Show Me the Gateway — Taking Storage to the Cloud

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