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How to use cloud appliances at the edge of your network

by David Chernicoff

There is no question that cloud computing is changing the landscape of the business computing environment. But it's not all clouds and rainbows.

When it comes to utilizing the cloud, the two top IT concerns are (1) issues about moving data off premises and (2) bandwidth availability. To address these issues, vendors have introduced cloud appliances—locally attached devices that act as intermediaries between the local network and cloud resources.

These cloud solutions shouldn’t be confused with the cloud-in-a-box approach. With such an approach, a vendor deploys a complete cloud infrastructure as a private cloud. This type of “appliance” is the complete hardware and software configuration of an entire cloud infrastructure, and is ready to use right out of the (virtual) box. In our case, however, we are talking about the small scale cloud appliance that is a standalone piece of hardware that sits on the edge of the on premise network, which locally controls and manages the deployment of a cloud resource within the network.

The advantage of cloud appliances is that IT can retain more direct control over how the network cloud is utilized and when (and how) data is transferred. Not to mention, the actual location of the data and resources is masked from end-users, meaning there is no hindrance to employee productivity.

Thinking about implementing a cloud appliance solution? Dedicated backup appliances and tiered storage are both viable execution options available from numerous vendors.

Backup cloud appliances

Backup appliances are just that—standbys that use inexpensive cloud storage to back up a medium. Available in capacities suitable for the small office to the large enterprise, this variety of cloud appliance is designed to directly replace or enhance traditional backup solutions. With desktop backup, the design may send data from client to appliance to cloud, with data being moved to the cloud as quickly as possible by the appliance. Other solutions, targeted at servers and networks, will usually use a disk-disk-cloud model, where the appliance contains significant storage capabilities, and does incremental backups to the cloud on a regular basis.

Tiered storage cloud appliances

Tiered storage appliances take the utilization of the cloud to a completely different level. Leveraging information lifecycle practices, tiered storage solutions migrate data from the active storage network to cloud storage based on a number of factors, ranging from simple data aging to explicit control of what data is moved and when, by rules configured by IT. While there are a number of different products that are designed as tiered storage solutions, they fundamentally operate in the same way.

The tiered storage appliance is identified as a storage source on the network. In this appliance, data that is in active use is kept in the fastest storage, such as SSD drives. As a certain set of conditions are met, less-important data is moved to slower, less expensive hard disk storage. Finally, storage is migrated to the cloud when it becomes little-used or meets other, IT-determined requirements.

The difference between this tiered approach and a standard backup solution is that the data stored on the cloud is still shown as actively available to users on the local network. Stub files appear to the end user to be the actual file, though it has actually been migrated to the cloud. When a user or application attempts to access the file, it is retrieved from the cloud, which—while slower than local storage—will generally not introduce sufficient latency on average size files for the end user to notice.

The key takeaway for IT decision makers? Cloud appliances that sit on the edge of your network can bring the resources of the cloud to the local user more efficiently, without that user ever being aware that the cloud is involved.

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