Transitioning from On-Premise to Cloud-based Storage: Look Before You Leap

by Mark Brazeau

Fortune 500 and SMB companies alike are plunging headfirst into cloud-based storage services for all the right reasons: reduced CAPEX, greater agility, streamlined management overhead and improved collaboration. But enterprises big and small are finding out there’s a considerable “gotcha” when it comes to bridging their on premise storage systems – whether that includes Network File Systems, SharePoint or various flavors of Enterprise Content Management platforms – with various cloud services.

That “gotcha” boils down to three primary challenges that have plagued enterprises for nearly three decades: the synchronization, migration and/or backup of files that for many organizations can represent terabytes if not petabytes of data storage. What organizations are finding out – the hard way – is that this is not a trivial undertaking. Their assumption is that content (or files) can simply be “bulk transferred” from their on-premise storage systems to the cloud with the click of a mouse. Wrong.

The harsh reality is that bridging tens to hundreds of millions of files distributed across disparate storage systems and geographies to the cloud is a lot harder than anticipated. That’s because individual files contain unique properties, metadata, versions and permissions. And accommodating these variables when moving data from or between on-premise and cloud storage services has proven to be an integration nightmare.

So what’s the solution? There is a significant and increasingly urgent need for a new layer of middleware that provides an intelligent membrane between on-premise and cloud-based storage systems that can preserve the integrity of folder structures, metadata, permissions, document versions and other file-related artifacts – without having to engage an army of integrators.

So what’s needed to overcome on-premise to cloud storage migration obstacles?

Complexities of Syncing, Migrating or Backing up to Cloud Services Today
In a perfect world, enterprises big and small would prefer to have a single repository for all of their structured and unstructured content. Imagine the reduction in management complexity and cost that scenario would offer. But that’s a pipe dream today.

Organizations have made considerable investments in varying flavors of on-premise storage systems. And many continue to implement disparate enterprise content management systems to help meet increasing demands from users that need access to information shared well beyond the corporate firewall.

The challenge, however, is that the vast majority of today’s enterprises deploy a hodge-podge of content silos scattered across business units and geographies. That said, trying to corral content from different repositories isn’t new. In fact, it’s a problem that has plagued IT for going on 30 years. During the decade of the ‘SC, there was a movement to integrate existing NFS storage with image-based ECM systems. The next decade saw the emergence of content and portal-enabled ECM systems. And now we’re in the midst of the next mega-trend: cloud-based storage platforms.

What history has taught us is that consolidating storage systems is incredibly complex because each is unique. Getting so-called “hybrid” platforms to co-exist has proven to be elusive; when you factor in requirements to manage millions of files, folders, permissions, metadata, versions, file locks and more between incompatible systems, it’s understandable why this problem has persisted for three decades. Lest we forget, consolidation efforts are challenged even further by incompatible file names due to “long paths” or illegal characters when migrating content from one system to another. It’s little wonder why we continue to see a veritable “31 Flavors” of network shares in many enterprises today.

Some may argue that if you can migrate the majority of content between systems, it’s “good enough”. The counter-argument is that even if you successfully move 95 percent of an enterprise’s files (and that’s an awfully generous assumption) the remaining 5 percent could represent millions of exceptions. Try selling that to a compliance officer, especially if you’re tasked with trying to sync, migrate or backup SharePoint, NFS and/or ECM platforms with cloud services including Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Office 365, Syncplicity, Huddle and more.

The Time Has Come for a New Middleware Layer
A recent research report from Gartner, entitled “Cool Vendors in Content Management 2015”, concludes “A hybrid content architecture can help with the simplicity and ease of synchronization/migration of content across multiple content platforms.”

What’s needed to make a hybrid content architecture successful is an intelligent middleware membrane that can automatically resolve incompatibilities between ECM systems, SharePoint, OpenText, NFS, SAN or NAS systems when migrating and/or syncing to a cloud service.

Given the fact that enterprises are under increasing pressure to develop better collaboration strategies for their distributed workforces in order to achieve greater productivity, enhanced competitiveness and more rapid time-to-market advantages, the cost, time and resources to transparently integrate content silos must be radically streamlined.

And that’s going to require an intelligent middleware layer capable of handling the migration and bi-directional synchronization of files, folder hierarchies, properties, versions, map permissions, user accounts and meta data on the fly without expensive integration efforts. Without this capability, the full potential of hybrid content architectures will be compromised significantly.

It goes without saying that any such middleware solution must factor in security considerations that are under the full control of designated administrators while leveraging the native APIs and HTTPS/O-Auth2 connections provided by cloud service providers.

Use Cases and Who Should Care
CIOs and enterprise architects grappling with how to integrate multi-content repositories with cloud-based services are clamoring for solutions to this longstanding challenge. This affects a wide range of markets ranging from government, public services, education, legal, insurance, energy and utilities, media, retail, biopharmaceutical and construction to oil and gas. Suffice it to say the content integration challenge is far reaching.

So what are the most likely use cases for this intelligent middleware layer that’s been discussed? Let’s start with hybrid environments. Organizations need to leverage cloud storage for its cost-effectiveness, accessibility and device-agnostic benefits. However, they must also maintain existing on-premises storage to ensure their IT infrastructure is compliant and any existing integrations to ancillary systems are not impacted.

In-place migration is another likely use case. Enterprises looking to migrate to a new storage platform are often concerned about the cost and effort associated with the migration, copying of files to transported or mailed hard drives and any new files created during the migration process. An intelligent middleware layer must be capable of managing migrations without disrupting users or the existing IT infrastructure.

File platform backups are also among the most likely use cases CIOs and enterprise architects are concerned about. Clearly, mission-critical information needs to be protected from data loss, power failure or natural disasters. In addition to keeping content safe, enterprises need to be able to easily restore that information to ensure business continuity. This requires the option to archive content to the cloud, a local server or any other supported storage platform with incremental backup and restoration capabilities.

In closing, it’s safe to say that on-premises-to-cloud content integration challenges are only going to get more difficult as enterprises continue to swim in the data deluge of tomorrow. It’s little wonder then that Gartner predicts by 2018, 50 percent of enterprises will be managing their content using a hybrid content architecture.

Mark Brazeau is the CEO of SkySync.

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