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How today’s cloud storage options are expanding

The cloud storage market is evolving, giving organizations more options for connecting to the cloud to store primary data.

What you'll learn in this tip: Over the past few years, cloud storage options have changed significantly and so have its use cases. Primarily used in previous years by developers as a data warehouse during specific projects, traditional IT teams at companies across the country are now turning to the cloud for their production needs. This shift is determining what cloud storage technologies will be developed and when.

In Jeff Byrne’s latest Storage magazine column, learn about the three major technology categories that facilitate connections to the cloud and the two buckets of primary cloud storage: content and I/O. Though Byrne is unsure which technology will be the most successful, he's confident the ever-evolving cloud market will mix up the data storage vendor leader board.

The cloud storage market is just beginning to hit its stride. For the past few years, cloud storage was largely the province of developers, who have used it as a cost-effective, pay-as-you-go resource to park data for particular projects. But now we’re beginning to see the cloud being embraced by traditional IT teams for a whole new set of storage applications. Based on conversations with vendors and users, we believe 2011 will be a cross-over year with mid-sized and enterprise IT stepping up to drive the cloud storage agenda and, increasingly, the adoption of cloud storage technologies.

This shift from development to production is one of the macro trends shaping the market for cloud storage products, profiled in Taneja Group’s “Emerging Market Forecast for Cloud Storage.” Based on our research, the cloud storage products market is currently a $4 billion space that will grow to almost $10 billion by 2014. The cloud will sharply influence the characteristics of next-generation data storage technologies, including how and where they get deployed.

In looking at where the cloud storage market is headed, we find it useful to divide the market into two broad areas: primary storage technologies behind the cloud; and technologies that enable users, systems and applications to connect to the cloud. Much of the first wave of competitive activity falls into the latter bucket, so let’s focus on that first.

Cloud-connecting technologies

We see three major technology categories that enable connections to the cloud:

  • General-purpose gateways. As public and private clouds become more pervasive, users will need faster and more cost-effective access to their cloud-based storage. Improved access will come in several forms, including general-purpose gateways, which are devices that connect users to content and primary I/O storage. Vendors such as Nasuni and TwinStrata, have already introduced such products. While small today, this segment promises to grow well in excess of 100% per year through 2014.
  • Cloud-based backup. A second category of access solutions will enable cloud-based backup, which lets users connect backup data to cloud repositories across the wire. Established suppliers such as CommVault, Riverbed Technology (with its Whitewater product) and Symantec are already offering solutions. This segment will grow rapidly, though not quite at the two-times-per-year clip of general-purpose gateways.
  • Data movement and access. Buoyed by the continuing growth of virtual machines, applications and storage repositories, and the need to overcome the constraints of long distances and increased latency, data movement and access products will play a big role in allowing users to efficiently move large chunks of information and interact with cloud-resident content. Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and Riverbed (Steelhead products) will be among the primary participants here. Riverbed, in particular, could emerge as a breakout leader in this market segment. They’ve always been about accessing distributed stuff; now they’re also connecting distributed stuff in new ways.

Reinventing primary storage for cloud infrastructures

Primary storage behind the cloud represents a market that will undergo significant change as traditional storage players -- including industry behemoths -- adapt their technologies and offerings to the new storage model. We divide primary storage in the cloud into two major buckets: content and I/O.

Content will need to be stored, accessed and distributed differently than primary I/O storage. File technologies that have met demands for content in traditional infrastructures typically don’t have the scalability and accessibility required to service content needs in the cloud. Instead, content in the cloud will largely be supported by object technologies, which will enable content and archival storage to thrive in highly scalable, multi-tenant, web-accessible repositories. This market will be driven primarily by service providers in the near term, but will eventually find uptake in private clouds within enterprise walls. We expect smaller players such as DataDirect Networks (with Web Object Scaler), Nirvanix (hNode) and Mezeo (Cloud Storage Platform) to join major vendors like EMC, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and NetApp as platform providers for cloud-based content storage. The growth will be solid, but not as spectacular as what we’ll see in most of the cloud-connecting markets profiled above.

That brings us to the largest cloud storage opportunity of all: the market for primary I/O behind cloud infrastructures. Already more than $2 billion in size, this market is being served principally by a subset of next-generation Fibre Channel technologies, although unified storage products are also playing a role. We believe primary I/O storage will experience a renaissance in the cloud, driven in large part by intelligent block technology. Intelligent block will rapidly displace legacy systems as the storage behind both private and public cloud infrastructures, and will largely differentiate winners from losers among storage system vendors. We believe that Dell (EqualLogic), HP/3PAR and NetApp will all prosper as providers of primary I/O storage behind the cloud. HP’s 3PAR platform, in particular, is a system to watch. 3PAR has long targeted this space as a utility storage innovator across service providers and enterprises, and has some unique business programs currently under the Cloud Agile banner.

Cloud: The new battleground

While it’s too early to definitively pick winners and losers, we’re confident the rapidly growing cloud market will significantly shuffle positions on the data storage vendor leader board. The winners in this battle will find success by executing the right business model on top of the right platforms that enable scale-out and utility storage.

BIO: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group.

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