Storage services options grow

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The list of vendors offering storage software as a service (SaaS) has grown far beyond the scope of traditional software and service vendors.

Everyone seems to be getting into the game, and there was even a mad dash among storage vendors in late 2007 to put their SaaS stakes in the ground. IBM acquired established backup service provider Arsenal Digital, while EMC picked up Berkeley Systems for its Mozy online backup service to get into the storage SaaS game. Seagate Technology grabbed compliance service provider MetaLincs to bolster the services group it set up--independent of its hard drive business--when it bought EVault in early 2007.

Backup software vendors Symantec and Yosemite Technologies have also been developing SaaS offerings, revealing plans last year to turn their backup products into services.

Email archiving, ediscovery and compliance are other hot service areas. Iron Mountain and SunGard offer email archiving services through partnerships with MessageOne. U.K.-based enterprise search software company Autonomy acquired Zantaz last year in part for its archiving service offerings. And don't forget about the records management sector. Last year, Google acquired Postini, while Iron Mountain picked up Accutrac Software and RMS Services.

Who's using SaaS? Small businesses without storage expertise are considered prime candidates for using services, but Forrester Research senior analyst Stephanie Balaouras says larger companies are also buying into services for parts of their storage.

"Most SMBs will turn to online backup services," she says. "And even large enterprises are very interested in online backup for PCs, and for remote-office PCs and servers."

Often, the companies that build the SaaS applications don't build the actual services. Arsenal's customer list includes AT&T and other telecommunications companies that rebrand its services.

Internet companies are prime candidates for using SaaS, especially those offering storage services to their customers--such as file-sharing site FreeDrive. FreeDrive quickly found that its business model of letting consumers upload files, videos and photos to share with others would require a major storage investment if it did the hosting itself. FreeDrive CEO Michael Witz says he bought a 6TB storage system, which the firm soon outgrew. When faced with buying another system, he decided to outsource storage rather than build his own storage network. FreeDrive's Witz considered Amazon.com's Amazon S3 and newcomer Nirvanix's Storage Delivery Network, and went with Nirvanix.

"It was becoming a major investment to build out our back-end storage and that wasn't what we wanted to be doing," says Witz. "That's not our core business. We're an eight-person company and we would have had to add another set of people to handle storage."

Expect the SaaS expansion to continue in coming months. EMC execs say they intend to eventually offer SaaS and prepackaged versions of their software with full-feature parity. Symantec didn't get its Symantec Protection Network SaaS platform launched as promised in 2007, so look for it to play catch-up. An online backup service built around Symantec's Windows-based Backup Exec software is expected to be the first plank of the company's SaaS platform. And a lot of storage professionals are watching Google to see how it does with its GDrive online backup service for consumers, and if any success there might lead it to expand into an online service for businesses.

But storage vendors are also happy to supply smaller service providers. In December, CommVault formalized its program of selling its backup services to service providers. By formalize, CommVault means it will aggressively market technology it's been selling to providers for years. That model isn't unique; Asigra built a solid business supplying service providers with backup software.

Although they've been around a long time, storage services have made great headway over the past year or so. A few years ago, businesses were reluctant to use services because it meant trusting their company's business-critical data to others. Storage SaaS providers are counting on their expertise winning companies' trust.

"It's a valid concern," says Witz of trusting service providers. "But all they do is storage. The reality is they do a much better job than we would ever do. Our customers' data is safer on Nirvanix than anything we could build ourselves."

--Dave Raffo

This was first published in February 2008

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