Using a hybrid cloud file system to meet your storage needs

Looking for the benefits of cloud storage while resolving the problems that are typically associated with it.

hybrid clouds
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An increasing number of businesses are moving their data to the cloud to take advantage of the cost, scalability and efficiency benefits associated with not having to procure or maintain significant amounts of hardware. And indeed, cloud data storage can certainly help organizations achieve superior ROI; however, oftentimes when choosing a cloud-only file system such as Box or Dropbox, these organizations encounter significant problems – some of which can actually outweigh the benefits.

These problems include:

  • Due to inherent limitations in cloud protocols, accessing files from the cloud is rife with latency. This is particularly prevalent when accessing large files or simultaneously accessing a large number of files.
  • Active directory access permission control. The permission schemes for cloud-based file systems are often different than your on-premises environment, causing Active Directory permissions to become an issue for both user and administrator levels.
  • User interface. Losing the familiar file server interface, especially the mapped letter drive interface for a network share, forces users to learn and entirely new user interface. In addition to the increased stress, it can also reduce user efficiency in the short term.
  • Shadow IT. Since the files are no longer located within the company’s infrastructure, IT Managers lose control and visibility of the data.
  • File sharing. A great deal of an organization’s efficiency lies in its ability to share files amongst various teams, remote offices, and even partners. With cloud-only file systems, sharing becomes significantly more complex; teams or groups have to be created and data becomes more distributed since every user who accesses the data must download it to their client. All of this occurs outside the purview of IT controls.
  • File locking. Many files outside of the core Microsoft Office suite (such as CAD or design files) cannot function in cloud-only environments, rendering them completely useless to organizations that rely on them.

With these problems in mind, many organizations are at a loss for what to do. On the one hand, taking advantage of the many benefits provided by storing their data in the cloud can help them increase efficiency and gain competitive advantage. But the problems and limitations of those same systems can actually stifle the company’s productivity. Luckily, there’s another solution that delivers all of the benefits of cloud storage while resolving the problems that are typically associated with it. It’s called a hybrid cloud file system and it uses a small hardware client on-premises that stores file metadata and automatically syncs with the cloud in the background.

To break things down a bit further, let’s explore the various components that comprise hybrid cloud file systems:

  • It’s a cloud-centric solution; this means that master copies of all data files are stored in cloud.
  • While the actual master copies of the files are in the cloud, the on-premises hardware client enables the same performance and permission controls as a local file server or network attached storage (NAS) device. In addition, it includes a file server interface and Windows File Explorer or MacOS Finder interface for network shares to make the cloud completely transparent to users.
  • File system. To enable global access, it provides a single name space and a distributed file system to sync files across multiple sites. For scalability, it stores files in public cloud object storage such as Amazon S3, Wasabi and Backblaze B2.

Hybrid cloud delivers the best of both worlds

Hybrid cloud file systems solve all of the problems associated with cloud-only systems while enabling all of the benefits of the cloud. The biggest, most noticeable benefit is performance. Hybrid cloud systems are capable of performing at LAN speeds, just like traditional on-premises local file servers and NAS devices. Because hybrid cloud file systems cache file metadata locally, these systems are capable of file read/write at gigabit speeds.

Active directory permission control and shadow IT also cease to be issues, since the entire file system falls within the organization’s existing IT environment. And the user interface mimics that of a traditional on-premises NAS device, with a mapped letter drive for users to seamlessly access all files.

File sharing and file locking are also elegantly handled in hybrid cloud file systems, enabling multiple users to access the same file from the cache without downloading the content from the cloud each time. This optimizes bandwidth, facilitates easy and rapid file sharing across teams and locations, and includes file locking for proper version control.

Additional benefits

In addition to solving the problems associated with cloud-only file systems, hybrid cloud storage delivers even more benefits, over and above what cloud-only or on-premises systems can provide. The reason is simple; by storing all data in the cloud, organizations can reap a number of significant advantages that are expensive and complex to achieve using traditional on-premises storage systems.

First, all files are already stored offsite, solving a major data protection need – and a key component of an organization’s 3-2-1 storage strategy. Also, because hybrid cloud file systems store multiple copies of the organization’s data, it behaves as its own backup, thereby consolidating primary and secondary storage. Disaster recovery is also fast and easy, since there are no physical disks to rebuild in the event of a site-wide disaster. Instead, the organization need only deploy a new hardware client from the hybrid cloud storage vendor and the cloud files will automatically sync; the organization’s data can be fully recovered in a matter of minutes.

Finally, hybrid cloud file systems use their own secure tunnel for communications, so they don’t require a VPN connection for remote file access. This not only removes a major headache and source of data bottlenecks for organizations, but it also enables new remote sites to be easily added by simply deploying the hardware client at the new location and syncing it with the main cloud file system.

Application sectors

Verticals that greatly benefit from a hybrid cloud file system encompass

  • For multi-site sync – architecture engineering construction (AEC), manufacturing and design agencies
  • For large file transfer – media & entertainment and health and life science

In these sectors the files are large, making file sync and transfer challenging and they are typically very collaborative with designs from multiple sites working on the same project.

Conclusion

By combining components of physical on-premises environments with those of cloud-only systems, hybrid cloud file systems enable organizations to truly reap the best of both worlds. With hybrid cloud file systems, businesses of all sizes can achieve the flexibility, scalability, and cost savings of a cloud-based file system, without suffering the problems that are associated with cloud-only systems.

For examples of commercial implementations of hybrid cloud file systems, see Ctera, Morro Data, Nasuni and Panzura.

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