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AWS Storage Gateway creates 'co-opetition' with cloud appliances

Dave Raffo, Senior News Director

Amazon’s AWS Storage Gateway -- the company's entry into the cloud storage gateway market

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 -- has creators of other cloud appliances and potential customers wondering how the move will affect the market, while questioning Amazon’s commitment to adding enterprise features.

Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service is among the most popular choices for cloud appliance customers, along with AT&T, Microsoft Windows Azure and Nirvanix. That puts the Amazon gateway that launched Wednesday in “co-opetition” with appliance vendors such as Nasuni, Panzura, StorSimple and TwinStrata, whose customers use S3.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Storage Gateway is software that installs on an on-premise server as a virtual appliance. It lets customers back up point-in-time snapshots of on-premise application data to Amazon S3. It can also mirror on-premise data to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances.

Customers mirror on-premise data by uploading it to Amazon S3 as an Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) snapshot. The snapshots can be used to create EBS volumes through the AWS Management Console or EC2’s APIs and attached to EC2 compute instances. Amazon encrypts data at S3 with AES-256 encryption.

The AWS Storage Gateway costs $125 per month plus 14 cents per GB per month for snapshot storage.

While Amazon bills the storage gateway as a way for enterprises to gain additional storage capacity, competitors point out the gateway lacks many enterprise features already in their products. The AWS Storage Gateway also requires customers to use Amazon’s cloud service, preventing them from shopping for better deals with other providers.

Amazon has shown interest in the gateway market for years. Industry sources said Amazon explored acquiring one of the gateway vendors, and it was an investor in failed startup Cirtas. And Amazon isn’t the only cloud provider with a gateway. Service provider Nirvanix resells Panzura’s File System Controller, and Rackspace bought online backup vendor Jungle Disk.

One StorSimple customer said Amazon briefed him on the AWS gateway last year but he didn’t consider it robust enough.

Dan Streufert, director of IT for medical device manufacturer MedPlast, said StorSimple has a solid state drive (SSD) tier, supports non-disruptive upgrades with dual controllers and automatic failovers, and is VMware certified. Amazon’s gateway lacks all those features, and requires the customer to provide the hardware and stick with S3 as its provider. He said one good feature of the Amazon gateway is the ability to mount volume snapshots on EC2 virtual machines, which is convenient for testing and data migration.

“I think it has its place,” Streufert said of the Amazon gateway. “It’s good that Amazon put something like this out there, but it’s not quite ready for primetime. If you want to store a moderate amount of data inexpensively, Amazon’s gateway is decent. But I’m not sure I want to trust my enterprise data to it yet.”

Streufert is also wary of lock-in to a cloud provider. He said he is in the process of switching from S3 because of better pricing on Azure. He said Amazon charges a penny for every 1,000 PUT, COPY, POST or LIST request and one penny for every 10,000 GET requests while Azure costs a penny for 10,000 requests of any type.

“Most months, we were spending more on transactions than on actual storage,” Streufert said.

Sizing up Amazon’s offering

Arun Taneja, consulting analyst for the Taneja Group, said he doesn’t expect Amazon to try and develop a true enterprise gateway.

“Amazon’s strategy is to help move data to the cloud,” Taneja said. “I doubt that they’re in the business of expanding into primary storage and getting into all the other things, like snapshots, that apply to primary storage.”

Still, he expects Amazon’s gateway to force the other vendors to continue to develop their products to distinguish themselves.

“If the only value of a gateway is to be an on-ramp to the cloud, then Amazon just took your value away,” he said.

Nasuni CEO Andres Rodriguez pointed out his company added features such as guaranteed service levels and multi-site capabilities for its NAS cloud storage system last year to avoid being simply a gateway.

“It’s not about being a gateway, it’s about being a storage company,” Rodriguez said of Nasuni’s strategy. “Amazon is just moving blocks to the cloud, it’s mirroring a volume to the cloud. Its gateway cannot scale capacity or share data to multiple locations.”

StorSimple CEO Ursheet Parikh said Amazon’s decision to sell an iSCSI cloud gateway shows there is demand for such a product. StorSimple sells virtual and physical iSCSI appliances. But Parikh said Amazon lacks features such as deduplication and compression to reduce the amount of data moved off to the cloud, non-disruptive upgrades, high availability and the ability to move from one provider to another.

“Now [the AWS Storage Gateway] is for data migration only, but I’m sure they have other aims for it,” he said. “Our customers say, ‘I need performance, high availability, no single points of failure. We want to be able to move data across clouds, and not get locked into one cloud.’”

TwinStrata CEO Nicos Vekiarides agreed that Amazon’s move into the market shows demand for an iSCSI cloud gateway, but that its product “doesn’t compete on the feature functionality level.”

Still, he expects to see more competition from Amazon and the mainstream storage vendors.

“There’s certainly some co-opetition there,” he acknowledged. “But I think customers will want a choice of cloud providers. We offer a fully functional gateway today that works with all service providers. We have traction with AT&T, Nirvanix and others. The customers come to us because they want choice.”

He also pointed out that Amazon has a 12 TB limit for on-premise storage. “We support up to 50 PB in the cloud,” he said of TwinStrata’s CloudArray.

Nasuni’s Rodriguez said he doesn’t expect Amazon to add more enterprise features to its gateway. He believes Amazon only wants a commodity product that prompts customers to use its cloud service, and that the company won’t invest heavily in engineering an enterprise product.

“The goal for Amazon is to move as much data to S3 as possible,” he said.

Nasuni uses S3 as the cloud provider for all of its customers, but Rodriguez said the vendor is not tied to Amazon’s service.

“If Amazon were going to the enterprise and making it difficult for us to use their cloud, within a week we could move everybody to Azure,” he said, “and the customer wouldn’t know the difference.”

This story was originally published on SearchCloudStorage.com.