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Cloud gateways morph into cloud controllers market

After the addition of encryption, clones and deduplication capabilities, cloud storage controllers are the new cloud gateways.

Call them cloud controllers, cloud storage enablement or maybe cloud-integrated storage. Just don't call them cloud storage gateways, at least not when you're talking to any of the vendors who sell these intelligent cloud storage systems.

As the cloud storage market gains traction and vendors seek to position themselves as more than a way to pump data to the cloud, the term "gateway" has been shunned by startups that see themselves as competitors to established players such as EMC Corp. and NetApp Inc.

"The term 'gateway' was fine in the beginning because all these guys started, fundamentally, as an on-ramp to the cloud," explained Arun Taneja, founder and principal consultant at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group. "Frankly, none of them had figured out what they wanted to be when they grew up. They hadn't figured out use cases yet."

A group of startups sprouted up approximately three years ago selling gateways seen as an easy way to bring customers to cloud storage. They included Ctera Networks Ltd., Nasuni Corp., Panzura, StorSimple Inc. and TwinStrata Inc. Microsoft Corp. acquired StorSimple in late 2012, making it the first acquisition of the group.

Now these vendors are looking to push into the enterprise, so they need enterprise features. In December, Panzura clinched a multimillion-dollar deal with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, a huge win that industry analysts agreed will likely open up doors for the company in other areas of government. Panzura attributed the deal largely to its Global Cloud Storage System receiving the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 security validation.

Panzura CEO Randy Chou said he sees NetApp as his chief competitor, rather than the other "gateway" vendors, because Panzura is pitching to customers looking for enterprise-level network-attached storage (NAS) features for primary storage.

"The entire market, I think, is hurt by the term gateway," Chou said. "It holds us back." He prefers "cloud controllers" or "cloud storage controllers."

Dropping gateway, adopting specialties

Panzura isn't the only company looking to be seen as a full-service storage vendor. Vendors of cloud controllers all claim the only difference between their storage systems and those of EMC or NetApp is that they move data to the cloud instead of to an on-premises disk array.

"The original [cloud gateway vendor] plan was they back up to us and we move it the cloud," said Marc Staimer, founder and senior analyst at Beaverton, Ore.-based Dragon Slayer Consulting. "Well, if I can move it to the cloud with them using NetApp or EMC, why would I want another vendor in there? But if I come in there and say I'm competing with EMC and, by the way, one of the things I do is move data to the cloud -- I tier data to the cloud in a way EMC does not -- well, that's different."

So, what makes yesterday's gateways different from today's controllers? "Cloud-integrated snapshots, cloud-integrated clones, inline deduplication, inline compression and WAN optimization to name a few," Taneja said, referring to the features many gateway providers have added.

These cloud controller vendors play in different markets and have various specialties. "The reality is that everyone, except maybe Amazon, does more than just serve as an on-ramp function," Taneja said. "TwinStrata and Nasuni have split into primary storage. Panzura has gone down the path of collaboration. They're basically saying, 'Put us in front of a cloud, several different clouds and then put us on the premises and we're going to give you a collaboration product.' They have the best collaboration product in the market today, as a result."

Panzura's recent FIPS certification cost time and money; a third party had to review encryption code to ensure it would pass review. "I give them lots of kudos," Dragon Slayer Consulting's Staimer said. "That's going to open up a lot of markets for them."

No one is sure exactly what Microsoft plans to do with StorSimple, which characterized itself as a cloud-integrated storage device or "SAN in the cloud," as it acts like a regular storage array that sits on a customer's site while pushing data to the cloud.

"I think the future for these guys is very bright," Taneja said. "But none of these guys should be anticipating that EMC or NetApp is going to buy them. These guys are destructive to the array business."

Whatever vendors and analysts think, not all customers see the term gateway as a negative. Christopher Butler, director of information services at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., runs a TwinStrata CloudArray as a virtual appliance connected to Amazon S3 for backups. Butler said he's been able to get rid of tape for off-site storage by using the cloud. He doesn't use CloudArray for primary storage, but he likes having that option if his storage needs grow.

"I think of it as a gateway," Butler said. "We're using the virtual appliance. It was just a matter of spinning up another virtual machine, linking iSCSI LUNs to it and now I have headroom for my storage. I see it as a gateway to whatever amount of storage I need."

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