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The evolution of storage from on-premises to cloud

May 29, 20185 mins
Cloud ComputingCloud StorageHybrid Cloud

As hybrid cloud storage architecture continues to proliferate, it’s important to understand how we got to this point, as it informs where the industry is going.

data storage watch
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Anyone that has kept up with this column knows I tend to focus on one storage architecture more than any other – the hybrid-cloud storage architecture. That’s because I truly believe in its ability to meet the challenges of today’s IT storage – ever-expanding data, multiple sites, a need for flexibility and scale, while simultaneously meeting specific performance demands. For this month’s column, I thought we would take a look at how we got to this point and see if this evolution informs where we might go in the near future.

Early days – pre-NAS

The very earliest business storage systems were designed for a world long-gone. One in which a business would be expected to manage maybe thousands of files. Even the largest enterprise would have a storage system to support hundreds of concurrent users, no more. These legacy systems had regularly scheduled down time for maintenance, but it was not unusual to not have access for unscheduled reasons.

In this case, we’re talking about simple hard drives and Direct-Attached Storage (DAS) such as SCSI drives, which is really just an extension of a server. As we all know, this is a relatively fragile system with hard drives being prone to failure. However, even for most businesses, this is essentially pre-Internet and the amount of data that had to be protected and managed was minimal.

Rise of NAS

It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when dedicated file servers and earlier proprietary NAS devices from company like NetApp and EMC were created to meet the growing need for scalable, reliable access to data.  In fact, it was a group of engineers that formed Auspex Systems that was one of the first to create a file server for the UNIX market. These solutions were a direct response to need to manage data and helped create the pathway for data becoming the “new oil.”

Of course, most of these NAS solutions were designed for only the largest of enterprises. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that viable solutions for the SMB and the consumer markets began to come to market. Examples are ReadyNAS and Synology. These solutions had similar functionality to enterprise NAS, albeit with smaller capacity and stronger focus on ease of use and affordability. These solutions also began to incorporate online backup solutions for disaster recovery.

The introduction of cloud storage

At the same time SMB and consumer NAS was developing, cloud storage services for the consumer and enterprise were also making waves. At least initially, these services from Dropbox and others were truly only thought to be for consumers, but eventually other services like Box were created to address enterprise cloud storage needs.

As with many areas of IT, the cloud served as a disruptive event, bringing to levels of scalability, flexibility and management to a legacy market. However, this services market still had a glaring drawback – performance at scale was (and in many cases is) atrocious. It also created a shadow-IT problem where IT managers do not have good visibility and traceability of data, an increasingly important consideration as more emphasis is put on privacy and data breaches.  The change to per user pricing can also drive up costs.

Hybrid Cloud NAS for the enterprise

Larger enterprises were able to mitigate the performance issues by either continuing to rely on on-premise storage solutions or looking to a new model that combined the best of both approaches (cloud scale with real-time performance). This hybrid-cloud model continues to gain momentum with enterprises everywhere.

Hybrid Cloud NAS supports the use of on-prem cache to keep the performance of a file server while safely storing data in the cloud. And they also stay compatible to standard enterprise security setups such as Active Directory, so admin workflow is not changed. Furthermore, there is a cloud distributed file system that enables the syncing of files across multiple sites, extending the NAS architecture to cloud and globally. Panzura and Nasuni are two examples of enterprise-class hybrid-cloud storage solutions.

The hybrid cloud NAS for SMBs/MSPs 

Despite the success of this hybrid model, many of these solutions remained out of reach for SMBs and others due to their enterprise price tag. However, even the SMBs were feeling the extreme pressure to modernize by better managing and protecting their data. That brings us to the present day, when firms such as my own – Morro Data – are bringing enterprise-class storage functionality combined with flexibility and reliability of the cloud and the performance of an on-premise solution to smaller but still sophisticated organizations around the world.

Hybrid cloud models with support for implicit backup, multi-site file sync, large file collaboration and centralized management greatly simplify IT allowing IT managers and service providers to focus their time on business value creation.

What’s coming next?

In determining what may be on the horizon, we can be sure of a few market pressures that are shaping the evolution of storage. First, data is growing at an exponential rate and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The IoT, Big Data, and more and more applications are going to add to this growth. Second, the cloud model is here to stay and will further proliferate and influence architectural decisions and access layouts. That means businesses of all sizes need to evaluate and take charge of their storage architecture.

The big question remains around performance. Will the cloud network improve performance to make the need for on-premise acceleration unnecessary? Even with the upcoming improvements with new access models like 5G, the volume and growing size of files would seem to indicate this will not happen any time soon.


Paul Tien, CEO of Morro Data, is a storage industry veteran that has been developing new models for storage technology over the last two decades. He helped to create the market for consumer and SMB Network Attached Storage (NAS) with the popular Infrant ReadyNAS line of storage appliances, which was later acquired by NETGEAR in 2007.

Prior to Infrant, Paul founded two other successful semiconductor companies. Paul has an MS EECS degree from University of California, Berkeley.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Paul Tien and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.