Federated not Balkanized - The Future of Data and Its Short-term Cloud Challenges

As a long-term Cloud storage user I recently wanted to re-evaluate my options. New content management providers became available and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing on the new shinny tech out there.

As I was considering the pros and cons of each option, I realized the apparent shift in my personal attitude towards cloud data storage over last few years. My concerns used to be solely with security. Now, while the data security is still critical, I am much more interested in data access, ownership, integration and its control.

Many people talk about how the recent consumerization of the enterprise, where the lines between our personal and work data are being increasingly blurred. But nothing brought it home for me as much as what I saw during the recent VMworld in Las Vegas where Steve Herrod, CTO from VMware, was talking about the new content storage solution code-name Project Octopus. It provides Dropbox-like experience to corporate users while preserving the IT control over the company content. Before he gave a demo, Steve has asked how many of the 20,000+ attendants currently use a consumer cloud storage solution like Dropbox at work. About a half of the audience raised their hands. These are some of the most network-savvy, security-conscious users of the Cloud industry!

Should we be surprised? How many of us currently use our personal devices at work? More importantly, how many businesses are actually OK with that? So, how did we get here? More importantly, how must we deal with this exponential growth of data while preserving the necessary level of control?

For starters, we need to realize that with the proliferation of SaaS-based solutions, we are giving up more and more control over our own data. When was the last time you read the agreements for which we so nonchalantly check the “I Agree” box when signing up for new Web-based app?

But SaaS is not the problem here, as we are moving to the post-document era and increasingly larger amounts of our content is managed in the public cloud, we do not necessary need to give up control. Rather, we need to start thinking about a more federated storage model. Now, I know the concept of “storage federation” get some people really excited, but, what I am talking about here is a model focused not on private vs. public storage but a fabric that is intimately aware of the data content, its origin, as well as its access and retention policies in context of user’s current identity across all providers.

Tim Berners-Lee, at his recent keynote address at RSA Europe, talked about the demand for control of storage. Not as something we will need in the future, but rather, as a clear and present danger of impacting the cloud adaptation and balkanization of our data resulting in our inability to leverage its real value.

Analyst firm IDC now claim the growing volumes of cloud storage providers will lead to combined storage spending of $22.6 billion by 2015. We must figure out a scalable and secure way of controlling all that storage really soon, otherwise the promise of cloud value will be overshadowed by increased loss of control and eventually lesser security.