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Lessons learned from a cloud evaporation

Cloud provider Nirvanix went belly up. Even if you weren't one of its clients, you can learn things from that mess.

By Steve Duplessie
October 9, 2013 01:54 PM ET

Computerworld - Cloud capacity provider Nirvanix croaked recently, giving clients two weeks to get their data out of there. I estimate that most clients would require two months or more to accomplish this. Some need two years. There is physics involved, unfortunately. The "Beam My Data Up" feature turns out to be fictitious. Go figure.

If you never contracted with Nirvanix, it's easy for you to think, "Well, serves them right for using a little startup. I would never do that!" Think again. IBM and HP resold Nirvanix. They put a lot of customers on that cloud.

Fortunately for many Nirvanix customers, it may not be catastrophic if they can't get their data out. The cloud provider mostly handled fixed file content, and 99% of the data was non-transactional -- and not the only copy. It was mostly cold storage. Nonetheless, some customers are screwed. And all will suffer in one way or another.

If anyone had to fail, though, it's best that it was Nirvanix. That's small consolation to Nirvanix' customers, I realize, but it definitely could have been worse. It could have been Amazon. (That's not crazy talk. I mean, it's not like Amazon makes money. A money-losing business model is ultimately not sustainable, fyi. I read that in Harvard Business Review, I think.)

In a rush to save (perceived or real) money, while eliminating the nasty management burden of dealing with bulk storage themselves, IT organizations and lines of businesses have flocked to the cloud to store their stuff. Amazon's S3 is booming. Box and Dropbox have a zillion petabytes of stuff on the floor. (That's my own rough estimate.) We all know in the back of our minds that there is some risk, but the heck with it. What's the worst that could happen?

Lesson 1: Define your actual requirements

Don't guess. Don't think that the cloud is just a "tier" like any other -- a cheap, slower tier. It is and it isn't. It is cheap (done right), and it is slower, but putting stuff into cheap and slower is much different from getting stuff out of cheap and slower. Cloud storage is the IT version of the "roach motel."

If you never actually need to access the data you put into the cloud directly or if you can tolerate long latencies when you need stuff back (i.e., days, weeks, months), then go for it. If not, don't.

Design for the worst access case. Anticipate the most expensive use case. Don't be surprised.

Lesson 2: Where is your volume manager?

Remember when you used to use your disk volume manager to mirror two disks in case one crapped out? Are you doing that to your cloud tier? I bet you are not. Never ever ever put your stuff in only one place. Ever. Never. Use the cloud all day long, but keep a copy locally, or on another cloud (not on the same network provider or network!). Capacity is cheap. Have your cake and eat it too -- use the cloud, but not only the cloud (or at least only one cloud).



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