no cloud

Could agencies avoid disaster in a Nirvanix-like cloud shutdown?

The collapse of cloud storage vendor Nirvanix — and the stampede by its customers to recover their data — illustrates why government agencies need sound exit and migration strategies in place before moving any data to the cloud.  Upfront  due diligence will help agencies if they have to move massive amounts of data on short notice from one cloud service provider to another.

Organizations using the San Diego-based company’s cloud storage services are grappling with such a situation. Nirvanix informed customers they had two weeks to move petabytes of data to other providers because the company is shutting down services, Information Age, a U.K.-based website, reported on Sept. 17. The CEO of Nirvanix partner Aorta Cloud told the website that the company would shutter services Sept. 30 because of financial difficulties. Subsequent reports say that deadline has been extended to Oct. 15.  

“Two weeks is not enough time for them to pull significant data out, especially if all customers are trying to do it at the same time,” said Steve Kousen, partner and vice-president of federal engineering and cloud computing services at Unisys. Kousen said he did not know the details of the Nirvanix situation, however; any solution would have to involve a continuation of service to give customers time to get their data out.

As a systems integrator, Unisys tries to work with cloud service providers that have defined and proven strategies, he said. This means examining the vendor’s performance and scalability capabilities as well as the contract agreements it brokers for government agencies. One stipulation Unisys makes is that the cloud providers give agencies a minimum of six months’ notice  if there is a problem.

If an emergency does occur, Unisys wants to be sure that the cloud provider can  liberate the agency’s data and provide it in any format so the agency can get access to it on a different platform, he said.  “We track the cloud service provider’s performance to make sure it is meeting the metrics it said it would deliver,” Kousen said. 

Ultimately, agency managers using the cloud must think about their enterprise data management strategy, said David Blankenhorn, chief cloud technologist at DLT Solutions. “If they are using cloud for backup, then best practice dictates that a single backup is not sufficient,” he said.  “A cloud platform may serve as one backup medium, but customers should still be using tape, disk or another cloud platform as a secondary backup medium.” 

Agency managers should also determine which data set and platform is their system of record, he noted. . “Cloud providers – like disks – can fail.  Hopefully, cloud providers will fail less often than disks, but contingencies should be in place regardless of the medium,” Blankenhorn said.

But what if an agency does find itself in the situation like the thousands of Nirvanix customers? How can they be helped?

Given that scenario, Kousen said Unisys would work with the cloud provider to export data and offload it to storage appliances. Unisys has taken this approach when integration teams ingest massive amounts of an organization’s data before moving it into the cloud. The same principle can be applied in moving data out of the cloud, Kousen said.  Data can be moved to an appliance or network-attached storage device and shipped to the agency where IT administrators can bring it up on a local area network instead of pushing it out over a wide area network, he said.

Cloud gateways offer another option for agencies that need to migrate data. Forrester Research analyst Henry Baltazar, writing in a blog, recommended cloud gateways from vendors such as “Panzura, Ctera, TwinStrata, and Nasuni because they provide an on-premises cache of frequently accessed data to minimize data access requests to a cloud service provider.”  

TwinStrata had a number of customers using Nirvanix, a spokesman for the company told GCN. “Since the news broke last week, we've been working with those customers to transfer their data to other cloud providers,” the TwinStrata official said. “In fact, we've worked in collaboration with our partners to establish a high-bandwidth connection between providers so that we're able to move hundreds of terabytes of data from Nirvanix without using the customer's own bandwidth connection,” the official said.

Nirvanix, launched in 2007, did have some presence in the public sector. TwinStrata worked with Nirvanix customers in government, “primarily at the local level,” the company spokesman said. In 2009, scientists accessed data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter stored in Nirvanix’s cloud-based storage system.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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