AEC companies (architecture, engineering, construction) often deal with large design files that need to be shared across multiple offices or job sites. During collaboration among remote teams, files may need to be locked for exclusive write permission to prevent inadvertent overwriting. When remotely accessing large number of files, the old method of VPN is deemed inefficient due to WAN bandwidth and latency challenges.
Cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox are also inadequate to handle the amount of changed files and file locking requirements. A new category of storage solution has emerged to address this type of application and it’s called Hybrid Cloud File Services. The name implies that it uses a file system that spans across cloud and on premises. This is different from the Dropbox-like cloud-only file system.
Let me use a simple analogy to compare a cloud-only file system and a hybrid cloud file system. A cloud-only file system is like a hard drive, it stores files but it’s slow. Hard drive manufacturers such as Seagate and Western Digital now offer hybrid hard drives that embed a small SSD as a buffer to the rotating hard disk platters. The SSD increases the overall hard drive performance quite a bit since SSD is much faster than the mechanical hard disks.
Similarly, a Hybrid Cloud File System speeds up cloud file access with the caching of a local storage gateway. This local cache is dynamic in that only the most recently used files are kept in cache for quick access. When comparing a hybrid cloud file system and cloud-only file system, the performance difference can be quite dramatic. Depending on the relative speed of your LAN vs WAN, hybrid cloud file systems can be 100 times faster.
To break things down further, let’s explore the various components that comprise hybrid cloud file systems:
- Cloud. It’s a cloud-centric solution; this means that master copies of all data files are stored in cloud using object storage such as Amazon S3, Azure, Wasabi, etc.
- Hybrid. While the actual master copies of the files are in the cloud, the on premises storage gateway at each site enables the same performance and permission controls as a local file server or NAS. In addition, it includes a file server interface of network shares to make the cloud completely transparent to users.
- File system. To enable global file access, it provides a single name space and a distributed file system to sync files across multiple sites.
Performance is the main draw for AEC companies to consider Hybrid Cloud File System, but other main features include:
- File sharing. Files are synced to storage gateways in each location in real time for sharing. This is the core value of a hybrid cloud file system, which is not only global in scale but also extending to each on premises location. It enables true collaboration as if all remote teams are working in the same office connected to one high performance file server.
- File locking. Files can be locked for exclusive write permission to prevent conflicts. This cannot be done with a cloud-only file system.
- Active directory access permission control. IT can use existing Active Directory for permission control since the storage gateway behaves just like a NAS or file server.
- NAS user interface. Users can continue to use the familiar file server or NAS interface, especially the mapped letter drive interface for a network share. In a cloud-only file system, users are forced to learn an entirely new user interface.
Level up from NAS to hybrid
Many businesses with on premises storage are wondering how to best migrate their data to the cloud. Hybrid cloud file systems solve all of the problems associated with cloud-only systems while enabling all of the benefits of the cloud. In addition to solving the problems associated with cloud-only file systems, hybrid cloud storage delivers even more benefits, over and above what cloud-only or on-premises systems can provide.
- Storage consolidation. Hybrid cloud file system provides a single name space and a distributed file system to sync files across multiple sites. No more storage silos of different on premises storage systems. All primary storage and secondary storage can use the same interface and exist in a single name space with instant access. With cloud scalability, this storage architecture can last for a long time.
- Backup and disaster recovery. A file has master copy in cloud, cache copy on premises, and optionally a duplicated cloud copy can provide added protection. Version control is available to access previous versions and to prevent against human errors or ransomware attack. Access records can be audited for forensic investigation and is needed for compliance.
- Simple IT. Adding a new work site is as simple as deploying a new storage gateway. In most cases, hybrid cloud file system users don’t even need to know they are actually using a cloud file system. There is no need for users to learn VPN, FTP, or waiting for upload/download. Compared to cloud-only file system, office bandwidth is also much optimized since the local gateway is the target of most read/write operations instead of the cloud.
Best of both worlds
Hybrid cloud file systems are designed to combine the advantages of both on premises and cloud storage and they scale globally. It is a viable storage paradigm for AEC organizations or other businesses considering migrating from on premises to cloud. Hybrid cloud file systems will be a major storage paradigm for modern IT. Examples of commercial implementations of hybrid cloud file systems include Morro Data, Nasuni, and Panzura. They all provide hybrid cloud file services with slightly different flavors. For example, Morro Data supports Azure AD in addition to Active Directory while Panzura and Nasuni support both public and private cloud storage.