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Hot Developments in Infrastructure


The primary mission of the infrastructure professional is the deployment and maintenance of platforms that enable applications and services. An infrastructure development might become a hot topic if a lot of people are talking about it or doing it, but the value and business benefit to the organization must be considered before upgrading or changing existing infrastructure simply because something “better” is emerging. The following developments – cloud storage, data deduplication, and mobility – are hot right now, but it remains to be seen whether they will actually boost success for infrastructure managers.

Cloud storage expands storage capacity for backup without buying more disks or tape

These days, it seems that anything with the word “cloud” in it is subject to hype, but businesses are seeing value in third-party cloud storage for handling the storage of their backup and archival data.

For the enterprise, the requirements for backing-up and archiving data are basic. Important data needs to be put somewhere safe and off-site. And, it needs to be retrievable if the data at the primary location is somehow lost due to error or external disaster.

Cloud storage is a subset of cloud-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service. In cloud-based storage, a third-party provider creates aggregated storage resources typically through some kind of grid or cluster computing arrangement.

This cloud storage capacity is then rented to a number of different tenants who access the storage via the Internet. The client pays for the service by the amount used, on a metered basis (and in some cases data transfer fees for uploading and downloading to and from the cloud service). The pay-as-you-go costs for this storage can be extremely attractive to companies that are looking to eliminate up-front infrastructure requirements and cost. 

While interest in cloud storage for backup is high, it is still an emerging technology and the following “classic cautions” should be taken into consideration before deciding to move data to the cloud:

  • Availability and reliability: Ensure the service provider has an appropriate SLA in place, a well-documented disaster recovery plan, and a continuity plan in the event the service was to cease permanently.
  • Location, location: Compliance and privacy issues are very real. Organizations dealing with sensitive and confidential data need to find vendors based in countries with similar regulations.
  • Data and application mobility: If you are no longer satisfied with your existing provider, they terminate the service, or are acquired, you need to know you can make a seamless move to another cloud storage provider, or move your data back in-house.
  • Security and accountability: Data is a critical resource. In the cloud, data is entrusted to a third party and shares tenancy with other people’s data (including competitors). Legal and regulatory compliance may also require visibility into where data is stored and who has access – difficult in an abstracted cloud environment.

Cloud storage for backup is advancing, so look for continued maturing over the next three years. There are inherent advantages to moving backups and archives offsite, including lowering the total cost of ownership related to storage acquisition, power, standby power, and cooling. In addition, the cloud will have significant impact in the organization’s move to a virtualized utility infrastructure.

Data deduplication saves space, costs, and bandwidth as storage requirements balloon exponentially

With data growth exploding at a rate of 50-100% per year, and the expectation that business-critical data be available 24/7, infrastructure and storage managers are being forced to restructure their backup processes. In today’s enterprise environment, the sheer volume of documents, audio and video, and e-mail attachments generated by users continually strains storage capacity.  Purchasing additional storage can alleviate the problem short-term, but data volumes will only continue to grow. While several trends have emerged to counter this data explosion, data deduplication is becoming one of the hottest technologies in data storage today.

Data deduplication is a method of reducing storage needs by eliminating redundant data. As data is stored to disk, duplicate blocks of data are identified. In the deduplication process, duplicate data is deleted, leaving only one copy of the data to be stored, along with a pointer that references the unique copy of data. Deduplication is able to reduce storage consumption by 10 to 50 times since only the unique data is stored.

By reducing the amount of actual disk capacity that is required to store data, deduplication allows organizations to keep more information in-house on disk-based systems, which enables business-critical data to be more readily available to end users when they need it.

If properly executed, data deduplication will lower the amount of storage space required as fewer disks will be needed to store data. In addition, backup and recovery times will be shortened due to far less data being transferred. Deduping can also significantly reduce bandwidth requirements for site-to-site backups – if only unique, new data is being transferred to a remote site, then less bandwidth will be used.

Data deduplication has emerged as a proven technology for speeding backup and recovery, reducing storage capacity needs, and cutting costs from enterprise IT budgets, and is now making its way into primary storage, particularly for consolidated storage supporting virtual machine infrastructures.

Mobile devices continue their drive into the enterprise and faster 4G networks will feed the need for speed 

A rich and growing range of consumer devices – and anytime, anywhere access – continue to drive interest in all things mobile. If, as claimed, 4G networks can deliver speeds averaging 10 times faster than the current 3G networks, they will directly impact the mobility trend.

Mobile computing used to be confined to two fairly distinct technology forms – the laptop/netbook and the cellphone. However, as the range of mobile devices continues to grow, many organizations are now seeing an explosion of personal devices such as smartphones, media players, readers, and tablets being brought into the corporate environment.

The current trend will only continue due to technology advances in personal mobile devices, remote access technologies, and ubiquitous network connectivity. Because there is no reasonable way to keep consumer technology from invading the enterprise, IT leaders must develop a hard and firm strategy for managing mobility in the workplace.

The introduction of 4G networks will also contribute to the ongoing adoption of mobile devices in the organization. Users have a need for speed, and no matter what technology is supporting it, 4G is designed to deliver that speed. It will also influence the reliability of connections as well as the speed with which users can connect to the Internet. With more and more consumers using their smartphones to access data, applications, and video conferencing, organizations will have to address their employees’ needs and requirements while out of the office. 

Unmanaged devices have been a challenge for IT for several years now, and, because the trend shows no signs of slowing down, IT must stop resisting and start designing a strategy to manage it. Developing the capability to support mobile devices in the enterprise will involve technology, procedures, training, and policy.

Key Considerations

  • All enterprises are faced with ever-increasing storage requirements, especially those posed by the need for long-term storage of unstructured data, and many businesses can benefit from deploying cloud storage as a backup/archiving target. The cloud is definitely attractive in its flexibility and scalability, but proceed with a clear vision of the potential risks and total costs associated with it.
  • By leveraging data deduplication as part of an overall backup process, enterprises can dramatically improve storage capacity and reduce bandwidth consumption. Implementing deduplication is also beneficial when data must be held long-term, for instance archiving, but is also a must when data is being replicated to another location, be it site-to-site within an organization, or from on-site to the cloud.
  • As the frequency of mobile devices being used for enterprise purposes steadily climbs, IT leaders must develop successful strategies for managing mobility in the workplace. Embrace consumer technology in the enterprise, but be prepared. Your mobile security policy and strategy must clearly define what is and what is not acceptable for the user.

Bottom Line

An infrastructure development might become a hot topic because of how it improves performance or lowers costs or both, but before jumping on the bandwagon in pursuit of the latest and greatest, make sure you actually have a problem to address. These hot topics should not be pursued simply because everybody else is doing it. Investigate the reality versus the hype, and determine if these developments will provide appropriate value for your organization.

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