According to a Gartner survey, about 19% of organisations are using the cloud for production computing, while 20% are using public cloud storage services.
That means there's a pretty good sized market for the cloud, and specifically cloud storage. Gartner predicted in 2012 $109 billion was spent on cloud computing, a 20% increase from the year before.
But the cloud is a big industry too, with a lot of vendors seemingly having a cloud strategy today. So where do potential customers start? Recently, Gartner released a list of the top 10 cloud storage providers, based on enterprise capabilities. Below is a description of each, based on pros, cons, strengths and weaknesses.
Amazon Web Services
Like many other aspects of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services is considered a market leader in cloud storage. It's been an early and aggressive player in the market and its services drive offerings from competitors, Gartner says, while its pricing is the "industry reference point." Its Simple Storage Service (S3) is the basic object storage, while Elastic Block Storage is for storage volumes. AWS keeps innovating too. Earlier this year AWS announced Glacier, a long-term, low-cost archival storage services. More recently, at its first-ever user conference, AWS announced Redshift, a cloud-based data warehousing service.
AWS has challenges though, Gartner notes. While it has a tool to link on-premise data to its cloud, named AWS Storage Gateway, the ability to create hybrid storage architectures that span both on-premise storage options and AWS's cloud is still largely a work in progress, Gartner says. AWS is an innovative company that continues to release products and services to round out its already-market leading position though. With services geared to specific vertical industries, most notably the federal government agencies with its GovCloud service, it has a wide breadth and depth of cloud storage features and services.
AT&T's Synaptic cloud storage service is aligned closely with EMC's Atmos storage service, which is used as an on-premise storage system. This creates an opportunity for AT&T to sell into the strong EMC customer base, and gives customers hybrid cloud capabilities with a leading storage vendor. Gartner says this has been focused mostly on small and midsized businesses though. Still, AT&T claims it has recorded double-digit growth in its service, with several billion objects stored in its cloud. AT&T Synaptic already spans multiple regions, which customers can choose to take advantage of, with plans by AT&T to expand the service globally, with Europe being the next stop. Customers using AT&T's VPN service are freed from ingress and egress charges when using the company's cloud service.
Google Cloud Storage
Launched in 2010, Google Cloud Storage is the underlying storage service for the company's other cloud products and services, including Google App Engine - the application development platform - Google Compute Engine, and BigQuery, which are cloud-based virtual machines and a Big Data analysis tool, respectively. Customers access Google Cloud Storage through a restful API and the service is available in both the US and Europe. Holding the company and its cloud storage platform back though is a relative lack of significant sales and support targeted at enterprise customers, Gartner notes. That leaves Google Cloud Storage ideally suited for sophisticated customers willing to set up and manage the deployment, and specifically developers looking for large storage capacity for Google applications.
HP announced the public beta of its cloud storage platform debuted in May of 2012 and it's meant to work in tandem with both its compute and content delivery network (CDN), which it recently partnered with Akamai on. The storage platform is based on OpenStack technology and HP offers free 24/7 call and chat support on top of 99.95% availability guarantees. "Among OpenStack-based cloud storage providers, HP is well-positioned to understand enterprise IT storage requirements, due to its extensive hardware, software and service offerings," Gartner notes. "However, since HP Cloud Object Storage is new, HP must evolve and refine its architectural, geographical and service offerings." The system automatically replicates data across three availability zones for resiliency (which customers can choose to do in Amazon's cloud), and HP says having information running on its hardware both in the public cloud and on customers' premises makes for easy hybrid cloud setups.
IBM's cloud storage is part of its SmartCloud Enterprise offering, which includes other services such as cloud-based application development and infrastructure. Gartner says the biggest deficiency is the lack of integration among the various aspects of IBM's SmartCloud offering though. For example, IBM markets its cloud for backup and recovery, but those services do not use IBM SmartCloud Object Storage on its backend. Part of this could be because IBM partners with Nirvanix, another cloud storage provider, to run the SamrtCloud Object Storage. The disparate nature of these services under the IBM SmartCloud umbrella could create "silos of capabilities" for various services, Gartner warns. But, IBM has committed to more tightly integrating its products and services together. Its experience in selling to major IT enterprise shops gives it a significant advantage in becoming a major player in the large enterprise cloud storage market.
Internap's history is as a managed service and collocation provider, but it has more recently emerged as a cloud player as well. Its AgileFiles cloud storage system is based off of the OpenStack Swift storage platform and is available in the US, Europe and Asia, with plans for future expansion. To differentiate its service, Internap has attempted to layer on advanced networking features to the service, such as a Manager Internet Route Optimizer (MIRO), which analyzes the performance of the possible routes to deliver content and chooses the best one. Gartner says its lack of enterprise presence is the biggest limitation holding the company back.
Behind Amazon Web Services, Microsoft's Windows Azure Blob Storage may be the second most widely-used cloud storage service, Gartner predicts. It now boasts more than a trillion objects and is growing at 200% per year, Gartner says, while supporting a broad range of features including object storage, table storage, SQL Server and a content delivery network (CDN). Azure's Blob storage is in a pricing "race to the bottom," with Amazon, Google and Microsoft each dropping prices consistently during the past year to offer the most competitive prices among the three competitors. Gartner calls Microsoft a "fast-follower" of feature roll outs behind Amazon as well. Its tiered support options are appealing to large enterprise customers, Gartner says, providing customers a hands-on fee-based support team. Microsoft has bulked up its storage chops too by recently purchasing cloud storage gateway vendor StorSimple.
A pure-play cloud storage provider, Nirvanix is solely dedicated to this market. Gartner says that's great for companies looking for data-intensive storage needs, but could be a drawback for customers looking for an all-inclusive vendor that would provide compute services on top of a storage platform. Nirvanix has some appealing characteristics though, including the ability to have public, hybrid or on-premise Nirvanix-powered storage services, and an all-inclusive monthly billing cycle with premium support options, a clear aim for enterprise customers, but one that may turn away SMEs that may prefer the a la carte pricing.
Rackspace is another major player in the cloud storage ecosystem, with its Cloud Files service augmented by a robust set of accompanying services, including compute infrastructure and a CDN network powered by Akamai. For high-performance storage needs, it has Cloud Block Storage, which has high input-output capabilities. Rackspace works heavily on the OpenStack open source project and its services closely follow OpenStack developments. Because of its work in the OpenStack environment, Gartner says Rackspace public cloud storage services integrate nicely with OpenStack-powered on premise clouds, creating hybrid cloud services for customers.
Softlayer's Cloudlayer object storage system is based on the OpenStack Swift platform that accompanies a range of other services offered by Softlayer, including compute and CDN. Softlayer also has a storage-area network (SAN) offering and an international presence, with data centre locations in its headquarters of Dallas, along with Amsterdam and Singapore. Its lack of support and turnkey deployment cycles, Gartner says, has meant that the product has not caught on wildly with the enterprise market yet though.