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Storage array vendors have a problem with their customers storing data in the cloud. They already sell to these customers but cloud service providers are cannier buyers typically and may favour cheaper and cloud-specific kit from other suppliers. What should storage array vendors do?

Their value is not in the disk drive shelves but in the software in the storage controller. Cloud storage-using customers may not want storage arrays but they will probably want a cloud storage gateway. That box, or software running in a virtual machine, can look like a SAN array or NAS box to accessing applications in servers. In other words it contains a lot of the code stack from a storage array controller.

This suggest possibilities to storage array vendors. Why not decouple the storage array controller from the storage array and use it as the basis for a cloud storage gateway? The other elements of a cloud storage service are not rocket science. They are technologies to cut the number of bits travelling up and down the wire to the remote storage resource and to secure the transmission against wire-watching spies.

They include block-level reduplication and compression, which most storage array vendors have or can get. Talk to Permabit for Albireo reduplication, and to Exar for compression hardware. Encryption hardware or software is also readily available. Next we come to more specialised technology; WAN optimisation.

This will best be supplied by licensing or buying a WAN optimisation company such as Silver Peak or Ipanema. Alternatively, the storage array vendor could build their own technology, although this will take time.

But are the traditional vendors already too late to the cloud storage party? Several startups and Riverbed, an aggressive WAN optimiser, are building cloud storage gateways already.

Riverbed has its Whitewater appliance, which has been well-received since its announcement, and startups such as BridgeSTOR, Cirtas, STORsimple, and Nasuni, are all in the cloud storage gateway space.

If the storage array vendors fail to establish cloud storage gateway offerings soon could be locked out. They could have a conversion with customers like this imagined one in the future between an IBM rep and a customer:

Storm clouds ahead

IBM rep: "I understand that you are considering moving more of your in-premises unstructured data to the cloud so that you can be a Smarter Business. Would you be interested in a better, more efficient way of accessing your data once it is in the cloud?"

Customer: "Yes, that would be of interest; we're always keen to improve our operations effectiveness."

IBM rep: "Our cSVC, Cloud SAN Volume Controller, provides access to your cloud storage exactly as it if were a storage area network (SAN) in your data centre. That means absolutely no change to your existing application storage access routines, polices, procedures and security considerations. In fact, it is more secure as everything is encrypted."

Customer: "Ah yes, I see. Um, let me show you our Whitewater appliances from Riverbed in the small data centre we have left. They do everything your, er, cSVC was it, does and more."

Exit chastened IBM, or EMC or NetApp or Dell/Compellent or whoever storage array vendor rep realising they are too late to join this particular storage party.

Where is your storage value, Mr. storage array supplier, and where should it be deployed? ®

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