The NAS box sector is a very dynamic one today, with lots of companies delivering innovative solutions for every tier of home or business user.
Morro DATA (opens in new tab) is a business promising a wholly different approach to NAS. The company started by Paul Tien, the man who created ReadyNAS and then subsequently sold that business to Netgear.
Morro Data has the declared aim is to turn traditional NAS upside-down with its radical CloudNAS Series, and a radical approach to the management of Cloud-stored data.
Out of the box the CacheDrive G80 (opens in new tab) looks like a standard piece of Intel hardware, but what Morro Data did with it is far from conventional.
On first opening the packaging, it would be easy to conclude that this is the wrong item sent by mistake. Because the G80 is merely an Intel NUC system, or an NUC6i3SYK to be exact. The barebones version can be had for roughly £260 ($275), although this one has a 1TB SanDisk X400 SATA M.2 SSD in it, plus 4GB of Crucial 2133MHz DDR4 RAM.
The NUC6i3SYK is a general purpose micro PC built around a Skylake series Core i3-6100U processor. It includes lots of useful features like an SD card slot and WiFi. And, many other great hardware features, the vast majority of them won’t be needed in this context. We estimate that the hardware is worth about $650 (£470) in total.
With the addition of a Morro Data logo sticker, that you apply yourself, and a few pieces of documentation, that’s the G80.
Obviously, there is more to this solution than what comes out of the box, and what the G80 represents is a dedicated gateway to a Cloud service.
But to understand that, we first need to consider traditional Cloud services, like Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive, and the issues that businesses have when they try to use them in a commercial context.
To better explain that issue, we now head to ancient Greece. No, really, we do.
The Battle of Thermopylae
If you’ve never seen the movie ‘300’ or read anything about the Greco-Persian wars in 480BC, the critical part of that story is that a small number of well-trained warrior held back an overwhelming force of invaders.
They did so by utilising the terrain to their advantage, funnelling the attacking Persian’s into a narrow gap between the coast and the hills, where the numerical differences became negated.
What has this to do with business data on the Cloud, you might reasonably wonder? If you use storage on a business network, irrespective of how fast the computers can communicate internally, the solution is always dragged down to the level of the broadband connection.
Each transaction with a file must be managed and confirmed by the client computers or devices, and the more users you have, the less bandwidth each of them will have to complete their reading or writing tasks.
Like the Spartans at Thermopylae the broadband link holds back the flow of data, and the only conventional answer is to buy more lines or install dedicated internet backbone links.
The approach that Morro Data took is to place a device between the users and the service, a Cloud Cache, that can smooth out the bumps and release the client end of the chain before the data has made it on to the Cloud.
From the client end working with the Cloud is just the same as working with a file server on the internal network, and the broadband link doesn’t get jammed with tens of Cloud transactions being attempted using it.
A resolution is especially important if you have multiple sites and employees are working on collaborative projects across all of them using Cloud services, and this solution is designed for that scenario too.
Well, that’s the theory, so what is the reality like?
Cloud cache and sync
Setting up the G80 is relatively painless. It comes pre-installed with a dedicated operating system, and once connected to the network and power the rest of the installation involves joining the final dots with account information at the Morro Data website.
Registering involves providing a credit/debit card payment source for a Cloud subscription service that is a prerequisite for using the G80.
Once registration completes, the G80 can be accessed by local network users as a shared file system, and anything placed on it will be automatically sent to the Cloud.
They then treat this folder structure like they would if it came from any other local server without needing to be concerned about what happens to their files once they’re on the G80’s 1TB internal drive.
Interestingly, the network attached drive that they access will appear to be the size of the storage they’ve paid to use. So if that’s 8TB, that’s what the computer sees as a capacity.
The internal 1TB of the G80 contains the most relevant files based on the usage pattern, which are managed by the code running on the cache and in the Cloud.
The CloudNAS service works on a binary model where a file and a ‘stub’ file header are used to separate actual data from virtual versions.
When a user copies a file to the CacheDrive it then travels to Cloud storage. A side effect of that operation is that a small stub header is generated also duplicated to any CacheDrive devices at other locations.
If a user at one of those remote sites wants that file, they simply click on it in there network share, and immediately the file is copied down from the Cloud to their CacheDrive box to sit on their local cache.
By taking this approach files only need to make each journey once, and not all files travel to all locations.
Once the cache is used up, records about when files were last accessed and how often are used to determine those to purge, and the stub file header are left on the cache so that users can still access them should then need them.
Morro Data included a full user/group/domain structure enabling shares to be segmented by department or seniority. Using the admin web interface you can also access previous versions of any file, should a calamity occur.
And, they also provide application support for linking to Dropbox and OneDrive using a tool called ECHO. That they don’t offer the same for Google Drive is regrettable, since they’re probably the most widely used Cloud storage solution.
That point aside, the thinking behind the G80 is sound, and the implementation equally so.