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Summary:

Since an API alone is not going to get the enterprise to the cloud, a new crop of companies are aiming to bridge this divide with familiar enterprise-style storage interfaces and bridge them to the cloud, or in some cases to a choice of cloud providers.

Whether for economic, technical or simply follow-the-herd reasons, enterprises are feeling the gravitational pull of cloud computing, particularly when it comes to storage, one of the more expensive pieces of any IT infrastructure. But cloud storage providers are currently delivering their services on their own terms — typically through an application programming interface. The bulk of the storage market however, is based on block- or file-based access for conventional enterprise applications, which is far different from the service provider preferred implementation of a REST or SOAP API. Simply put, an API alone is not going to get the enterprise to the cloud.

Enter a new crop of companies aiming to bridge this divide with gateway products that on the enterprise side present familiar storage interfaces such as block-based iSCSI or Fibre Channel or file-based interfaces such as NFS or CIFS. These storage access mechanisms are proven in traditional IT shops and provide a seamless integration with existing applications. In some cases, they are a necessity. For example, many applications from Microsoft, such as Exchange and Sharepoint, depend on block-based local storage access. No other options exist.

These products then take the familiar enterprise-style storage interfaces and bridge them to the cloud, or in some cases to a choice of cloud providers. So not only do they provide the necessary translation services for enterprises to access cloud storage in a way they understand, but they also serve as intermediaries or brokers to multiple cloud providers. Enterprises like this option because they’re not comfortable being tied to any one specific provider. Better yet, many products also include a host of requisite storage features like backup and recovery, encryption, deduplication and provisioning.

The following companies have or will soon have products that address this cloud gateway market, each with a slightly different twist:

StorSimple is building a cloud-ready storage appliance that enables customers to take advantage of public and private cloud storage services. The appliance also implements a number of technologies to balance storage across on-premise and off-premise locations. The company is focusing on solutions specific to Microsoft applications including Sharepoint and Exchange, and hence delivers a view of cloud storage as block volumes.

Cirtas is developing its BlueJet storage controller deployment in data centers, making cloud-accessible storage operate as if it were onsite. Cirtas appears to be working on block-based approaches, but details are still slim.

TwinStrata distributes CloudArray, software that can be deployed as a virtual appliance. Customers can access the virtual appliance through iSCSI, a common enterprise block-based interface, then go to internal or external cloud storage offerings. The company’s CloudArray product page has a lengthy list of features including typical enterprise requirements for thin provisioning, snapshots, compression and more.

Gladinet approaches this market from the desktop (as compared to server applications) and aims to make the experience of using cloud storage similar to that of plugging in an external USB drive. In addition to its Cloud Desktop product, it offers a Cloud Attached File Server, which could be used for business applications.

Panzura builds what it calls an Application Cloud Controller, which appears to be packaged as an appliance and to support standard block and file interfaces to public or private clouds. The company touts is ability to work with standard Microsoft applications such as Sharepoint and SQL Server. Panzura also supports content delivery networks.

CTERA has a broad offering for getting storage into the cloud including their Portal for Internet and Managed Service Providers to offer their own cloud storage offerings and make use of larger public cloud options on the back end. The company also offers an appliance for small business that includes local storage, and a smaller, router-like device for the SOHO market that makes any external USB drive “cloud-enabled” with secure backup and syncing.

Nasuni delivers the Nasuni Filer, a software-based virtual appliance that resides on a customers local server and employs encryption and various deduplication and encryption options before making use of one or multiple public cloud providers. The company is focused on file access protocols and currently servers the Windows market exclusively.

Oxygen has little information on its website other than a sparse splash page about its virtual file system and several public cloud providers. Its product is expected in July.

A couple of public cloud storage providers have gone so far as to provide this kind of gateway functionality themselves. For example, Nirvanix offers a CloudNAS software product in the category of “standard-based access” that enterprises can install on a local server. Iron Mountain offers its own gateway products as well that customers can deploy on site.

Gateway products are generally a win for all sides. The public cloud storage providers get another on-ramp to further the footprint of their services reach.  End customers get to take advantage of public cloud storage functionality without having to become cloud computing API experts. And the gateway providers get to broker these transactions. It’s too early to tell who will lead the pack, but all will play an instrumental role in growing the cloud storage market.

To learn more about cloud computing, join us tomorrow and Thursday at Structure here in San Francisco.

Gary Orenstein is host of The Cloud Computing Show

By Gary Orenstein

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  1. The technical arguments for the cloud storage gateway products are indeed very strong as summarized by Gary in this article. This coupled with the emerging cloud storage providers (Amazon, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, EMC, Iron Mountain, Rackspace, Nirvanix, Zetta and others) does create a credible and compelling solution for enterprises to incrementally augment their existing storage infrastructure with cloud storage.

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  2. This is a good article, but you missed the company I am using for my business, SMEStorage. They provide an appliance that enables you to aggregate public and private clouds and provide multi-OS tools and support multiple mobile platforms, in our case BlackBerry. We use this company for aggregating our Google Docs, local WebDav storage, and Amazon S3 in one file system. It is integrated into our internal OpenAuth ID so we achieve single sign-on with permissions context. We looked at some of the solutions you describe but ultimately they either were not applicable or not as flexible. The company is a start-up but you should check them out, they have a very powerful capability. They were also willing to let us have access to source both for the platform and the mobile clients which really sealed the deal as we were able to make many customisations that he made the overall solution very powerful.

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    1. Gary Orenstein Wednesday, June 23, 2010

      Thanks for including them Paul. Will check it out.

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  3. Great article Gary. Couldn’t agree more that one of the key value propositions is to enable customers to “take advantage of public cloud storage functionality without having to become cloud computing API experts”. There are tons of opportunities for hybrid storage solutions to further add value through storage and data management, performance optimization, and other functions. The next few years will be a great time to be an end-user, as these products bridge the gap that exists between them and cloud, and the amount of focus this space is getting means that companies will have to innovate aggressively to win mindshare (and the customer wins in the end as a result).

    Cheers
    Joel

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  4. Where does NETGEAR’s Vault product fit into this conversation? Their line of NAS products (aka readynas) now comes with built-in cloud backup and excess storage called “Vault.” Despite being a little hard to find, it is pretty integrated and has some slick features once you get the data up (like publish to a link, etc…).

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  5. Great article, highlighting the interface disconnect between most cloud storage providers and the bulk of datacenter and personal apps that are currently available. Another approach to an on-premise appliance or “on ramp” would be for the cloud provider to natively accept the standard file system interfaces. This eliminates the need to buy, install and manage an on-premise software-only or software/hardware appliance and puts the storage management burden back on the cloud provider which is where you want it. While an on-premise appliance can have caching advantages, it introduces a single-point-of-failure and a performance choke point for data access. In scenarios where distributed, shared access to the cloud-hosted data is the design, the appliance approach requires all access to go back through the on-premise appliance, potentially doubling the network requirement. Zetta offers a cloud storage service with native, across the network access using such standards as CIFS, NFS, WebDAV, FTP, and rsync. With Zetta there is not a requirement to buy, install or manage any on-premise software or appliance. And for many (not all) file-base applications, there is a good performance fit with the available, standards-based file access protocols.

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  6. great article,

    I agree with the others this article was technically very interesting i personally am very interested in sharepoint and microsoft as it relates to enterprise solutions Palo Alto networks recently published an interesting white paper on sharepoint and how it relates to what is discussed here. it is short and very interesting check it out http://bit.ly/dtsQb4

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  7. There are a lot of cloud storage services available already. Instead of using NFS / CIFS on the Internet, http://www.drivehq.com supports HTTP/FTP/WebDAV/HTTPS/FTPS. Not only it offers cloud storage, it offers more server features and group administration tools. It is far more than just storage or backup. Not only you can backup files to the cloud, you can also move your entire file server, FTP server, email server, web server and backup system to the cloud. You can create sub-users and sub-groups; you can set different user roles; share different folders to different users with different permissions. For a small business, Cloud-based storage, backup, sharing and Cloud IT Solution can save you a lot of cost, while offering better, more secure and reliable services that can be accessed from anywhere.

    http://www.DriveHQ.com is one of the first few companies offering cloud storage and cloud IT services. It is now offering the version 5.0 Solution. For more info, please visit: http://www.drivehq.com/. DriveHQ basic service is free.

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  8. [...] an API for cloud storage is not enough to win enterprise adoption, a whole class of cloud storage gateway startups has spawned as a result, and I believe we’ll see similar handholding emerge around Big Data and NoSQL. Witness the [...]

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  9. [...] its head. Deployments of large-scale, big-data solutions are still formative, and cloud storage options abound. Until they lock their blueprints firmly into place, the acquisition hunting might well continue. [...]

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  10. [...] used to block and file access to storage, not APIs. To fill this gap, a wave of companies promising gateways to cloud storage have emerged. Once again, with significant traction, several are likely to find homes either on [...]

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