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Microsoft Azure StorSimple: combining local storage with cloud services

The Microsoft Azure StorSimple product line stands out from the usual supply mass with a charming concept: Two new hybrid appliances combine on-premise storage with storage space in the Microsoft cloud. Manage data center solutions through Azure.

In November 2012, Microsoft acquired the Californian company StorSimple , which specializes in cloud- integrated, Windows Server and VMware-certified enterprise-class storage appliances. However, apart from the integration into Microsoft’s server and cloud business unit, little has happened since the company was acquired.

Now Microsoft has presented details for the first proprietary flagship StorSimple release since its acquisition less than two years ago. As a member of the ” Azure StorSimple 8000″ series, the Redmonder launch two new hybrid storage appliances. The “StorSimple 8100” baptized device brings an on-premises storage capacity of 15-40TB and 200TB of enterprise storage capacity . The larger version “StorSimple 8600” houses between 40 and 100 TB of local storage and has 500 TB of cloud storage in its luggage. Both appliances feature 10 Gigabit Ethernet LAN connectivity and can be addressed as iSCSI targets for fast and flexible access.

Unlike Windows Storage server-based storage appliances, which are only available through OEMs such as Dell and HP, the StorSimple solutions include a regular SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). They are listed in the Microsoft price list and can be ordered by corporate customers as well as office and other products.

Azure-only

Essentially, the two StorSimple products are solutions that deliver local primary storage. Features such as in-line deduplication and built-in compression make efficient use of available storage space. The Azure -Cloud storage of StorSimple acts as secondary storage. This additional storage tier allows capacity expansion in the cloud if more space is required, and also serves as an offsite target for backups and snapshots to protect corporate data.

Inactive data, which is rarely needed, can automatically offload the solution to the Azure cloud to make room for primary storage for local storage of additional information.

As a cloud storage provider, the new StorSimple appliances only support Microsoft Azure . Other storage providers in the cloud, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), can not be leveraged by StorSimple appliances.

Administration via the cloud

The two StorSimple appliances include two new Azure services. The first, the so-called “Microsoft Azure StorSimple Manager”, serves as a single point of contact for the administration of all StorSimple appliances in the company. Administrators can get an overview of the current storage status from anywhere. It does not matter in which locations of the company the StorSimple appliances are located.

In addition, this service enables centralized configuration, such as the definition of retention policies for the automatic offloading of data from the primary to the cloud storage.

Virtual Appliances

The second new Azure service Microsoft is introducing with the StorSimple appliances is the Microsoft Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance. This is the implementation of StorSimple technology as a service in the cloud . This storage array in the cloud allows Azure cloud-enabled applications to access data uploaded by the on-premises StorSimple appliances. In other words, data paged into the cloud can be used by applications in the cloud. This can be useful, for example, for development and test scenarios.

Another feature of these virtual appliances is instant recovery, which creates complete images of virtual volumes in Azure that applications and users can access instantly. Instead of downloading complete VMs, the Microsoft solution should only download the actual required or changed data, which greatly reduces the recovery times. This proves to be useful, for example, in the disaster emergency or to test such scenarios.

Privacy issues

When it comes to the cloud, data protection is not far away – at least in Europe and especially in Germany, where the first data protection law in the world was issued in 1970 in Hesse. Redmond executives point out that all StorSimple communication between an on- premises appliance and the Azure storage in the cloud is encrypted using the strong AES algorithm with 256-bit key length. In addition, any passwords typed in conjunction with the StorSimple solutions on-premises should remain local and not stored in the Azure cloud to prevent password-stealing from the cloud.

But there is no more security . Businesses interested in the new StorSimple 8000 series solutions and intending to hand over their data to Redmond’s cloud data centers must therefore trust Microsoft and its privacy efforts in light of the unbridled thirst for data of the US NSA and its allies Intelligence agencies and new espionage revelations is no easy task.

Further protection mechanisms, which prevent, for example, the outsourcing of data types or data from specific folders to the cloud in a policy-controlled manner, were not incorporated by the developers in the StorSimple products. Similarly, the new StorSimple solutions lack local two-factor encryption. It could use a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip, as it also uses the Microsoft BitLocker encryption, or a USB token, which exists only locally in the respective computer center of the company, to encrypt the data to be stored. This encrypted, outsourced to the cloud company data would automatically be worthless if no access to this local additional protection exists, so aspirated data would not be decrypted.

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