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Microsoft StorSimple customers weigh cloud storage expansion

Two StorSimple customers expect to increase their output on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud in the wake of Microsoft's acquisition of StorSimple.

When Microsoft Corp. acquired iSCSI cloud controller startup StorSimple last year, it picked up a group of customers who were already sold on the cloud and many who were familiar with the Windows Azure service. Now, besides working on getting new customers, the firm is trying to expand the presence of Microsoft StorSimple customers on Azure.

One of those StorSimple customers is Detroit-based construction company Walbridge. The firm has approximately half of its data in the cloud -- either on StorSimple devices connected to Azure or Microsoft Office 365 applications hosted by Microsoft -- according to Assistant Vice President of IT Cynthia Weaver. And Weaver said she's planning to put the other half of Walbridge's data into the cloud eventually via StorSimple and Software-as-a-Service providers.

Walbridge passed up buying a SAN when the firm installed a Microsoft StorSimple 7020 for primary storage in 2011.

"The biggest issue is on the human side," said Weaver, explaining why Walbridge is going all-out to the cloud. "If I had an issue with my [Microsoft] Exchange [server], the IT administrators would have to fix it. Now they just put in a ticket. The benefit is you don't have to take care of your server infrastructure, installing the software, handling upgrades. It's a difficult transition at first, but you get so much benefit that it's worth the change."

Walbridge has approximately 8 TB stored in the cloud, Weaver said. The Microsoft StorSimple 7020 handles primary storage for user files, Word documents, engineering design files and estimation applications. StorSimple's inline deduplication reduces the amount of data that needs to go to the cloud. "My [engineers'] drawing files are growing 15% year over year. The drawing files are getting larger and more complicated. The deduplication really changes things when you are storing a drawing file once," she said. "So the plan is to go all-cloud. Eventually, I'd like to take my core infrastructure and Active Directory in the cloud."

Medical device manufacturer MedPlast Inc. began using StorSimple in 2011 and eventually ditched its Hitachi Data Systems SAN. But MedPlast is just scratching the surface of what it can put into the cloud, IT Director Dan Streufert said.

MedPlast stores production data for 50 VMware virtual machines for such applications as Microsoft SharePoint, Citrix, an enterprise resource planning application, an Oracle database and file servers on a StorSimple 5520. It uses a StorSimple 5020 as an iSCSI backup target for three remote offices and its Tempe, Ariz., headquarters. The 5520 holds about 15 TB and is licensed for 100 TB, while the 5020 has 27 TB of data and is licensed for 50 TB, Streufert said.

One of the potential benefits from Microsoft's acquisition of StorSimple is that Microsoft is offering a free StorSimple systems unit to customers who place large quantities of data per year into the Azure cloud, he said.

Streufert started with StorSimple by using Amazon S3 as the cloud provider, but moved to Azure last year because he said it cost less for all transaction costs. He also likes that Azure encrypts data in transit and in the cloud, and that only MedPlast has the encryption keys.

"There is the price in usage. It was not necessarily the storage costs. It was the transaction costs," Streufert said. "For any type of transaction, Amazon charged 10 cents per 1,000 transactions and Azure charged 1 penny per 1,000. That was a surprising difference. We were paying five to 10 times more in transaction costs than storing the data. It adds up, especially when you had deduplication, which creates chunks of more data. The smaller the chunks, you are going to have more going back and forth to and from the cloud."

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