Nasuni Targets Primary Storage in the Cloud

Cloud storage startup Nasuni entered public beta today, bringing with it a new, but familiar, approach to storing primary data. Instead of competing in the already overpopulated cloud storage-provider market — where offerings generally target backup operations and simple file storage — the Natick, Mass.-based startup sells software that looks and acts like a traditional file system but stores data in cloud offerings from Amazon (s amzn), Rackspace (s rax), Nirvanix and Iron Mountain.

For $250 a month plus capacity fees (Nasuni covers data transfer costs), customers can use Nasuni to house their primary data in the providers’ clouds. One-year-old Nasuni, which has so far raised $8 million from Sigma Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, is betting that putting a familiar face on cloud storage will make it accessible to small and medium-sized business that require robust storage arrays but don’t want to pay the capital expenses required to meet skyrocketing data volumes. In short, it’s doing exactly what the cloud ought to do.

Nasuni’s feature set includes thin provisioning, snapshots, deduplication and escrowed encryption, where the data is stored with one cloud provider and the encryption key with another. And rather than getting rid of their existing hardware, customers can keep around a few hundred gigabytes to serve as a local cache or database. According to CEO Andres Rodriguez, managing 1.5TB for three years with Nasuni would cost about half as much as doing so with a low-end EqualLogic array, and far less than an EMC (s emc) CLARiiON system.

However, Nasuni’s product is available only as a VMware (s vmw) virtual appliance, which could limit its potential customer base. Virtualization still isn’t ubiquitous, and Rodriguez acknowledges that no one will buy VMware just to use Nasuni’s solution. Still, he’s optimistic, hoping for 100 paying customers by the end of 2010 and, via a strong partner program, 30,000 customers by the end of 2013.

Rodriguez also drew a distinction between his company and cutting-edge Silicon Valley startups: While they’re leading the charge when it comes to building large cloud infrastructures and new delivery models, he’s sticking with the storage systems expertise for which the East Coast is known, adding that only “the guts are different.”

Nasuni hopes this familiar focus will help bridge the culture gap between the two coasts and bring skeptical businesses to the cloud. This strategy makes sense (see, e.g., IBM’s pragmatic cloud strategy), but Nasuni’s 30,000-customer goal could be derailed should other East Coast storage vendors decide to get into this game themselves. Not only do they have mindshare advantages, but vendors like EMC have their own clouds to cut out the middle man.

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Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Kubina