synching up

Finally, it is possible today for a company’s distributed, siloed storage arrays to be consolidated in one cloud platform or global namespace. This simplifies infrastructure on multiple levels, while delivering a new type of single pane of glass functionality.

When colleagues are working together on a project but located in geographically distant offices, any change made by any person can be quickly updated in the gold copy stored in the cloud. The deltas are then automatically and rapidly sent to all cached local copies and quickly updated.

Then, if the platform has distributed file-locking functionality, it can prevent one person from altering the document while another is actively updating it. This not only eliminates version conflicts, but the high-speed file synchronization also enables effective collaboration without experiencing frustrating delays.

It’s all part of that theoretical, ever-expanding NAS that accelerates global collaborative workflows and offers a powerful new, transparent, protection against threats. Only it’s not theoretical and it’s not merely about cloud storage. This is about being able to fully utilize the cloud in a new way. It’s modern-day file data access without the consequences of data gravity, provided in a way that is frictionless, limitless and cost effective.  

About the Author

Jim Liddle is the Chief Innovation Officer at Nasuni, a leading file data services company. Jim has over 25 years of experience in storage, big data, and cloud technologies.  Previously, Jim was the founder and CEO of Storage Made Easy, which was acquired by Nasuni in July 2022. In addition, Jim was European sales and operations director for the big data company GigaSpaces and, prior to that, was the European general manager for Versata, a NASDAQ-listed business process and rules management company.

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