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Amazon Glacier will impact cloud archiving

While the penny-a-gig Amazon Glacier service will make an impact on cloud archiving, it may not dominate the market.

The buzz around the Amazon Glacier cloud archiving service since it launched last month indicates Glacier could become a disruptive force in cloud storage. But who it will disrupt and how it will affect the players already in the market remains unclear.

Amazon's penny-a-gigabyte pricing model will certainly be tough to match by smaller competitors that can’t afford to store data at that price. That makes Glacier appealing for organizations looking to move large archives off tape and to the cloud.

“Amazon is a big company with low financial risk,” said Andrew Reichman, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. “They're stepping up and saying, ‘We will be the stewards of your data for the long-term. We'll move it from the old platform to new platforms and it will still be there.’ This isn't an alternative for big, online systems. It’s for data that's stale on tape, and enterprises are struggling with tape.”

Archiving has been an early driver of storage clouds, helping object storage vendors and cloud service providers gain early customers. Nirvanix Inc., which bills itself as an enterprise cloud storage provider on a larger scale than Amazon, Google or Microsoft Corp., has picked up large archiving customers such as the University of Southern California (USC) Digital Repository.

Steve Zivanic, Nirvanix’s vice president of marketing, said the difference between his company and Amazon Glacier is that Nirvanix deals with active cloud archiving while Glacier is a deep archive for compliance. He said he doubts enterprises will use Glacier because the time and costs of migrating and retrieving petabytes of data over a WAN are significant. Amazon said data retrieval from Glacier could take from three to five hours.

Zivanic said another advantage Nirvanix has is that customers can use its services for private, public or hybrid clouds, while Amazon Glacier is only a public cloud.

“No enterprise customer is going to want to wait five hours,” Zivanic said. “Amazon is offering a model of uploading data you don’t touch. What they don’t tell you is that when you retrieve the file, the costs can be astronomical. A majority of customers archiving data on a large scale are looking to do it in a private cloud. Amazon is trying to move customers from tape to cloud. What they're missing is customers are going from tape to private cloud.”

Cloud storage controller companies partner with Amazon and other public cloud companies to offer gateways to move data into the cloud. These vendors -- CTERA Networks, Panzura, StorSimple and TwinStrata -- will likely add Amazon Glacier to the list of services they support. However, Nasuni CEO Andres Rodriguez said Glacier won't be a popular option for his customers.

“This is a very narrow vertical, mostly [for] compliance,” Rodriguez said. “It’s for data you want to keep around just in case someone wants it 10 years from now. It’s for big, low-value data. We're not in the business of archiving data.”

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Customers interested in long-term archiving could find Glacier valuable, however. Glacier removes the need for organizations to worry about outdated media and application support for aged data.

Amazon Glacier’s target customers are struggling with the high costs of parking cold data, such as the type that falls under HIPAA compliance rules, in large libraries. It also allows data to be retrieved, if needed, decades down the road despite changing tape technologies and formats.

For data retrieval, the first 5% of data downloaded per month is free, with a charge of 1 cent per gigabyte after that. Peak usage is factored in, so if 10 requests are done in one hour, it will cost more -- the price is cheaper if requests are spread over time because there's less activity. The tradeoff is that Amazon will deliver the data within a five-hour window, so it’s not for data than needs to be accessed quickly.

Amazon is promising that files stored via Glacier have an annual durability of 99.999999999%, which means companies can expect to lose one out of 100 billion stored objects each year. Amazon will secure data with AES-256 encryption, multisite redundancy and regular data integrity checks.

“Losing one object in a billion is a strong guarantee the data will be there,” Forrester's Reichman said. “There are millions of use cases where data has to be around for longer than the physical platform or life cycle of the underlying technology of that platform. Amazon isn't just signing up for holding the data; it's dealing with the uncertainty of time.”

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