Thoughts on Amazon’s new onsite Storage Gateway announcement

Amazon Web Services has announced that it now offers a new storage gateway appliance (virtual machine image) that can be placed on a customers site. What benefit is this ? It really provides an easy way to integrate local storage or systems with the facility to replicate data to the Amazon Cloud. For example you could add the technology to an existing data center so that it resided between servers and storage  so that you could easily start replicating data to Amazon S3.

Note,however,these are actually stored as EBS Volumes. So although users can access data stored in this fashion locally from the gateway, if they wish to access this data directly through AWS they would need to start an EC2 instance and attached the EBS volume. . This in and of itself makes it easier to then integrate S3 stored data with other AWS services (if this is important to you). Note that this is not ‘replacing’ what you already have (ie. “great, I can just use the Cloud”), it is in addition to what you already have.

Firstly lets look at what the requirements are to host the Gateway.  These are:

  • VMware ESXi hypervisor (v4.1) on a physical machine with at least 7.5GB of RAM
  • Four (4) virtual processors assigned to the appliance VM along with 75GB of disk space for the Open Virtual Alliance (OVA) image installation and data.
  • A “proper” sized network connection to Amazon.
  •  iSCSI initiators on either Windows server 2008, Windows 7 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux

(Also note that the Gateway beta is optimised for block write sizes which are more than 4Kb.  AWS warns that using smaller I/O sizes are likely to cause overhead which can result in storage space that is effectively ‘lost’. This means that prior to installation there needs to be a check made on the file systems / volumes to ensure they can use the larger allocation sizes).

Firstly we’d like to point out that it’s great to see Amazon adding their own on-premise Cloud Gateway. It’s great to see them competing with the likes of  EMC, TwinStrata, and Nasuni. It would have been nice to see NFS or CIFS supported as interfaces, as from our own interactions with customers, we believe that is what customers really want to see, but maybe we can expect to see that added as the Gateway offering matures.

(Differences between iSCSI & NFS: iSCSI and NFS both allow storage access over an IP networking infrastructure. The difference is that iSCSI enables block storage transfer whereas NFS and CIFS transfers files.)

Many customers may find that they already have the capabilities for which they would use the Gateway, such as snapshots, backup and archiving, which is a pretty old, mature and I would expect a little more cost effective mechanism of achieving similar goals. However with that said we can see many use case where, with our own Cloud File Server Appliance where customers will really embrace the Gateway.

So where does the AWS Cloud Gateway end and the SME Cloud Appliance begin ? Well, the first things to understand about the SME Cloud Appliance is that it acts at a layer ‘above’ the storage. It provides a mechanism to unify disparate data sources into one file tree, add unified user access management and permissions, add unified governance and e-compliance, has focus on enabling companies to manage ‘Cloud Sprawl’, and leverages the ability for companies to let staff “bring your own device” (BYOD). In short, as I often say when asked to comment about Storage in general, the response is “it’s all about the App”. Storage in and of itself is not a single source in companies and secondly having things stored is no good unless you have unified, search, logic, control and anytime anywhere access that supports all desktops and all devices. This is what we essentially are bringing to the table with our Cloud File Server Appliance.

To take advantage of the Amazon Cloud Gateway what would be required is for us to connect to the local iSCSI stored data within the Gateway and this is something we will be looking to do in the short term.

For further information see the Amazon Cloud Gateway Storage FAQ’s. Also note that Amazon are also doing a free webcast on 23rd February.


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How to make sure your Cloud data does not disappear overnight

If you you’ve been following the IT news recently you probably saw the issue that users recently had with GMail. If not you can read more about it here. Imagine one morning firing up your Android phone or laptop and finding your data was gone!

Of course, this does not just affect email systems. It can affect any cloud service you store data with. Carbonite was another high profile example of data loss, and of course there are many others, and no doubt there will be many more.

So what can you do to prevent such loss? Well, you can backup! Exactly like you do with your laptop. At SMEStorage all users, including free users, can backup their emails to their storage cloud of choice, as long as their email provider supports IMAP, the user can start or schedule a backup and just leave it to complete. An effective solution to a horrible problem should it ever arise.

What about you Cloud data? Well, our Personal Cloud Lifetime and business users can choose to ‘pair’ a backup cloud with a primary cloud. This will instantly schedule a sync of all existing data to a backup cloud, and it will also backup any future data uploaded, giving you total piece of mind that your Cloud data is highly available as a backup copy is stored on another cloud. this could be Amazon S3 and RackSpace for example, or MobileMe to Azure Storage, whatever combination you would like to choose!

If you primary cloud goes down or your data is not available we’ll get it from your backup cloud.

The Cloud does not have to be a dangerous place, just take sensible precautions to protect your data.

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The dummies guide to getting 10GB of free storage on Amazon S3

Recently we announced that we upped our storage limit to 5GB of free space for every user who signs up to use Storage Made Easy and chooses to use the S3 cloud we use for file hosting.

Today we’ll tell you how you can get a further 5GB of free hosting on Amazon S3 and combine it with the 5GB that we offer to give you a whopping 10GB that you can use on Amazon S3.

First sign up for Amazon S3’s free usage Tier which you can do here. This is a little complex (to see the least) so lets walk though the steps to do this:

Fom the initial screen, click on the “sign up now button”. This will take you to the following screen:

Here, you should enter your email address and click the “I am a new user” radio button and then click “Sign in using our secure server”. This will take you to the following screen:

Fill in your details and click “Create account”. This will take you to a screen where you can enter your address details (company or home). You will also need to check that you agree to the Amazon terms of service, and enter the captcha image prior to clicking the “continue” button.

Once this is done you will be take to a confirmation page that tells you that you have created your account and will be sent a confirmation email.

From the confirmation screen above click on the link that says “Simple Storage Service”. This will take you to the Amazon S3 Screen:

From here, click to sign in to Amazon S.3 This will take you to a screen that introduced the Amazon S3 free usage Tier terms. Scroll to the bottom of this screen and enter your credit card details. Your credit card details are used if you go outside of the terms of the free usage, and if you are still using the storage after 1 year. The free usage enables 5 GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 Get Requests, and 2,000 Put Requests*

After your credit card detail are entered you will be asked to confirm your selecrtions, as below:

Once completed you will receive a confirmation that your activation is in process and you will receive and email when this is done.

Once you receive the activation email your S3 storage is available and you can login to your Amazon Web Services Account. On login you will normally be taken to the dashboard view, as below:

From here click the Account link, this will take you to the Account screen. At the account screen you want to click on the security credentials link.

From this page you can access your Amazon Access key and secret key. Click on “show” show the secret key and make a note of both keys.

Now, after a fairly long winded process (to say the least !), you finally have your 5GB free Amazon S3 storage and your Amazon keys. Now, we’ll use this with SME to gain access to your storage and also on registration obtain another free 5GB that is hosted on Amazon S3. You can register on Storage Made Easy by clicking here. From here select the free package that gives your 5GB free on Amazon S3:

After registration you will receive an email which you must activate. After this you can login for the first time you can add the Amazon S3 provider from the DashBoard or from the File Manager interface.

Add Cloud

The ‘add provider’ wizard enables you to select a provider, in this case S3, and the wizard steps through the steps needed to add this.

Add Amazon S3

On the next screen you will be asked to add the Amazon S3 keys that you took not of earlier. Add this and click next. Please be sure not to accidentally copy the keys with spaces at the end as these will count as characters:

Amazon S3 provider wizard

As this account is brand new you will be asked to create what Amazon refer to as a ‘bucket’. Don’t worry too much about this you can think of it as a storage container, and if you wish you can accept the default. If you change it be aware that some bucket names may be taken so you will have think of something unique. Also, you can choose where to host your bucket (choose a region close to you). Don’t worry to much about the storage option right now.

Once you have entered the bucket an moved forward, follow the sync wizard (choose browser sync when asked). There are no files yet to sync so you will end up with a final screen similar to below:

At this point, you now have access to 10GB of file storage on S3, 5GB directly with your S3 keys and 5 GB provided by SME ! Congratulations.

You can choose to use a number of our free OS desktop Cloud Tools to work with your Account and also of course the web based file managers. You can also choose to add other storage clouds which you can access through the same file system. To do this just go to the SME Web DashBoard and choose add a new provider.

Amazon S3 file manager

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Android SME Cloud File Manager updated to 1.7

We have updated our Android SMEStorage Cloud File Manager on the Google Android Marketplace to version 1.7. This new release has the following changes:
– Enabled Notes to be emailed as attachments
– Accessing notes changed to a double tap
– Added support for HTTPS on login (https is slower)
– Added support to upload any file from phone to storage cloud chosen
– Added support for icloud, safesync & Sharepoint clouds. SharePoint can only be used by SMEStorage business accounts.

The next release will feature HTTP / FTP support for local file upload over Wi Fi and also sync from ‘cloud to phone’ / ‘phone to cloud’ scheduling, a much requested feature.

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