Hybrid cloud — a mixture of on-premises gear and commercial cloud services — is a common approach in scenarios where pure cloud isn't acceptable for whatever business reason. But what happens when you want to throw more than one cloud service into the mix?
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Discussions of hybrid cloud generally focus on just a single external cloud provider. You're happy using AWS for developer boxes, but live rollouts use your own private cloud. You're running Exchange happily on Azure, but your ERP platform has its own dedicated server.
Yet once you've decided to have a mixture of public cloud services and your own gear, why would you necessarily stop at just using a single public cloud provider? While no-one wants to deal with multiple providers for the sake of it, specific problems may lend themselves more to one approach than another.
I'm attending NetApp's Insight conference in Las Vegas this week, and many of its news announcements are centred on hybrid cloud themes. A new version (8.3) of its Clustered Data ONTAP storage operating system is designed to form the basis of an overall NetApp Data Fabric scenario, which provides management tools for divergent data sources. A cloud-based version of ONTAP has also been launched.
Underpinning this product strategy is the argument that hybrid cloud won't work effectively unless you have a unified data management strategy that can treat all these different sources as an effective whole. "ONTAP is a core element to allow data to be mobile — it ensures multiple platforms can handle it," said John Fredriksen, NetApp's VP for product management Data ONTAP.
If you've built such a platform to handle popular cloud platforms individually, then it should also be possible to handle using more than one of them in a given environment. As well as the obvious global candidates (AWS, Azure, SoftLayer, Rackspace and Google) NetApp also partnerships with local cloud players — in Australia Dimension Data, Fujitsu and Optus are the most prominent.
Choices of who to deploy often reflect local presence, NetApp APAC chief technology officer Karthak Ramarao told Lifehacker. Azure, for instance, has more data centre locations in the broad Asia-Pacific region than Amazon (half-a-dozen as opposed to three). "While some customers might choose to use DR or backup offshore, a lot of other customers are looking for those solutions right there in their own countries," he said. "The basic attraction of cloud is the compute power. For compute to be useful, customers need data to be adjacent to it."
While supporting multiple providers is an attractive theory, the reality is, as usual, a little messier. Inevitably some services are going to be prioritised for product development. NetApp's own Private Storage for Cloud service is a good case in point. The product — which lets you link your own storage systems to those offered by cloud providers — has been available for more than 18 months on AWS. In July, a version was launched for Azure, and this week a version running in IBM's SoftLayer has been launched.
I suspect a similar deployment pattern will emerge with the cloud version of ONTAP, which is AWS-only in its first version. There are two plans offered through Amazon's Marketplace: the basic Explore version (which has a storage capacity limit of 2TB) and the standard release (which goes up to 10TB). If you want more than that, rather than paying AWS per-hour rates, you purchase a six-month licence direct from NetApp. In both approaches, the actual management happens through NetApp's own OnCommand Cloud Manager, rather than the AWS portal.
Given NetApp's close partnership with Microsoft, it would be surprising if an Azure version doesn't eventually follow. One challenge? Microsoft might not be as keen to see long-term licence revenue heading direct to NetApp. Regardless, the staggered rollouts to date suggest that while all cloud providers should ultimately be equal in the data fabric weave, some appear to be more equal than others right now.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers. Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of NetApp.