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Sync-n-share services: The next big play for storage suppliers?

Would it help IT departments?

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Businesses everywhere are panicking. Their users have gone roughshod with public sync-n-share services like Dropbox, Sugarsync etc. They do not have an alternative to give to their users. Storage suppliers are coming to the rescue. The question is - has the damage been done already? Or will storage suppliers be able to allow businesses to reclaim this lost land.

That the mobile world has taken businesses everywhere by storm is perhaps an understatement. Different terms like "Mobile revolution", "post PC era" etc. all point to the same situation in most businesses: Users are largely augmenting their PCs/Laptops with one or more mobile devices and with that increasingly looking to public cloud based mobile sync-n-share services as "federation" services for their data. Create a file on one device, save it on a Dropbox like service and open it anywhere you want. The liberating effect it has had on users is phenomenal....almost directly proportional to the depressing effect on IT departments everywhere. A few have an alternative.

This is an opportunistic situation for storage vendors who see this is as a way to recapture some of that lost share and perhaps some credibility with the IT leaders (Just to be clear it was not their fault entirely). However, as bullish and opportunistic as they may be, this presents a real opportunity for storage vendors to tie together the various components of their portfolio into a single solution for the neo-end-user base at their clients. Take for example EMC's recent acquisition of Syncplicity and subsequent announcement of integration with Isilon. At the surface, this does not go into the category of "breaking news". However, look closely and this is a move that other storage suppliers are bound to follow - in their own way of course.

What EMC is doing - and to be fair what other suppliers will do - is creating a new federation layer for end-user access. Gone are the days of providing file (NFS/CIFS) only access to end users. Storage vendors can no longer check mark NFS and CIFS support and claim their solutions are sufficient for end-user access. Because as we all know, the days of an end-user relying only on this laptop or PC are all but gone. Tablets and smartphones - and hence the mobility that comes with it - can no longer open up file browsers and open files on the network (Ugg!). NFS and CIFS can no longer support this mobile model - so while they are great for data centre based applications, cloud based apps need a different model: An API-driven, latency resilient and locally cached file-access model. In other words, there is an app for that!

So like it or not, all storage vendors are becoming cloud vendors (at least for sync-n-share services) and more importantly are becoming application providers. Soon (relatively speaking) the Apple Appstore or the Google Play store will be host sync-n-share apps from the likes of EMC, NetApp, HDS, IBM, HP, Dell and others. These sync-n-share apps will allow users to connect to their corporate shares and use them in the same way they use their other sync-n-share solutions. IT will be able to place policies on these files for retention, authorization etc. These apps will offer corporate authentication meaning users no longer need to create a new account and their existing corporate user logins work for these apps. Sounds promising.

From a storage supplier perspective, this thrusts them into new territory - one that is consumer driven and puts them shoulder to shoulder with all the other developers contributing apps to Apple and Google. Unless they choose to outsource this activity, they will have to follow a different set of rules, work with a different set of vendors and cater to an additional constituency of users who will need support for their mobile apps. EMC's acquisition of Syncplicity is one approach - they essentially acquired this business model and everything that went into the build out of such capabilities. Others may choose to build it in-house and acquire this expertise organically.

From a buyer perspective, they have to look at their suppliers for an additional set of services - in addition to the data centre centric services that they are used to. IT departments dealing with end-users will now have to deal with the data centre storage solutions. The proverbial Blackberry admin will now be calling EMC asking for support for a user’s tablet app!

Will this be disruptive? In some sense yes. Not bad for an exciting start to 2013.

Posted by Ashish Nadkarni

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