Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/02/06/storage_in_the_cloud_in_2013/

Just how solid is cloud storage in 2014

Airy-fairy vapour or something firmer?

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 6th February 2014 11:58 GMT

Searching the Reg' for "Cloud + Storage" mentions in 2013 gets you 44 pages of results. So let's take it as read that it's a hot topic.

We're not bothering with private clouds here; they're enterprise IT re-branded, re-tooled and re-priced but they are still private enterprise IT resources. No, it's the public cloud, accessed remotely and made available through a cloud services provider (CSP) that we're considering in this review.

This area is dominated by the AGA threesome of Amazon, Google and (Microsoft) Azure who each have large consumer businesses buttressing their enterprise cloud efforts. And Amazon is top dog with every other supplier dancing to its tune and reacting to what it does in terms of price cuts and service developments.

The AGA trio have the incredibly deep wallets needed to build out a public enterprise cloud.

Apple has its own cash well to build out its iCloud consumer cloud offering. But this, like Facebook and Twitter, can be classed as an application-environment cloud and not as a general purpose public cloud with storage services. That's not iCloud's prime intent, it being more a repository for Apple users and Apple data, like music and video and photos.

Generally CSPs offer unstructured data storage, backup and archive in the cloud. A few CSPs are offering primary data storage in the cloud. For example, CloudSigma started up an all-SSD-based storage facility for its data centre in the cloud in April. But having primary data in the cloud on flash when compute is across a network link doesn't make sense. Unless you have a genius cloud storage gateway or an expensive high-speed network link you'll learn all about network latency and data access delays.

One answer is to put compute in the cloud too - we're not going to cover that here since it's about IT in the cloud and we just want to look at storage.

The market suffered some significant reliability failures in the year but this didn't stop vendors adding features to their offerings and developing them. They saw that customers were beginning to trust the cloud more and more, and moving data to it; in trickles no doubt but suppliers hoped that this is a one-way street with the trickles becoming streams and then rivers.

Cloud Storage arrays

Although there were problems with cloud reliability and CSP stability these were not strong enough to derail or even significantly slow the adoption of cloud storage. In fact the main supplier problem was: "How do I compete with and/or differentiate myself from Amazon?" No-one has been able to answer that satisfactorily because the Amazon beast is still growing and defining itself.

Only Google and Microsoft realistically have the heft to take it on directly. Everyone else will have to get niched in the market sense somehow to survive.

Lets start with cloud reliability.

Cloud reliability

It was not good. February saw the Azure Storage facility go down across the globe because some Microsofty forgot to renew a security certificate. The resulting Blue Sky of Death problems took twelve hours to fix and Redmond said it would offer compensation to affected users as per their SLAs. This surely weakened its credentials as an enterprise user-class storage cloud.

Our Reg writer opined: "It is the opinion of The Register that to have a core service fail in every data center across the world simultaneously is an extremely bad thing to happen to a cloud provider."

The UK's 2e2 cloud service collapsed in February with users asked to pay up to $40,000 extra to get their data back.

April saw Google's Drive cloud storage service as well as its Gmail offering go tits-up for a while.

Microsoft's SkyDrive went down for a while in August, along with Outlook and the SQL service in Azure. Hotmail and Messenger were also affected. Bezos blushed that same month as Amazon's cloud also went down with its Elastic Block Store fingered as the culprit. This was its third such outage in two years.

Nirvanix fell out of the cloud and crashed and burned in September 2013, dealing a thunderous blow to ideas of cloud storage reliability and trustworthiness. Sales didn't grow quickly enough as it built out its storage infrastructure on the back of its start-up funding rounds. So, its backers pulled the plug, with the threat of data lost and unavailable. In the event third-party data rescue efforts recovered, it is thought, much of the data.

September saw Amazon's cloud go down with faults in the company's Northern Virginia US-EAST-1 data center cluster. This affected the EC2 compute service, load balancers, the Redshift data warehouse, the relational database service, and the simple email service.

We wrote: "The Northern Virginia data center is Amazon's oldest public-cloud facility, and has had numerous problems ranging from Elastic Block Store cockups, a huge generator failure, and even a massive general outage in Summer 2012."

Azure fell over in October.

All-in-all the top cloud services did not demonstrate rock-solid reliability in the year.

Pricing

A constant theme in 2013 was the cost of CSP storage offerings with Amazon pretty much leading the way with a stream of price cuts throughout the year. We speculate that these cuts are to stress out the competition so they withdraw - think Symantec getting out of cloud backup - and to overcome resistance from enterprises to using the cloud. Once Amazon is the market leader in public cloud storage, with virtually all enterprises using cloud storage, then the Bezos behemoth could start raising prices.

Columns of coins in the cloud

It's going to difficult to move petabytes of data from one CSP to another and you could find your self locked-in to the amazing Amazonian accumulator of data.

There were many price cuts during the year. For example:

Cloud storage events

There were a large number of cloud storage announcements in the year. We've collated lots of them in the list below. Don't bother reading every item; just scan the list and marvel at the amount of activity and the fact that it's not an exhaustive list - cloud storage is HOT:

Cloud disk drives

Let's have a quick check on the three main players, the AGA group.

The AGA players - Amazon

Amazon gained massive additional credibility as a cloud provider in general by winning a large - $600m - CIA cloud project in the face of strong IBM opposition. This credibility edged higher again when Dutch regulators said financial institutions in Holland could use AWS at the end of July.

It increased its edge locations around the world to 42 in July by opening two new ones in India, in Chennai and Mumbai.

It's obvious that Amazon is the biggest CSP and also the most determined to grow. In September its AWS boss and founder, Andy Jassy, criticised private clouds for inadequacy, as a futile attempt by legacy IT vendors to build sand-bagged walls trying to hold back the rising tide of the public cloud. Like King Canute's feeble attempt theirs too will fail.

Jassy said: "To build a private cloud from scratch now is ill-advised. It's not cost effective, it's arcane and it's not the way the world is moving." He said AWS would be developed to appeal more to enterprises.

We wrote, "Jassy did not provide details but promised more features to connect existing data centres to Amazon servers and manage enterprise workloads across them as one. 'We know many enterprise have data centres on premises, and they want a way to use the on-premises data centre footprint with AWS... that's we are doing and are providing.' "

He highlighted these AWS services for big customer appeal:

All the legacy players rushing to the cloud look like the AWS of 2008; they are that far behind, and Amazon said the current state of AWS was only the beginning.

Cloud dream

The Cloud dream - data up in the cloud for ever.

Google

Google has a great consumer cloud opportunity with its Chromebooks and Android-powered mobile devices but does it understand web-scale, enterprise IT as well as Amazon which has honed its expertise with years of running its retail operations?

Our impression is that Amazon is more ferociously focussed on AWS and business customers than Google is on its cloud, with corporate focus diluted by Google Glass, driverless cars and the various Chrome and Android initiatives. However Google is determined, ingenious, and can afford to be a strong Amazon competitor.

Microsoft and Azure

Microsoft spent the year playing catch up with Amazon and trying to smother it in the same sort of way it smothered Lotus, Word Perfect and Netscape in the past. It's playing a long game but, almost for the first time in its history, it's met an opponent that may already be too big and too nimble to be knocked down.

So it's looking to partners for help.

In September Microsoft and Oracle agreed to play ball to try and stop AWS or slow its runaway train down.

With the agreement developers can provision the Oracle Database, Java Platform Standard Edition, onto Windows Server, and Oracle WebLogic server onto Windows virtual machines running on Azure. But Linux was included too, with Microsoft offering bring-your-own-license Oracle Linux VMs running Oracle Database and Oracle WebLogic.

This is still catch-up. We wrote: "Oracle's technologies are also available on the Amazon Web Services cloud, though licensing is not wrapped in and the support is less broad. Amazon has, however, been running Oracle tech for several years."

Redmond has an almighty job to do to get on a level playing field with Amazon, let alone accelerate past it.

Tornado sucks data

So where are we?

We can say that nothing fundamental in the technology sense happened to cloud storage in 2013. But the move of backup and archive data to the cloud, as well as the move of unstructured data to the cloud seems unstoppable. It’s reminiscent of the early days of backup-to-disk when deduplication arrived and an irreversible move from on-premises tape to on-premises disk backup started.

It is very early days still. Gartner said in September no public cloud was truly enterprise class in its view. Amazon was closest to that target, with Azure second and Rackspace third.

Despite cloud outages and cloud supplier failures cloud storage as a market grew strongly in 2013. It was helped by cloud storage functionality extensions - like Splunk offering analytics as a service using Amazon's cloud - and price-cutting and, the largest factor, intense competition between Amazon, Google and Azure, with Rackspace joining in too and, latterly, Verizon.

After Larry Ellison's sniffy dismissal of cloud computing some time ago Oracle is now jumping tight into the cloud idea.

We think Oracle’s strategy is to sell Oracle application services to its customers in its public cloud and not be a generic cloud compute and storage supplier. Effectively it’s an Oracle app-only cloud with Oracle not wanting its customers to go to Amazon or other public cloud providers to run Oracle software.

It’s main cloud enemy is Amazon and it’s partnering with Microsoft to help that struggle.

The AGA trio dominate the cloud storage landscape and Amazon, with Bezos as the Aga Khan so to speak, dominates this threesome and everyone else. Can anyone catch it?

The cloud storage market has only been around for a very few years and the total addressable market is huge. It is far too early to call out a winner here. Amazon is in the lead now but who knows what might happen?

Microsoft has a new CEO, Satya Nadella, and the cloud is a major focus for him. Google has an almost bottomless purse and the cloud is critical to it. All three think they can build a significant and enduring cloud presence, which means good prices and good service for customers as reliability and security issues get addressed.

Look for cloud storage to boom in 2014, with Amazon setting the pace and both Google and Microsoft following very close behind. ®