The Challenges of Data Movement in the Hybrid Cloud

By John Frederiksen, Vice President, Data ONTAP Group, NetApp

Seemingly everyone with any interest in cloud services today—buyers, sellers, consultants, industry analysts—is talking about the hybrid cloud model. Indeed, numerous organizations are exploring deployment of IT managed hybrid cloud infrastructure, and many more see a move to hybrid as an eventuality.

This makes sense, because hybrid cloud environments provide a way to leverage the advantages of the cloud while maintaining on-premises infrastructure for the most critical processes or most sensitive data.

handyman_ontap.pngThe cloud enables IT to rapidly deliver services that are immediately needed for the business, without needing to fully fund the capital acquisition costs up front. Try to find an IT shop today that has a well-planned five-year strategy that’s actually been funded. It’s not easy.

At the same time, there is seemingly insatiable demand for and growth of data within organizations, and that’s not likely to go away any time soon. Market data shows that the data managed by enterprises doubles every two years on average. Companies are launching big data and analytics initiatives, expanding their mobile technology environments, and getting more involved in social media. All of these factors contribute to massive and growing volumes of data.

The potential benefits of a hybrid strategy are clear: more cost-effective computing capacity and on-demand flexibility, among them. Organizations can also rely on the cloud for their disaster recovery strategy.

In this environment, CIOs have the ability to make, build, or buy decisions as never before. They can become brokers of services, choosing the best options for their organizations based on the current needs and demands for applications and infrastructure.

Although there’s much talk of the economic benefits of the cloud, including the hybrid cloud, we’ve found in talking with CIOs that in many cases the decision to move to the cloud is not mainly about saving money. The agility gained from being able to move workloads from one cloud environment to another as required throughout the data lifecycle (from development to production to archival) is an even bigger incentive. With this flexibility, IT can shift focus from one area to another without jeopardizing the completion of projects.

To be sure, however, the hybrid cloud world also brings its share of key challenges that IT and business executives need to address in order for their organizations to succeed in this emerging environment.

One of the biggest challenges is the movement of data within the hybrid cloud. Data by its nature can be cumbersome and difficult to move. A typical large data transfer can take weeks to move.

In addition, data needs to be carefully protected and controlled as it’s being moved. Much data in the corporate world today is sensitive or competitive information, and if it is lost, falls into the wrong hands, or goes to the wrong place, that can be catastrophic for organizations.

There’s also the issue of “shadow IT” and the applications that IT has lost control over. With the ability to quickly and easily deploy cloud services to address a number of processes, many business users are likely to take things into their own hands when it comes to deploying software as a service (SaaS) and other cloud offerings.

These apps generate, in effect, “shadow data.” Even if the information is somewhat isolated or used in a limited fashion, it still exists. Over time, organizations accrue more and more of this information, and it needs to be managed.

Consider that some companies can have hundreds of SaaS applications in use to support a variety of business processes and that they’re all generating data. Some of this information is highly sensitive and competitive, so the management of this data is especially critical. While IT organizations are becoming brokers of services, they are still the stewards of their data and responsible for the security and availability of the data needed to run the business.

One important thing to keep in mind is that data is not transient; once users within an organization create data, IT is accountable for managing that data over its lifetime, even if the data is moved to a cloud service provider.

Storage technology has evolved to help organizations address the challenges of moving and managing data within a hybrid environment. For example, the NetApp Data ONTAP operating system provides a unified storage platform with rich data transport functionalities that enables unrestricted and secure data movement across multiple cloud environments. In addition, it offers advanced performance, availability, and efficiency for enterprises embarking on hybrid cloud initiatives.

CIOs need to take steps, through policies and storage technology solutions, so that they manage all the data in their organization—including the data in house and within the domain of a cloud service provider. Given the regulatory requirements that many companies face and the significant threats to information security, the risks are higher than in the past. CIOs need secure and universal data transport to achieve these goals.