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Cheapest enterprise cloud storage providers not always best

One Gartner cloud storage analyst cautions clients not to choose the least expensive provider, even if the offering from a big-name vendor might appear attractive.

LAS VEGAS -- Don't choose the least expensive of the enterprise cloud storage providers, even if the vendor happens to be a big name.

That was the advice from Raj Bala, a Gartner research director focusing on cloud infrastructure, at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations Management & Data Center Conference. Bala cautioned attendees about "horror stories" he has heard from customers that made the cheapest choice, even from "big brand names."

During a post-presentation interview, Bala declined to name any of the enterprise cloud storage providers responsible for the client anecdotes that would "make the hair on your neck stand up." But he cited an example of a customer that used an inexpensive brand-name vendor only to have data unavailable "for days on end."

"And the pricing changed. It went from some really inexpensive price to a much higher price," Bala said. In contrast, he said there is "no way in the world" Amazon Web Services (AWS) would increase prices for its Simple Storage Service (S3). "There would have to be a catastrophic supply chain issue for disk drives -- not even SSDs -- for AWS to have a price increase."

Bala's public recommendation to conference attendees was the following: "Think about the number of years that a vendor has been in this market and their commitment to the market. The last thing you want to do is go with a vendor who says, 'Well, the v1 version of our service didn't work, and we're going to scrap it, and we're going to restart over again.' There are a lot of customers in that boat."

Although Bala's cautionary advice did not note specific enterprise cloud storage providers that abandoned the original versions of their cloud storage services, he did offer frank assessments of each of the major challengers to dominant player AWS.

IBM, Oracle rebuild public cloud storage

Bala told attendees that Oracle and IBM are busy rebuilding their public cloud storage. He said Oracle scrapped its open source OpenStack-based platform, because "that just did not work" and "did not get much traction," so the company decided to start over again.

"Oracle did something very smart. They opened a large office in Seattle, and they've hired a bunch of AWS engineers. So, they've got several hundred AWS engineers that are building v2 of Oracle service," Bala said. "After having failed the first time, they're doing some really thoughtful things the second time."

Bala said IBM's public cloud storage, also based on OpenStack, "didn't really go anywhere" and "had lots of problems," leaving the company "trying to rebuild it." He said IBM spent lots of money trying to buy companies, as well as trying to rebuild in-house.

"But IBM's service is a bit of mess," Bala said. "First, they called it SoftLayer. Then, they called it Bluemix. And now, it's called IBM Cloud. And that's all happened in the span of about 2.5 years. I think IBM Cloud is probably what they're going to keep it at. That seems to make the most sense to me. But they could change it next year, as well. Let's see," Bala said.

Top-ranked enterprise cloud storage providers

The primary challenger to AWS, No. 2 Microsoft, dipped as a visionary in Gartner's 2017 Magic Quadrant for public cloud storage, because "we're seeing very little in terms of new innovation," Bala said. According to Bala, Microsoft has essentially been "following the AWS roadmap" during the past year.

Bala said Google is putting money into its public cloud storage service, but it's not having success with mainstream enterprise because it lacks a sales force "big enough to go knock on doors." He said Gartner clients ask about Google only 3% of the time, based on his review of the entire set of inquiries on infrastructure as a service. Google's cloud storage customer base tends to include sophisticated enterprises, such as hedge funds, Wall Street banks, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, according to Bala.

"Google is an interesting company. Google can put satellites into space. They can build self-driving cars, but building an enterprise strategy is apparently too much for Google," Bala said.

Alibaba dominates the cloud business in China, but has achieved little success with the data centers it has opened in other locations, according to Bala. He said Alibaba essentially replicates AWS offerings, even to the point of identical names for products.

Bala said Dell EMC's Virtustream cloud storage service, based on EMC hardware, lags in Gartner's innovation ratings, because it relies on software that "hasn't been touched in a good three or four years." Rackspace, once the No. 2 enterprise cloud storage provider, faded due to its inability to keep pace with AWS. Rackspace has pivoted to start focusing on services for AWS, Bala said.

Spotty S3 API support

Bala warned conference attendees that compatibility varies greatly among vendors that implement Amazon's S3 API. He said his personal testing showed that some implement the S3 API "dutifully," while other vendors implement only about 40% of the API.

Another area of skepticism for Bala is the increasing number of vendor pitches on multi-cloud strategies. He said the vendors promoting multi-cloud are not the leaders.

"The notion of using multiple clouds is not new, and a multi-cloud architecture is usually problematic. If a customer told me they were doing that, I would throw up big red-flag warnings and say, 'Do not do this unless you absolutely know what you're getting into,'" Bala said.

He said the complexity of an application increases tenfold by spreading it across multiple cloud providers with only marginal benefit. "It doesn't make sense," he said.

Cloud storage price negotiating is another topic on which Bala cautioned clients. He said, because the price of cloud storage falls consistently, it's a mistake to negotiate anything other than a percentage discount. He said some large customers of big providers negotiated a per-gigabyte price only to later find that the market price was less than what they had negotiated.

"If you use a percentage discount, then you're going to get the best price," Bala said. "And most of the vendors -- AWS, for instance -- will start negotiating with you on price if you've got 2 PB of data or more. Microsoft will go a whole lot less. Google will go even further than that."

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