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Summary:

In the cloud storage space, will formerly consumer-centric offerings be able to move into enterprise-level offerings, or will specifically business-focused startups be able to gain sufficient momentum to head them off? There’s a jockeying for position going on among all the vendors.

The cloud storage space is polarized between consumer services searching for a way to move into the business space and more traditional storage vendors serving business customers looking to provide a cloud offering. In the former camp, offerings like  Syncplicity, Dropbox and SugarSync have beefed up their offerings to move past low-level synchronization and offer more business-flavored tools such as versioning, permissioning and centralized administration.

Listening to the conversations at various industry events, I’ve been struck by how reluctant business IT decision makers are to adopt a solution that they see as consumer-centric. IT still feels there is a distinct division between consumer- and business-grade tools. One startup trying to distinguish itself from the more consumer-centric options is Zetta.

Headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, Zetta was established in 2007 with involvement from founders with previous executive experience at Netscape, VeriSign, Symantec, EqualLogic, and Shutterfly. I spent some time talking with Jeff Bell, director of marketing at Zetta, in an attempt to understand how they’re differentiating their product from the myriad of formerly consumer-focused storage offerings out there that are now focused on the business space. The Zetta spin on its offering is “Network Attached Storage as a Service.” In essence, they’re taking the benefits that a physical NAS brings, but offering it in an on-demand model. Bell articulated their point of differentiation as one that focuses on the needs of corporate IT rather than looking to appeal to end users. This may lose them a bit of “cool factor” with early adopters within a business, but Zetta contends that, within a business, top-down is still the usual decision-making process.

Zetta’s recent announcement of one-step replication between its bicoastal datacenters speaks to Zetta’s strategy of making functionality formerly enjoyed by only the largest enterprises to the level of small and mid-size businesses. This move speaks to a marketplace that wants more transparency over how their backup solution works. These businesses are often not comfortable simply assuming that their data stored on more raw solutions like Amazon, or that Google block storage is safe and sufficiently secure.

While we’ve seen significant moves into Infrastructure as a Service from the larger vendors, we’ve yet to see a significant move into more refined cloud storage services from the likes of IBM and Microsoft. While large enterprises are arguably comfortable taking raw storage and managing it themselves, at the small- to mid-size end of the business continuum, there are a whole host of ancillary services — management, replication, monitoring, versioning — that need to be part of the core offering for it to be attractive. Companies playing in the business backup and recovery space are hoping to gain momentum, while the larger vendors are too busy concentrating on infrastructure to provide more segmented storage and disaster recovery offerings.

Time will tell whether formerly consumer-centric offerings can move into the enterprise, or whether specifically business-focused startups will be able to gain sufficient momentum when playing against larger cloud vendors like Google and Amazon. Meanwhile, the traditional large vendors, eager to provide offerings more tuned to a wider audience, look likely to introduce some strong offerings that will see them move lower down the food chain to the SMB market.

Related Post from GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d.): Infrastructure overview, Q2 2010

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