Storage Networking World: From Tape to Cloud

Last week’s Storage Networking World (SNW) show took place in Long Beach, California. Here are some of the main takeaways.

Cloud Nivana

Immediately before and during the SNW show, there was plenty of talk about the collapse of cloud provider Nirvanix. Some users were worried about retrieving all their data before service is finally shut down. Even those who don’t have data on Nirvanix expressed some concern about the safety of cloud data. And on the vendor front, some were angling for the business, while others were distancing themselves from Nirvanix.

Nasuni, for example, explained that it hasn’t had customers on Nirvanix since 2012, having used Amazon S3 or Microsoft Azure since that time. 

Its take is that Nirvanix fell behind because the public cloud has become a commodity environment and Nirvanix couldn’t compete with Amazon and Microsoft Azure on massive economies of scale, according to Nasuni CEO Andres Rodriguez. He said that Nasuni tests revealed that fact to them two years ago, which was why they moved on. He also predicted that Nirvanix won’t be the last to shut down before the market is owned by two or three players.

Ditch your Data Center

But such stories won’t do much to dampen the ongoing cloud hype. That was very apparent from the opening keynote delivered by James Robertson, VP of Technology Infrastructure and Broadcasting at Turner Broadcasting, a TimeWarner Company. He recommended that enterprises get out of the business of running their own data centers – or at least those taking up valuable real estate in city center buildings.

“Why ever own and operate a data center,” said Robertson. “With the cloud maturing so much, why be in the data center game?”

His organization, which includes Turner Broadcasting, CNN, HBO and Time Warner, currently operates 30 data centers. It’s in the middle of phasing out any and all data centers from its office buildings and transitioning to six large private cloud facilities to service all its global operations. The transition will be complete by 2018.

Dealing with Traffic Peaks

The traditional way of dealing with traffic peaks is to overbuild the infrastructure so it’s capable to dealing with the highest peaks. But that’s really expensive. When Robertson had to set up a special service for CNN that involved a massive peak in traffic for two hours, it used cloud services at a minimal cost and was able to deal with the influx of thousands of photos to its sites at one time.

“The public cloud is really good for special workloads,” said Robertson.

Securing the Cloud

To achieve its goals, Turner Broadcasting plans to combine public, private and hybrid clouds and make the transition between them seamless to the user. The key to making this work is securing the data.

“When considering what to send to the public cloud, you have to take into account security, intellectual property (IP) and compliance,” said Robertson. “The key is getting the authentication mechanism right. We put all our email in cloud and came up with federated identity management framework. When an individual leaves, the IP and data stays with the business.”

Tape Transition

Several members of the LTO Program were working the halls of SNW, spreading their message of the viability of tape in the modern storage world.

Craig Butler, an LTO Program member who is also an IBM employee, made the point that the tape market is in the midst of a major transition.

In the past, it has functioned mainly as a backup medium. However, disk and deduplication has largely taken over that area, whereas tape is thriving as an archiving medium for long-term retention.

“You can’t keep a lot of archive data on disk due to cost so that traffic needs to go onto tape,” said Butler. “At IBM, we saw lots of banks switch to disk-based VTLs a few years ago and now many of them have switched back to tape, as it does long-term retention much better.”

Curtailing Energy Usage

Another point made by Butler was tape’s role in curtailing energy usage. Anyone trying to retain all their data on disk ¬– including aging little-used files – is just running up a large and unnecessary electricity bill.

“It takes a lot of energy to keep those disks spinning, not to mention floor space,” said Butler. “Tape is a far denser storage medium and the energy costs are zero for tape in a library.”


The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) chose SNW to launch six new SSD initiatives. A notable one is an expanded testing program to give users a way to test the actual performance of various flash products to see which is most suitable for their specific workloads and environments.

“There has been a lot of misinformation out there in the past about SSD performance,” said Wayne Adams, SNIA, Board of Directors and Chair Emeritus. “We provide a way to deliver apples to apples testing.”

He said that SNIA was responding to heavy demand from the vendor and user community towards flash. Adams said SSD was SNIA’s fastest growing area.

SNW Struggles

Ten years ago, SNW was definitely the top storage show in the industry by far. But it has lost that position to the likes of EMC World, VMworld and Oracle Open World. The vendor exhibit area paled in comparison to the massive exhibition hall at VMworld, for example.

Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group, reminisced about the old days, but struggled to come up with a way for SNIA to steer the show back to the top of the charts.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.
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