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ClearSky Data storage service adds automated backup, DR

ClearSky is expanding its focus beyond primary storage with the addition of automated backup and DR capabilities designed to help customers eliminate storage silos.

ClearSky Data is expanding its storage service with the addition of automated backup and disaster recovery capabilities.

The Boston-based vendor started out focused on primary storage. ClearSky tiers data among an on-premises flash appliance for a customer's hottest data, an off-site cache at a point-of-presence (POP) data center and Amazon's cloud-based Simple Storage Service for long-term retention.

"The secret sauce in our software package is really all about positioning data in that network so that it could be more performant," said Laz Vekiarides, co-founder and CTO at ClearSky Data.

The entry-level configuration for the company's 2U flash appliance is six 1 TB SSDs. But the box has 24 slots for a maximum raw capacity of 24 TB, offers deduplication and compression capabilities, and it can scale out to a maximum of four appliances. The flash appliance is designed to provide high-performance access to data over the course of a week, according to Vekiarides.

ClearSky Data uses its own gear at the POP colocation facilities, with a goal of positioning data centers within 120 miles of any customer site to provide faster access to commonly used data. ClearSky initially opened POPs in Boston, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, but has since shifted to locations closer to customers. ClearSky still operates its Boston POP, but moved the others to New York and Ashburn, Va., with plans to add more in the San Francisco Bay Area and the middle of the country, according to Vekiarides. 

New capabilities

Vekiarides said the new capabilities ClearSky added this week would enable customers to schedule backups and set snapshot retention policies. He said the company originally designed the system as a primary storage array, with snapshots kept for a small interval of time, then expunged. ClearSky expanded the retention period to hold data much longer, and it added software to allow customers to automate the retrieval of lost data and orchestrate DR, Vekiarides said.

We started to realize that we have the ability to solve more than just the primary storage problem.
Laz Vekiaridesco-founder and CTO, ClearSky Data

"Instead of having a primary storage array, secondary storage system for test and dev, backup system for on-site backup, another set of backup systems for off-site backup and yet another set of systems for disaster recovery, you're able to consolidate all of these things into a single pane of glass and a single price," Vekiarides said. "When you talk to customers early on as a startup, they start to tell you about their problems. And we started to realize that we have the ability to solve more than just the primary storage problem."

As part of its service-level agreement, ClearSky promises a recovery point objective of less than 15 minutes and a recovery time objective of less than a minute after a data request is made.

"Other services have difficulty offering guaranteed response times because last-mile performance can vary. But ClearSky has taken the time to put in the appropriate infrastructure to be able to offer this, which gives them a differentiation," Leah Schoeb, a senior analyst at Storage Strategies Now (SSG-Now) in Austin, Texas, wrote in an email.

ClearSky's new enhancements also include support for unlimited snapshots with thousands of recovery points, automated object-level recovery via a VMware vCenter plug-in, and application consistency and multivolume consistency groups to facilitate quick recovery.

Virtual edge cache software

Another new addition is virtual edge cache software that runs inside Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) -- called Cloud Edge -- to enable customers to access data in the cloud. ClearSky's Cloud Edge uses the directly attached SSDs of the Amazon EC2 instances for caching purposes. Customers attach to them via iSCSI inside their Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), according to Vekiarides.

Vekiarides said ClearSky discussed Cloud Edge with customers, generally for the purpose of DR, where "we can provide a better recovery time than the status quo." He said Cloud Edge runs in the customer's Amazon VPC, so they incur a charge to Amazon for operating it.

ClearSky Data did not make available general pricing for its service, but said the new features would be available at no additional cost. Pricing is on a per-gigabyte, per-month basis. Vekiarides said the price compares to the cost of storing data in a single enterprise-class storage array. He also likened the price to Amazon Elastic Block Store for a volume and a snapshot at low capacities, and noted it gets substantially cheaper at scale.

The automated backup and DR capabilities mark the second major product update for ClearSky Data. Last year's upgrade added support for Fibre Channel storage networking, building on the product's initial support for iSCSI.

SSG-Now's Schoeb identified ClearSky's competition as traditional storage vendors, such as Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Pure Storage and NetApp.

"Overall, I think ClearSky is headed in the right direction by expanding their support for the life of data," Schoeb wrote. "Adding secondary storage capabilities, like backup and additional data protection in the form of DR, as a single service, not only expands their data protection story, but also makes it easy for customers to deploy and use."

Holger Mueller, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., claimed ClearSky's ultimate success would hinge on its ability to convince CIOs to trust them to operate high availability and DR as well as storage in a hybrid way using the public cloud.

"It's a change of best practices that is coming, but it is not clear when it will be substantial for commercial success," Mueller wrote in an email. "So, ClearSky may be early, or just on the cusp of the trend."

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