Small storage vendors walk in the clouds, too

Zmanda and Moonwalk have built interfaces that allow customers to back up directly to Amazon's S3 service hoping to bring SaaS to smaller companies.

While major software vendors are touting their Storage as a Service (SaaS) offerings with acquisitions and new services, smaller storage software vendors are also looking for ways to tap into the trend toward SaaS cloud-type services.

EMC Corp., Symantec Corp., Dell Inc., IBM and Iron Mountain Inc. all have made moves toward building "cloud" infrastructures for backup services. But smaller (and younger) vendors Moonwalk Inc. and Zmanda Inc. have also gotten into the act by allowing their customers to back up to Inc.'s Simple Storage Service (S3) infrastructure through their software applications.

Zmanda added the interface into its open source backup application in January, and last week Australian archiving vendor Moonwalk followed with an API that allows customers to move data directly onto S3 servers.

Analysts and storage administrators said the move makes sense, and others will likely get into the act. Vice president for business development Michael Harvey said Moonwalk will create APIs for other clouds if there is enough demand. He said Moonwalk started with S3 because it is the best fit for its customers.

A simpler path to S3

One Moonwalk customer said he's eager to use it to tie into S3. Horace Greeley, systems integrator at the controller's office systems group at Stanford University, uses Moonwalk along with Syncsort Backup Express to move financial data from a storage area network (SAN) on campus to another off-site SAN through policies that migrate data as it ages. He said using S3 would eliminate the need to employ the SANs for archiving. Greeley said he will use the Moonwalk-S3 combo as he gets approval from Stanford's internal audit group.

"I'm planning on being an early adopter of that feature," he said. "Then I don't have to support two expensive pieces of hardware, and I have redundancy of data across time zones."

Greeley said the Moonwalk interface would make it safer and easier to take advantage of Amazon's service. "Another department on campus makes encrypted data backups locally across RAID stripes and sends those RAID stripes to S3," he said. "That seems to be a tremendous amount of work they don't need to do. By using Moonwalk to go to S3, I'm building on top of a program I already have in place. Moonwalk uses proprietary algorithms for security and data compression. If I lose a front-end server, I can go back into metadata in a migrated file and recreate all my data wherever I want to create it."

Opening the door for smaller services

S3 is having growing pains, and customers have suffered through some performance issues. But SaaS cloud-type services are all in the early stages, and one analyst said vendors building interfaces to S3 could lead to more services as the technology matures.

"I think the large backup SaaS vendors like EMC Mozy, Symantec Protection Network, Iron Mountain and so on will leverage their own IT infrastructure, not something like S3," said Forrester Research's Stephanie Balaouras. "But I think that service providers or even VARs that want to target very small businesses with an online backup service could leverage software [such as Zmanda and Moonwalk] and leverage the interface to S3. They would just have to sell the service and manage the software, and not worry about the deployment of a scalable infrastructure to support it."

Balaouras said these types of services could benefit the small businesses that Amazon targets with S3, but enterprises looking for backup services will probably stick with the major storage vendors.

"It will be appealing to some small businesses, and my bet is that it would be a very low-cost service," she said. "I don't think that medium and large businesses will really go for it because of concerns regarding data security and customer service. I think they'll still be more comfortable with the well-known system and technology vendors that have entered the space."

Moonwalk's Harvey said cloud computing might not benefit all applications, but he expects it to appeal to organizations looking for alternatives to tape for archiving. "Unstructured data doesn't live on APIs ready to go into cloud computing," he said. "It sits on file systems on servers. If the throughput and availability issues can be [worked out], I think we'll see this take off pretty quickly."

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