On-Premises vs. Cloud Native Storage

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Cloud native computing is quickly becoming the norm for enterprises. Containers, container orchestrators like Kubernetes, cloud native solutions like storage orchestrators and other cloud native solutions are making applications and infrastructure more efficient, more available and easier to maintain than ever before.

But many organizations are still using on-premises storage solutions, even if they’ve adopted cloud native technologies for other elements of their tech stack. What’s keeping on-premises storage around?

What Makes On-Premises Storage Sticky

If you’ve got an on-premises storage solution, that means your servers and other hardware devices are hosted and managed on your organization’s infrastructure and physical premises.

The defining characteristic of on-premises storage solutions is that they have a lot of inertia. They tend to:

  • Come with years-long service contracts.
  • Work best, or only work, with other solutions within the relevant vendor’s ecosystem,
  • Require in-house specialists to maintain and troubleshoot the solution,

Once you’ve invested in an on-premises storage solution, all of the above issues and more make it very sticky, more specifically, on-premises storage solutions feature a high degree of vendor lock-in.

But where on-premises storage really struggles is working with the more agile, cloud native technologies that dominate the digital landscape today. If you want to use an on-premises storage solution to store data for stateful, containerized applications, you’ll need to create customizations to handle load balancing, availability, scaling, updating, persistence, networking and more.

This scenario where on-premise storage infrastructure is made to work, albeit imperfectly, with cloud technologies is fairly common. It makes sense; organizations want to use both modern, cloud-based technologies while also getting as much value out of their legacy, on-premises infrastructure.

As a result, they move elements of their technology stack to the cloud in a piecemeal fashion. This is in contrast, however, to the cloud native approach and doesn’t capture the benefits it provides.

What’s Different About Cloud Native Storage?

As defined by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation,

“Cloud native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure and declarative APIs exemplify this approach.

These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.”

In essence, it’s a cloud-first approach to developing, hosting and managing applications. In the case of storage, the cloud native approach makes the assumption that other elements of the stack will be based on cloud technologies and is thus primed to take advantage of the benefits a cloud native stack has to offer.

By default, more of your infrastructure can be software-defined under the cloud native approach. As a result, elements of your infrastructure like your storage solution will work declaratively with any number of environments. This combats vendor lock-in, enabling you to work with vendors whose services or products suit your application better, or who operate in the regions you wish to.

Typically, such services and products are offered on a self-service basis; rather than pay a large fee for monolithic technologies that you may or may not use to their fullest extent, cloud native solutions, and cloud native storage in particular, lets you pay as you go.

Why Would You Want On-Premises Storage in the First Place?

A lot of organizations don’t. But as we discussed earlier, on-premises storage has a lot of inertia to it. There are two major reasons why it’s so difficult to switch to cloud-based storage.

1. The Sunk-Cost Fallacy

Organizations have already invested a great deal of money into their on-premises solutions. They’ve retained service providers to manage those solutions, hired internal experts, bought the necessary hardware — the list goes on. Not using all of that can feel painful, even if it’s a less effective approach.

2. Data Security and Compliance

On-premises storage has traditionally been seen as being more secure and easier to stay compliant with data regulations.

Sometimes, data has to be retained for a certain number of years and migrating that data to a different solution puts it at risk. Or, perhaps that data needs to be hosted in a certain jurisdiction. Switching to a cloud native storage solution might cause that data to be moved across international boundaries to a data center that’s subject to different laws.

Thus, it’s not so much that on-premises storage solutions offer different, but equally attractive benefits to cloud native storage. Rather, on-premises solutions are holding their owners hostage. The perceived cost and difficulty of switching to a cloud native solution are too high for many organizations to justify.

Fortunately, It’s Getting Easier to Switch

In terms of price, risk, effort and all the other costs associated with going cloud native, it’s getting easier to switch from on-premises to cloud native storage.

Major cloud providers now have data centers in nearly every country, making it easier to stay in compliance with data regulations. There are more providers in the cloud native ecosystem than ever before, driving down costs and ensuring there’s enough variety to cater to even the most specific requirements. And it’s quickly becoming the norm. As cloud native storage solutions become more commonplace, it’s going to be harder to justify baking the cost of on-premises solutions into product or service price tags.

What it Means for Enterprise

If your organization has the opportunity to switch from an on-premises storage solution, you should seize it. Vendor lock-in and inertia are potent forces holding many enterprises back from full modernization. Getting locked into another five-year procurement cycle will make it even more difficult to catch up and modernize.

We’ve alluded to this, but it’s also important to change to a cloud native technology stack. There are benefits to be realized by going with a cloud native storage solution by itself, but there are even more benefits to upgrading to an entire cloud native infrastructure. After all, any technology stack is only as modern as its least modern components.

To explore how cloud native storage can help your enterprise take a faster approach to software development, reach out to the experts at StorageOS.

written by:
Romuald Vandepoel
Romuald Vandepoel is a technologist, facilitator, advocate, and open source contributor responsible for modernizing and transforming customer and partner organizations at Red Hat, Inc. He embraces his role as a trusted advisor within architecture boards and CTO offices providing guidance on culture, process and technology adoption strategies. As a transformational leader, he supports transitions from IT legacy siloed monoliths to ecosystems of Business-Unit-as-a-Service to accelerate the organization's innovation and growth. Romuald participated as moderator and speaker for both in-person and virtual events for Red Hat, FOSDEM, DevOps.com , DevNetwork, Tech Field Day, and CNCF.  He also maintains and contributes to two open source projects, Trousseau and Discoblocks, and is a member of the Ondat Advisory Board where he provides guidance on open source strategies. Romuald is based both in Eindhoven and San Jose and has held diverse roles in tech companies including Tyco, SonicWALL, NetApp, and Red Hat.