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Cloud Storage Poised to go Mainstream by 2012 but still a Marketing Ploy for now; NetApp Announcement Underwhelms

The last month or so I have spent a lot of time doing research on cloud storage. Its terminology, who the providers are, its maturity (or lack thereof) and who (if anyone) is taking advantage of cloud storage and supporting it have all been questions I have been asking. “Why?” you may ask. Simple. A survey conducted by Applied Research at the behest of F5 Networks and released this past Monday finds that more than 80% of IT managers are discussing or implementing public or private cloud solutions. Now when’s the last time you recall seeing a statistic like that?

Now, granted, survey results like this from Applied Research no doubt work in F5 Network’s favor. However Applied Research does these surveys for a number of well-known high tech companies (Symantec specifically comes to mind) and, in looking at the profile of those companies it surveyed, it looks legitimate. The demographics of those surveyed were especially insightful.

  • It spoke with 250 companies that had at least 2,500 employees worldwide with a median of 75,000 employees
  • The respondents included IT managers (37%), VPs (24%), IT directors (23%) and SVPs (16%).
  • 46% manage IT departments, 41% work in IT departments and 13% have IT departments that report to them

This would communicate to me cloud storage has a lot of momentum and the fact that  the answers were so consistent across the board indicates that whatever form that cloud storage  takes, it is going to be big and extremely disruptive.

This was confirmed by another conversation that I had this week with a consultant. He tells me that everyone he deals with from CIOs to IT managers are being pushed by their executive boards to take a look at cloud storage. In many cases, expending capital funds for IT hardware or software is coming off the table as option. Instead they are being instructed, whether they like it or not, to look at cloud storage options and how they can pay for it with money out of their operational budgets.

Neither he nor I necessarily see that occurring this year or next (I’ll get to why I don’t in a moment) but this strikes me as eerily similar to what happened with server virtualization a few years ago. First there was interest in 2006/2007, then early adopters in 2008 and then this year (2009), entire organizations are going full steam ahead with server virtualization. So at the rate cloud storage is maturing coupled with this level of interest at the highest levels in enterprise organization, I would expect cloud storage to follow a similar path and start to go mainstream in 2011 and no later than 2012.

So why don’t I see much activity occurring until  2012? This is somewhat based on a conversation I had this past week with Atempo. My interest in speaking to Atempo was that among providers of data protection and management software, it has arguably been well ahead of the crowd in providing support for cloud storage.

As far back as last year it announced support for Nirvanix’s cloud storage REST API within its Digital Archive product and then this year at EMC World it announced support for EMC Atmos’s REST API as well. What I wanted to try to understand was, “What was Atempo’s motivation for supporting cloud storage so early in cloud storage’s life cycle?”

Mark Sutter, Atempo’s CTO and VP of Engineering, told me that Atempo’s primary purpose for making it available so soon was essentially a marketing ploy to help it garner some attention and press/media. In that respect, it succeeded. By providing support for Nirvanix’s REST API as soon as it did, it did result in some press coverage that captured the attention of executives at EMC Atmos. That led to conversations that eventually resulted in Atempo Digital Archive’s supporting the EMC Atmos cloud storage offering.

However this does not mean customers should just run out and buy Digital Archive and assume it will automatically work with either Nirvanix‘s or EMC Atmos’s cloud storage offering. He said Atempo does not have many customers using Digital Archive’s cloud storage interface (I got the impression it was in the single digits, if that many) and that most of the customers that Atempo is speaking to are still dipping their toe in the cloud storage waters.

The other question I posed to Mark was, “How difficult was it for Atempo to support the REST API?” The lack of a standard REST API interface among cloud storage providers is something I have brought out in a previous blog so I was curious how difficult it was for Atempo to provide REST API support for not one but two cloud storage providers.

According to Mark, not bad at all. He did say Atempo had to make a modest investment for its initial support of the Nirvanix REST API but that to add support for the EMC Atmos REST API to its Digital Archive product was not onerous. Atempo was able to leverage a lot of what it learned in developing its initial support for Nirvanix’s REST API to support EMC Atmos.

Following this conversation with Atempo, I also had a conversation with NetApp to get a few more details around its cloud storage announcement earlier this week. However after speaking to NetApp’s Jeff O’Neil and Sandra Wu from NetApp, I felt underwhelmed.

Maybe it was because the features of ONTAP 8 have been promised and alluded to by NetApp for so long that this announcement was anti-climatic. Maybe it was because I expected NetApp to announce a REST API so organizations could use NetApp FAS storage systems for either private or public clouds. Whatever the reason, this is one press release that for all of the hoopla surrounding it failed to impress me.

This is not to imply NetApp did not have some good stuff to say. It’s secure multi-tenancy feature (which I want to do some further research on) is very compelling and should serve it in good stead with those customers that want to use NetApp for private cloud deployments. The Performance Acceleration Module II that complements multi-tenancy by optimizing its workloads also merits mention as a key feature that helps to set NetApp apart from the crowd.

Also its new Data Motion feature (though not available until early CY2010) will surely be a feature that private cloud storage providers will love. It allows them to do live data migrations so normally burdensome tasks such as load balancing, system maintenance and storage system refreshes are routine storage admin tasks as opposed major  undertakings within organizations. This feature should come as a major relief to those individuals.

But I see all of these announcements as only important technical updates to the NetApp FAS storage systems and applicable primarily to those looking to build internal, private storage clouds. In that vein, I question Net
App’s wisdom of not di
scussing its plans for making a public cloud storage option available and even backing away from it when pressed on the conference call. While Sandra did tell me at the end of my briefing to stay tuned for more announcements in the coming few months, I do hope NetApp finds a way to fill this public storage cloud gap sooner rather than later. While over the next 12 months not having a public cloud storage offering option via a REST API will probably not hurt it, I can see NetApp’s lack of presence and direction in this area coming back to bite them.

That’s it for this week. Have a good weekend and be sure to check back in frequently next week. I will be at VMworld covering all things virtual and cloud related so look for more frequent posts during that period of time.


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