How to Best Use Azure Cloud

Organizations looking at how to best use Azure Cloud to address challenges with their existing on-premises architectures have often found current solutions lacking robust data protection and having a very high total cost of ownership (TCO). The cloud is merely infrastructure for rent. It by itself can’t solve problems. Using cloud infrastructures like the one Azure provides requires intelligent software to power that infrastructure.

Typical Azure Use Cases of the Modern Organization

Most organizations have categorized their various workload and storage requirements into a series of use cases which they are counting on cloud providers, like Azure, to help them address. The problem is cloud storage software, both native and third party, falls well short on delivering the potential of these use cases:

  • On-premises to Cloud DR – One of the best Azure use cases is the ability to copy or replicate data to the cloud provider storage system for disaster recovery purposes. This helps organizations that do not have resources for a dedicated DR site to still effectively protect their data. Even for organizations with a DR site, leasing and owning equipment that sits idle may not be the best use of capital.
  • On-premises to Cloud Backup – Another Azure use case is the ability to copy or replicate active data sets to lower cost cloud storage tiers, retain that data in the cloud and eliminate the need for on-premises backup and its associated storage.
  • On premises to Cloud Archive – A very unique use case is the ability to copy or replicate seldom accessed old data to a low-cost cloud storage tier to free up expensive primary storage while reducing off-site storage costs.
  • Hybrid Cloud – A popular ability to transfer workloads that suddenly spike to a level that the organization’s local compute resources cannot handle. The workload is transferred to the cloud provider where additional, more powerful compute resources can be applied to the workload and then the results are transmitted back to the on-premises systems.

Cloud Based Applications and Migrated Applications – Organizations are looking for the ability to migrate their software applications from on-premises to the cloud but they need to do so transparently without having to modify them. Additionally, they need the same level of data protection that they count on from on-premises solutions.

Limitations of Current Legacy Storage Solutions

Using the cloud for these use cases can help organizations meet user, customer and organizational demands but up until now, current cloud storage solutions offer very little help to meet these challenges. Today’s cloud storage solutions are all still using obsolete legacy storage software based on outdated storage algorithms and IO stack that are over 20 years old.

This obsolete storage software is too “heavy” for the cloud. The cloud rewards operational efficiency and the on-premises practices of throwing more hardware at the problem will make using the cloud significantly more expensive than the on-premises use cases. The “weight” of this software also means it must specialize on a particular use case, forcing the customer to use multiple cloud storage solutions for each. The result is most organizations’ cloud storage infrastructure looks oddly similar to their on-premises storage infrastructure. 

StorONE S1:Azure Effectively Handles All Cloud Use Cases

StorONE, founded in 2011, spent our first eight years rewriting all the old obsolete storage algorithms and flattening the old IO stack to create a new storage engine, using a platform approach to storage instead of the old system approach. The new S1 Engine uses minimal CPU processing power to extract maximum performance from a finite number of drives, all while delivering the industry’s best data integrity, data availability, and protection. The result is the StorONE S1:Enterprise Storage Platform. StorONE’s S1 Engine is software designed to run efficiently on various hardware platforms and media types. StorONE’s S1 Engine is also highly portable and can run unchanged in cloud environments like Azure.

S1:Azure is an optimized version of the S1:Enterprise Storage Platform and ready to take full advantage of Azure’s capabilities. S1:Azure leverages the S1 Engine’s efficiency in extracting maximum performance from cloud compute instances. This means many organizations can meet their performance demands while using lower-tiered virtual machines (VM) and disk. S1:Azure runs on the Microsoft Azure infrastructure without requiring any specialized, dedicated hardware. It also does not compromise performance, capacity or data protection services to meet customer’s demands.

Native Cloud Use Cases

The most obvious use case is to run S1:Azure natively in the cloud and to host applications and workloads destined for or born in the cloud. A single instance of StorONE provides block (iSCSI), file (NFS/SMB) and object/S3 access. It also provides a more robust enterprise feature set than is usually available from typical Enterprise or Cloud storage solutions, which enables utilizing the full performance capabilities of the VM they provision.

A key capability is S1:Azure’s, S1:Snap, a capacity efficient, snapshot technology. S1:Snap allows customers to take snapshots every minute and retain those snapshots indefinitely without impacting performance. While the snapshots require no capacity upfront, as they age and data changes, they will consume space. S1:Azure can intelligently move older snapshot data to lower cost media to reduce costs while meeting retention requirements.

Hybrid Cloud Use Cases

Organizations can use S1:Azure in conjunction with an on-premises S1 instance to migrate data to the cloud or exchange data between instances. This is useful where the customer needs additional compute power not available on-premises. They use additional cloud compute resources to process the data then send the changed results back to the on-premises S1 instance. Sending back only the changes minimizes egress fees. Most IT architects must design for, and organizations must pay for, peak workload situations even though they may be rare. With S1:Azure, on-premises data centers can build for the norm, and leverage the cloud for occasional peaks. The result is not only does S1:Azure reduce cloud TCO it can also reduce on-premises TCO.

On-premises to Cloud DR Use Cases

In DR use cases, customers replicate from on-premises to an Azure region. Data is replicated at the block level without disrupting on-premises operations. Rather than restoring data in the event of a disaster, customers can quickly start up cloud instances for their current applications, point the cloud instances at the S1:Azure volumes and resume operations while avoiding the costs associated with idle hardware and physical DR sites. When the disaster passes, S1:Azure enables the customer to easily reverse the process and only send changed data back to the primary data center, reducing egress fees. With S1:Azure, organizations can reduce IT TCO by avoiding the costs of paying for a DR site and the equipment in that site, which in most cases sits idle waiting for a disaster.

On-premises Cloud Backup Use Cases

This use case is for a cloud backup of an on-premises StorONE instance. This is typically for use with the Cloud DR use case. It leverages the unlimited snapshot capability of the S1 Engine, to replace backups. In this use case active data is replicated to the cloud and an independent snapshot schedule is applied to those cloud volumes. These snapshots can be taken as frequently as every minute and retained for years. These capabilities enable IT to implement a less aggressive and frequent on-premises snapshot schedule which reduces consumption of on-premises capacity.

How to Best Use Azure Cloud

With S1:Azure in place, the customer easily meets the 3-2-1 backup rule. More than three copies are stored on two separate hardware systems at each location and thanks to Azure, one copy is off-site. S1:Snap’s restore interface makes finding the needle in the haystack easy. It provides a calendar based interface as well as a file based search so you can find the snapshot that contains the data or version of the data you need.

S1:Azure enables organizations to eventually, when they are ready, eliminate a separate backup process, saving operational costs. It also enables them to eliminate the need for backup software and hardware, eliminating a significant consumer of IT budget.

On-premises Cloud Archive Use Case

This S1:Azure use case extends the Cloud DR and Cloud Backup uses cases further. It features an on-premises StorONE instance replicating data to the cloud, where IT uses a long-term snapshot retention strategy with the data stored on the least expensive cloud storage tier. In this use case, the customer also periodically deletes data from the active on-premises primary storage volumes to free up on-premises capacity. While these data removals are also reflected on the cloud target volumes, the more robust snapshot policy used on those cloud volumes ensures that the deleted data is still retained safely in those snapshots. And, once again, S1:Snap’s restore interface makes finding old data easy.

S1:Azure enables organizations to reduce the footprint of on-premises storage and simultaneously eliminate the need for separate, and surprisingly expensive, archive software, as well as eliminating the need for separate archive storage.

Conclusion

The S1:Azure solution enables organizations to start with whatever use case the organization needs most. It then provides the flexibility to address other use cases as needed and also adopt new capabilities from StorONE’s ongoing development efforts, all without changing software. The StorONE platform approach effectively eliminates all the limitations of the old legacy software and gives customers a robust and cost effective solution for all their storage needs. Most importantly each use case provides the organization with the ability to further reduce on-premises and cloud TCO while often realizing an immediate reduction in IT spend.

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Joseph Ortiz

Joseph Ortiz

Joseph is a Technical Writer with StorONE, Inc. and an IT veteran with over 40 years of experience in the high tech industries. He has held senior technical positions with several major OEMs, VARs, and System Integrators, providing them with technical pre and post-sales support for a wide variety of data protection and storage solutions. As part of his duties, he designed, implemented and supported backup, recovery and encryption solutions in addition to providing Disaster Recovery planning, testing and data loss risk assessments in distributed computing environments on UNIX and Windows platforms for various OEM's, VARs and System Integrators. He also recently served as an analyst and provided editing services as well as technical content for Storage Switzerland up to the time of its acquisition by StorONE.

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