As the majority of data in modern enterprises is produced outside the data centre, the ability to store, protect and collaborate on the data relies on the ability to store the data at the edge. In a distributed enterprise, “edge storage” refers to data storage in endpoint devices, such as laptops, mobile devices, IoT devices and small branch office file servers. Large enterprises have thousands or even tens of thousands of such edge storage devices. In contrast, cloud storage refers to data that is stored in the enterprise virtual private cloud or private cloud. Edge storage is local, so it is faster to access than cloud storage, and it is available offline, even when the internet connection is down – so local applications relying on edge storage are much more resilient to service interruptions.
Edge storage use cases can vary from simple ones, such as storing employees’ laptop data to much more complicated use-cases like autonomous cars or healthcare devices. Today, in light of the rise of cross-border collaboration and virtual teams, one of the most common use cases is the ability to provide customers with a solution for remote offices and remote branches distributed around the world. This use case often combines the ability to store the data at the edge with a centralised management platform in the cloud.
Challenges at the Edge and in the Cloud
Think of a video surveillance system – it may seem obvious that you want surveillance footage to live in cloud storage and not in the edge. This is due to the physical security of the cloud, along with inherent redundancy, infinite elasticity and very low-cost storage tiers which are suitable for long-term archival – a perfect match. However, in practice this choice has its problems – would you be able to keep footage recording during an internet service interruption? And do you need to be able to retrieve videos locally from the archive quickly? Those limitations mean that edge storage remains as important as ever.
While cloud storage clearly has its pitfalls, pure edge storage has its dark sides as well. It needs to be backed up regularly to a secure, remote location in order to avoid data loss in case of local disasters. Additionally, it is not easy to collaborate on edge storage between sites and it is extremely difficult to manage at scale due to lack of local IT. And finally, it is vulnerable to theft and it is not searchable, creating islands of “dark data”.
IT departments everywhere are spending a huge amount of time and money on managing edge storage. When employees get a new laptop, IT needs to transfer their data from the old device to the new one. When a small branch office server fails, IT needs to drive to a remote location and spend days on restoring the data from a backup and getting everything running again. That’s expensive, inefficient and scales poorly. Relying solely on edge storage is truly “living on the edge”, and not in a positive way – it’s a big mistake.
Bridging Edge and Cloud
Enterprises, therefore, need a hybrid solution that combines the benefits of edge and cloud storage, and this is where “edge to cloud” comes to play. According to Gartner, “edge to cloud” is one of the top trends in the IT industry for 2018. The key technology needed in order to achieve cloud and edge synergy is edge caching – often in the form of edge gateways. These gateways absorb all the files from the old servers– including existing security ACLs and shares – and push everything to the cloud while exposing the same experience as a traditional network share. Add a layer of smart local caching and everything feels as fast and responsive as before. These caching devices – which are available in hardware or software form – also allow organisations to continue creating files locally during an internet service interruption, and to continue editing frequently used files.
Since the data now lives in the cloud but is accessible at local speeds from anywhere across the globe, new cross-site collaboration opportunities emerge which were not possible before. Suddenly all that previously “dark” data is right at your fingertips – in your own private cloud– in a searchable, analysable and sharable repository. Data is the new gold, and “edge to cloud” allows organisations to tap into all their data, from everywhere. And that has some real impact on the business which is why enterprise CIOs around the globe should be seriously looking into implementing an “edge to cloud” paradigm.
Sourced by Aron Brand, CTO at CTERA