Key Criteria for Evaluating File-Based Cloud Storage v2.0

A Critical Component of Hybrid and Multi-Cloud Data Storage Strategies

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Cloud File Storage Primer
  3. Report Methodology
  4. Decision Criteria Analysis
  5. Evaluation Metrics
  6. Key Criteria: Impact Analysis
  7. Analyst’s Take
  8. About Enrico Signoretti
  9. About Max Mortillaro

Summary

File storage is still a very important part of every enterprise data storage infrastructure, so it is no surprise that now, more than ever, users ask for file services in the cloud.

At the beginning, cloud providers neglected to add file services to their product portfolios, concentrating instead on block and object storage. Though these two types of storage cover many use cases, and new applications can be developed to use them in a way that file storage is unnecessary, the reality is that in many circumstances, files are preferable:

  • Lift and Shift: With more and more enterprises opting for the public cloud as their primary IT infrastructure, it is very common now to see “lift and shift” migrations. In this scenario, users want to replicate the same services they had in their on-premises data center, including POSIX-compliant file systems, data services, and all the other enterprise features they are accustomed to.
  • Simplicity: File storage is the most user-friendly storage, and many developers still prefer this familiar interface because it lets them build even more portable applications while simplifying the sharing of machine- and human-generated data.
  • Performance: Though object storage performance is improving by leaps and bounds, file systems still provide the best combination of performance, usability, and scalability for many workloads. It is still the primary interface for the majority of big data, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), and high performance computing (HPC) applications, and usually offers data services such as snapshots to improve data management operations.
  • Collaboration: Now more than ever, with hybrid cloud infrastructures and distributed organizations spanning the world, the ability to access data from everywhere, seamlessly, simplifies teamwork while keeping data under control. This use case, already on the rise before 2020, was dramatically boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety containment measures led to a massive workforce relocation. With a sizable user base working remotely and in a geographically distributed fashion, distributed cloud file storage addresses the scalability and performance challenges that on-premises storage faces in a predominantly remote access context.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated existing digital transformation initiatives and forced reluctant organizations to transform at a much faster pace. This expedited transformation fostered the adoption of cloud file storage as organizations began to embrace cloud-based solutions.

In the last few years, file systems have also become more cloud-friendly, offering better integration with object storage. This aspect brought several advantages to end users:

  • Better scalability: Policy-driven tiering mechanisms allow cold data to be moved to S3-compatible storage, saving precious resources in the high-performance tier.
  • Best combination of speed and $/GB: File storage gateways specifically designed to work with an object storage back-end provide a good balance of performance and cost.
  • Simplified data migrations and synchronization: Many file storage systems can replicate data to remote file or object stores, in the cloud or on-premises. This process makes it possible to synchronize and serve data sets across different infrastructures to optimize compute-data proximity that improves latency.
  • Disaster Recovery (DR): Syncing data to a remote object store enables users to leverage a cheaper storage repository in the cloud and populate a file system only if necessary.

These capabilities are particularly important now that vendors are optimizing their file storage for flash memory and access speed, enabling users to build a multi-tier infrastructure to optimize $/GB as well. Furthermore, users are looking at hybrid and multi-cloud for their infrastructure strategy, and this storage infrastructure design fits very well in this context.

With this trend in mind, it is easy to understand the reasons for the success of file storage in the cloud, especially if it can also be integrated with on-premises and other cloud storage.

File-based cloud storage solutions fall into two categories:

  • Cloud file systems refer to cloud-based scale-out file systems with a focus on high performance (high IOPS, high throughput, low latency) file access for cloud-based AI, HPC, and big data workloads.
  • Distributed cloud file storage solutions are oriented more toward enterprise and distributed workloads and collaborative use cases. Among these, NAS replacement is one of the most important use cases.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.
GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.
Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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