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Cloud Formations: The Nature of Cloud-Based Storage and Networking

Today’s cloud networking and storage environments are a little like the Wild West. Innovators and entrepreneurs alike are aligning definition to technology, applying marketing for new perspectives and finding applications that can serve the masses, all the while attempting to understand what the cloud offers as a value proposition.

Organizations are anxiously looking to leverage the cloud for its storage and service applications. Unfortunately, we’re seeing growing confusion, a hunger for more definition and a thirst for viable secure applications. Nonetheless, the law and disorder of cloud technologies seem to have already created a quantum shift in the future of storage and networked services.

Fig. 1—A generalization of a cloud providing varying levels of services to many users.

Looking at the continuing development of activities surrounding the cloud, quite a bit needs to be understood in order for users to place their potential “cloud needs” into a proper framework.

The term “cloud computing” actually came directly from network topology diagrams, which used a cloud symbol as the ubiquitous networking icon. Conceptually, the cloud represents “any-to-any” connectivity in a private or public network infrastructure. Fig. 1 shows a generalization of the cloud, which may provide an enormous level of services to a multitude of users.

Cloud Services or Cloud Storage
The answer is yes. Cloud services should be distinguished from cloud storage the same way an application installed on a PC is distinguished from the storage connected to or contained in that same PC.

Essentially, cloud storage is a repository for bits. The cloud may have no more management sophistication than what you’d find on a PC attached to a shared drive that has simple, defined privileges such as read/write rights and access conditions.

A service, when set in the cloud, can be another aspect of the cloud architecture. Cloud services provide value-added benefits such as pay as you go, pay only for what you need, elasticity (i.e., the illusion of infinite capacity) and, of course, the simplicity of use and/or management of the data storage or services.

The cloud may also provide functional operations—applications—that may be utilized by multiple users who request (and pay) for those functions.
A user may choose to put his data into a storage bin that is located in the cloud. Often these storage services will provide the usual redundancy and backup protection, secure accessibility from multiple locations and shared access depending on the rights and privileges established by the user/administrator.

Dropbox
and Carbonite—a popular commercial file-sharing site and a backup storage solution, respectively—are good examples of a storage provider, anchored in the cloud, offering basic services for an economical price. The solutions are simple and quite functional for millions of users. They both rely on a public network for access and have specific user-defined sharing and access rights that are established by the primary user of the account.

Cloud services, on the other hand, offer an extended set of capabilities that can include functionality such as content delivery management (CDN), transcoding, processing and even “cloud editing.”

On Demand Through Virtualization
An important part of the cloud model is the concept of an “on-demand” resource pool that allows sets of resources to be drawn from in small increments. The scale of the resource pool is often concealed and is therefore transparent to the individual user.

Because this resource pool is collectively shared among many users, all with potentially differing sets of needs, the costs of those services for any one user will generally be much less than if the same user were to purchase the equipment that performs those services himself. This relatively recent innovation is made possible through virtualization.

Fig. 2—Cloud services that are virtualized so as to provide data storage and compute resources to users.

In similar fashion, cloud storage is simply the delivery of on-demand virtualized storage. When storage services are delivered over a network of appropriately configured virtual storage and related data services and are founded on a request for a given service level, the service is referred to as Data Storage as a Service (DaaS). Fig. 2 shows another method of expressing how cloud services can be virtualized to provide data storage and compute resources to users.

Other provisions are available in the cloud. Those being considered in standards development activities include Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This concept enables the delivery, over a network, of an appropriately configured virtual computing environment based on a request for a given service-level agreement (SLA). IaaS may be either self-provisioned or provisionless. Like other cloud services, IaaS is billed based on the user’s consumption of those services.

When a virtual programming environment is needed, such services may be delivered over a network consisting of an application deployment stack based on a virtual computing environment. This is called Platform as a Service (PaaS) and is based on IaaS. PaaS can be either self-provisioned or provisionless, is billed based on consumption, and provides an application deployment stack that is called for on demand.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is yet another capability that can be virtualized in the cloud. The previous example of cloud-based transcoding services is a good representation of SaaS.

Cloud Standards
Cloud standards are intended to define and establish the functionality of the various resources that might be offered as services within a rich cloud environment. In these models, clients are exposed to resources as data paths. More precisely, the data paths are “functional interfaces” that are managed by control paths otherwise known as “management interfaces.” To make this work on a universal basis, cloud standards are being developed and adopted so as to allow a semblance of uniformity regardless of the storage or services architecture supported inside the cloud.

Metadata becomes an extremely important concept in the cloud data management specification. Metadata is a convenient mechanism used to express the management of large amounts of data with differing requirements. The management toolset is one of the underlying data services that differentiates the treatment of the data in order to meet the intended requirements.   

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