The rise of the Cloud Data Aggregators

As storing data in the cloud becomes increasingly more normal users will increasingly find themselves in the position of needing to access different types of data regularly.  To this end we are starting to see a new breed of applications and services which themselves provide a service that interacts with data stored on the cloud. The challenge is  that services that sell their products or service based on data access are in the position of having to choose which data services to support.

This is further exacerbated in the cloud storage space as their is no ubiquitous API (see our prior post on Amazon S3 becoming a de facto standard interface).

To this end we are starting to see services an applications that themselves are offering interesting aggregations of access to data clouds. We look at a few of these below:

GoodReader, Office2 HDQuickOfficeDocuments to Go, iSMEStorage, iWork:

The iPad,  iPhone, Android have some interesting applications which function on top of existing data clouds. All the aforementioned application work in this way, either letting you view the files (in the case of GoodReader) or letting you view and edit the files (in the case of Office2, QuickOffice, Documents to Go, iWork, and iSMEStorage). The premise is that if you have data stored in an existing cloud then you can load and view or edit it in this tools and store it locally.

Tools such as iWork (which encompasses iPages, iNumbers, and iKeynote) only work with MobileMe or the WebDav standard, although the iSMEStorage App gets around this by enabling you to use iWork as an editor for files accessed through it’s cloud gateway , that can be stored on any number of clouds, using WebDav, even if the underlying cloud does not support WebDav.

In fact some companies are making data access a feature in pricing, for example,  charging extra for increased connectivity. and :

Both Gladinet and SMES are unique amongst the current Cloud vendors in that they enable aggregated access to multiple file clouds. They essentially enable you to access cloud files from multiple different providers from a single file system.

Gladinet is inherently a windows only solution with many different offerings whereas Storage Made Easy also has windows software but also has cloud drives for Linux, Mac and also mobile clients for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Gladinet is  a client side service whereas SME is a server-based service using it’s Cloud Gateway Appliance ,which is also available as a virtual appliance for VMWAre, XEN etc.

Both offering support a dizzying array of Cloud, such as, Amazon S3, Windows Azure Blob Storage, Google Storage, Google Docs, RackSpace Cloud Files etc, plus many more.

Such solutions don’t just aggregate cloud services but bring the cloud into the desktop and onto the Mobile / Tablet, making the use of cloud data much more transparent.

As data become more outsourced (to the cloud) for all types of different applications and services I expect we will see more such innovative solutions, and applications that give access to aggregated cloud data, and extend the services and tools that are provided by the native data provider.

What happens when the Cloud goes wrong ?

DeletetheCloud It is great enthusing about the benefits of Cloud Computing, but what are the consequences when it goes wrong ? Of course, there are different levels of  ‘going wrong’. We have often publicised outages from the likes of Amazon and Google, but given the publicised SLA’s of each some down time is expected. However things can get much more serious than this. In the last couple of days it has emerged that Carbonite had lost some of its customers data in 2007. According to TechCrunch Carbonite lost the data of 7,500+ customers who relied on the company to keep their files safe. This emerged because of a law suit that Carbonite filed on the providers of  their infrastructure. The Carbonite CEO provides more details:

“The failures of the Promise equipment occurred primarily during 2007. We stopped buying the Promise servers and switched suppliers. We allege that the Promise servers had defective firmware and were not reliable enough for Carbonite’s use. We are demanding that Promise compensate us for the cost of replacing their defective products. As for the 7,500 affected customers, their backups were restarted automatically and immediately on our new servers.”

In this case it seems the data loss had no effect and any data loss was mitigated by the companies internal backup procedures. However, in the case of JournalSpace, this unfortunately was not the case. JournalSpace was a blogging platform that had been around for about 6 years and, due to a disgruntled employee, all customers blogs were wiped out from their internal servers. Ouch !

This is not the first time such human error has lead to such problems. In August 2008 Cloud Platform FlexiScale, had an outage for over 2 days due to an engineer accidentally deleting a main storage volume.

Also the damage done it not just to the customer but also to the vendor’s reputation, especially if they are a smaller vendor trying to make a name for themselves. One such catastrophe can literally be the difference between success and failure in the market.

So what can we learn from this ? Well the first thing is that, just like Murphy’s law, if something can go wrong at some point it invariably will. With that in mind you should always take all steps to protect your applications and data. This could mean backing them up locally or keeping backups on different storage clouds and having a DR ready plan in place. If you don’t then you cannot just blame the cloud….