This content is part of the Essential Guide: A look back at the 2014 data storage market
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Azure cloud storage 2014: New features offset by embarrassing outages

Microsoft Azure added redundancy features and a new StorSimple hybrid array in 2014 -- now if it could just avoid those outages.

Microsoft Azure cloud storage hit a few rough patches in late 2014.

A problem with a performance update to Azure's storage service resulted in a massive global outage in late November, and that wasn't the first outage of the year. In August, Azure Cloud Services, Automation, Backup, HDInsight Mobile Services, Service Bus, Site Recovery and StorSimple went down across multiple data centers and regions.

These incidents may be red flags to enterprises considering Azure cloud storage, which was a latecomer to the market but has made up for lost time. Cloud partners consider Azure the leading contender to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the battle for cloud storage supremacy.

Andres Rodriguez, CEO and founder of cloud NAS vendor Nasuni, said there are three things customers look for in their cloud service providers: robust services, reliability and price. In the reliability category, Azure ranks better than AWS and Google, Rodriguez said. Nasuni uses AWS and Azure to store its customers' data in the cloud.

"Microsoft offers high reliability, high performance global services," Rodriguez said. "I get a constant level of reliable services around the world. To be able to have those services around the world is critical. Microsoft is really good at meat and potatoes cloud services. They offer more common functions in a reliable way, which is why we lean on them for storage.

"But if you need something off the beaten path, you go to Amazon."

Microsoft Azure announced 40 updates to its cloud platform during its Build 2014 conference, which includes the general availability of read-access Geo-Redundant Storage (GRS). That lets customers replicate data to a second location and access data from the primary or secondary site.

It also added Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS) as a new option for Block Blob storage. ZRS maintains three copies of data, replicating it three times across two or three facilities in one or two regions.

"Today, customers use our [GRS] Geo-Redundant Storage to keep their data durable in two regions hundreds of miles apart where we store an equivalent of six copies of the data," said Steven Martin, general manager of Microsoft Azure, in a March blog. "With the introduction of ZRS, we provide a new redundancy option that keeps your data durable by storing the equivalent of three copies of your data across multiple facilities."

Microsoft added Azure Premium Storage Disks in December. That service includes Premium Storage and Standard Storage that target I/O-intensive workloads that need low latency. The Premium Storage stores data on solid-state drives, while the Standard Storage stores data on hard disk drives. Premium Storage, which is in limited preview, is available only for storing data on disks used by Azure Virtual Machines (VMs). 

"You can then attach several persistent disks to a VM, and deliver to your applications up to 32 terabytes of storage per VM with more than 50,000 IOPS per VM at less than one millisecond latency for read operations," wrote Sirius Kuttiyan, principal program manager at Azure Storage, in a blog post.

"Premium Storage disks provide up to 5,000 IOPs and 200 MB per second throughput depending on the disk size," Kuttiyan added.

In August, Microsoft Azure introduced a new StorSimple 8000 series array, hybrid storage combining solid-state drives, hard disk drives and Azure Storage as a cloud tier for automatic capacity expansion and off-site data protection.

Not to be out done on pricing, Microsoft Azure played its part in the cloud storage price war of 2014.

"We are matching AWS' lowest prices (US East Region) for S3 and [Elastic Block Store] EBS by reducing prices by up to 20% and making the lower prices available in all regions worldwide," Martin wrote in a January 2014 blog post.

That price drop included a reduction up to 28% for Locally Redundant Disks/Page Blobs Storage, and 50% for the price of Azure Storage transactions.

Next Steps

Microsoft runs into Azure cloud storage difficulties

Amazon maintains top spot in cloud storage hierarchy

Dig Deeper on Public cloud storage

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