Cloud storage provider Zetta looks to replace production network-attached storage

Zetta launches its hosted NAS cloud storage service, and looks to compete beyond the data archiving and backup markets most cloud storage providers have focused on so far.

Zetta Inc. today made its Enterprise Cloud Storage service available, and touts its hosted offering as a superior method of handling proprietary file data than traditional network-attached storage (NAS) systems.

Zetta is targeting enterprise data storage shops of 10 TB or larger with the service, which is based on a proprietary file system that performs continual data integrity checks and distributes data over hardware nodes in an N+3 redundant configuration.

Unlike a majority of cloud storage providers so far, which have focused on cloud storage of "cold" or inactive data like archives, backups or disaster recovery copies, Zetta's goal is to be the primary file system for tier-2 applications at large enterprises. That strategy puts it in competition not with other cloud storage services but with storage system vendors such as EMC Corp. and NetApp Inc.

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Zetta's infrastructure has three basic layers. The first is a protocol translation layer that provides standard NFS, CIFS, http or FTP access into its cloud for users' on-premise applications. This layer also provides quality of service management, volume virtualization and inline data verification performed using a hashing algorithm, which returns "write receipts" to the customer confirming their data has been stored correctly. A second layer consists of Zetta managers, which is the file system management layer managed by Zetta internally. The third is the data "chunk" management layer where data is ultimately stored.

The inline data verification is performed continually once the data is stored, and Zetta claims it will automatically issue credits to customer accounts when its own internal instrumentation indicates a problem with data integrity, availability or performance according to a service-level agreement (SLA) offered to customers.

Availability of the service at the first data center has been between two and three "nines," while many high-end enterprise storage system offer five "nines" of availability. However, Zetta customers are automatically credited up to 10% for three nines and up to 25% for two nines without having to prove to Zetta that there's been a problem, according to CEO and founder Jason Treuhaft.

The service also encrypts data at rest and offers public key management at the volume level. It uses FIPS 140-2 Certified Key Management devices to manage keys on a per volume basis, so individual users have individual sets of key for each volume they have with Zetta. "Our PKI also is designed to address key management issues like key rollover/changes in ways that minimize the performance impact of rekeying events," Treuhaft said.

To overcome wide-area network (WAN) and Internet bandwidth limitations, Zetta customers will have to install new networking infrastructures between their data centers and Zetta's. Treuhaft also claims that no customer so far has paid more than 18% of the total cost of the service in networking costs. The service is priced at $0.25 per gigabyte per month under a one-year contract term.

Zetta has been in beta since the spring. The startup has one data center live with beta customers' data in California, and plans another California data center and two more on the East Coast for 2010. By 2011, Zetta expects to have two more data centers in Texas and the Chicago area. When there's more than one data center operational in the Zetta network, customers will have the option of scheduling snapshots and replication of their data between Zetta's data centers.

Market response to Zetta's cloud storage service still uncertain

However, while Zetta cites cloud-based call center service provider LiveOps as a public customer reference in its press release, the customer was not available this week for comment, according to a Zetta spokesperson. Zetta's Treuhaft said 100 users signed up for the beta and there are 48 "active participants" still storing data on the service, but he declined to disclose the exact number of paying customers.

Analysts were divided on whether the cloud storage market is mature enough for customers to trust primary application data to a cloud storage provider, regardless of the reliability and security features that service provider can offer. "They make some compelling arguments about costs," Gartner Inc. analyst David Russell said. "They also continually tune the cloud for performance, meaning users don't have to try to scale the 'pyramid' with a little bit of connectivity serving larger and larger file systems at the bottom."

Still, Russell said the jury is still out on whether companies will be receptive to this message. "From a sales perspective, they're going to have a different route to market and sales cycle – it would have to be an end-run around the typical storage buyer," he said. "Can a new company get to the CIO rather than making a pitch to a storage manager or data center manager about something that could obviate at least part of what their role is?"

"The low-hanging fruit is still cloud storage bundled with cloud computing, like Amazon's S3 and EC2, and backup and archiving for the long-term," the 451 Group analyst Henry Baltazar said. "Zetta is trying to do something right in between those two things, and there are challenges to doing that. It's still very early in this market."

But Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Terri McClure said that while it may be a while before this type of cloud storage service takes off, Zetta is laying the foundation for a future transition to the cloud. "It comes down to a matter of trust," she said. "But 20 years ago, who would've thought that we'd send corporate data over the Internet at all?"

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