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How has the cloud appliance market evolved in the last few years?

The terminology used to describe a cloud appliance is constantly changing, so users need to pay attention to the added features that differentiate them.

The cloud appliance market has undergone a number of feature and product category name changes over the years.

The cloud storage gateway emerged six or seven years ago to provide on-premises access to cloud-based object storage from a physical or virtual appliance, often via a familiar block or file-based interface. These gateways enabled organizations to experience the cost and scalability benefits of cloud storage without a large, upfront investment.

Two of the most common use cases were backup and archiving, with cloud storage as the target. These gateway products often included a local read cache (to speed access to important data) and local write cache (to accelerate backup operations). Some gateway vendors offered early versions of cloud-enabled disaster recovery (DR) in which the cloud functioned as a DR site. Most cloud storage gateways were basic in their original incarnation, and lacked most enterprise features and capabilities.

As cloud storage gained popularity, new cloud appliance entrants offered many of the features and capabilities a midsize organization or enterprise would typically associate with data center storage. At this time, a number of vendors and analysts began referring to their offerings as cloud controllers. In addition to gateway functionality, these products typically offer features such as data reduction (inline deduplication and compression), data encryption, and cloud-based snapshots and clones. Among other benefits, these features make it safer and more economical to move data to and from the cloud. Vendors offering cloud controllers have tended to focus on particular use cases, such as collaboration (distributed file sync and share), video and image warehousing, and cloud-based analytics. Some cloud controllers also serve as a front-end tier for primary data storage. Again, as with gateways, an on-premises cache can speed access to the most active data. Specialization has enabled vendors to deliver a more fully functional offering for specific applications and use cases than a broad-based, horizontal offering could provide.

The next stage of evolution in the cloud appliance category is cloud-integrated storage (CIS). Though the difference between CIS and cloud controllers is a matter of degree, CIS stands out based on the level of integration between on-premises and cloud-resident storage. As with cloud gateways and controllers, an on-premises cloud-integrated storage appliance caches the most frequently accessed data, enabling faster response for data stored in the cloud. But with CIS, the location of data is always fully transparent to the user. The cloud-integrated storage product treats the cloud as another tier of storage, and dynamically places data in the optimal tier based on policies set up ahead of time.

Like cloud controllers, most CIS offerings are tailored to specific use cases, ranging from primary storage to archiving. The best CIS options provide users with cost-effective, feature-rich storage, including a choice of public clouds on the backend, without compromising data security or protection. Given these compelling advantages, we expect the latest models of most, if not all, traditional storage product lines to become cloud-integrated within the next two years.

Despite their differences, both cloud controllers and cloud-integrated storage provide users with a low-cost, low-risk approach that takes advantage of the best cloud storage has to offer.

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