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Some clarity for enterprise cloud storage

Cloud storage is a next-generation IT infrastructure that's altering the data storage landscape. And its cast of key players is beginning to take shape.

Cloud storage is moving beyond the hype and the cast of key players is beginning to take shape.

For the last year or so, cloud storage has been on a roller coaster ride in terms of hype, buzz and, yes, plenty of skepticism. But it's not just a passing fad. Private clouds aren't just another way of talking about old IT stuff in a new way. And public clouds are real alternatives and becoming pervasive.

Cloud storage is a next-generation IT infrastructure that's altering the data storage landscape. The changes will happen in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. The obvious ways include using cloud storage for backup, disaster recovery and archiving. The less obvious ways include new business models and applications being developed specifically for the cloud.

EMC Atmos offers private and public cloud storage. And even though EMC has been at it for a while, I personally haven't run into any companies using that technology. I know they're out there, but the only Atmos user I've spoken to is using it as a Centera replacement. NetApp is offering FAS in the cloud with major service providers and giving big incentives to NetApp salespeople to drive this business. True to form, NetApp is leveraging FAS for everything, including cloud storage. EMC's and NetApp's strategies are polar opposites—EMC has a number of different storage systems with little synergy among them even as they sometimes overlap, and NetApp has a single storage system it uses for everything. Interestingly, while they have diametrically opposed strategies, they're both very successful overall and you can't argue with success.

Hitachi has positioned its entire storage portfolio for cloud storage, and Dell is leveraging its DX solution. Hewlett-Packard hasn't announced anything significant, and IBM doesn't have anything substantial to speak of yet.

Nirvanix is an interesting emerging enterprise cloud storage vendor with an end-to-end solution that makes it extremely easy for companies to use its cloud storage. Nirvanix provides an easy-to-manage complete solution with front-end usability, security, reliability, performance, multi-tenancy and global access combined with back-end controls, reporting, management and analytics. It isn't just a storage system that scales and supports HTTP, which so many other vendors tout as a cloud platform. Rather, Nirvanix provides a holistic solution designed specifically for businesses to use without being cloud experts.

This is exactly the requirement I wrote about here nearly a year ago for what was needed for cloud storage to succeed. Having a storage system built just for the cloud is important but it's barely half the story. It's the application and management of that infrastructure that's essential to a true cloud storage solution.

Another trend in enterprise cloud storage is the use of open-source file systems to build your own. Techie IT professionals are considering Gluster, Hadoop and other extensible, scalable file systems. But they face a two-fold challenge: They need to bulletproof their homemade storage systems, and they need to build the front-end and back-end applications to manage and offer these services. It's daunting but achievable; Amazon and Google are examples of companies doing this even though it was outside their core competencies.

Google is also an important player in cloud. More and more companies are moving to Google Apps and, as a result, are using Google infrastructure, which should also be considered enterprise cloud storage as real businesses are replacing their on-premises applications with Google's offerings.

I haven't mentioned Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) as an enterprise cloud storage service because it truly isn't that. Amazon S3 isn't a total solution and seems to have no interest in being one. Rather, it's a utility that you can build your own apps to use. However, I believe next-generation Web-based businesses will continue to use Amazon S3 and, in that sense, it will be a storage platform for the enterprise.

I can see enterprise cloud storage playing out with EMC driving Atmos within its own customer base, which sometimes works (e.g., Data Domain) and sometimes doesn't (e.g., Centera). But EMC will get customers and generate business, things it tends to do very well. Expect a major IT vendor to acquire Nirvanix and then go head-to-head with EMC Atmos. Those two vendors will dominate this market, with other vendors having pockets of success here and there but never assuming a dominant position. Of course, that depends on who buys Nirvanix and how well they execute. Google will continue to drive more business applications into its cloud, which will impact storage vendors and application vendors such as Microsoft and Oracle.

There is no endgame with the market going in one direction or the other. Instead, most users will have a mixture of on-premises IT, private cloud, public cloud and applications in the cloud. There will be a handful of major leaders and the others will be forever chasing their tails.

BIO: Tony Asaro is senior analyst and founder of Voices of IT.

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