Google's recent move to allow customers to store and access all types of files through Google Docs helps highlight the growing move to provide new platforms to host storage over the Internet.
While some platforms, including Google's, are aimed directly at consumers, many others make it easy for solution providers to either host customers' storage capacity on the VAR's own storage infrastructure or on third-party hosted storage.
Hosted storage infrastructures, also known as cloud-based storage or Storage-as-a-Service, includes platforms like Google Docs or Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive, or business-oriented platforms from channel-friendly vendors.
Hosted storage is a fast-growing part of the services business. IDC estimated that Storage-as-a-Service revenue in 2008 reached about $810 million, or about 5 percent of the total $16.2 billion spent on cloud-based services. However, that is expected to grow to about $5.5 billion, or 13 percent of the $42.3 billion that will be spent on cloud-based services in 2012.
Such services offer users several advantages.
Customers can get remote data backup or disaster recovery without the need to invest in or manage new storage hardware. Many offerings include point-and-click interfaces to make them easy to use.
More important, especially for business users, is the flexibility and scalability they receive by using hosted storage infrastructures. Since most Storage-as-a-Service providers charge according to how much data is stored, businesses do not need to make a capital investment in storage capacity they may need in the future.
Hosted storage infrastructures also give managed service providers a relatively quick way to add Storage-as-a-Service to their services offerings, with little or no up-front capital investment.
Working with Atlanta-based hosted storage service provider eFolder was the best way for Alvarez Technology Group, a Salinas, Calif.-based solution provider and managed service provider, to get its foot in the Storage-as-a-Service door.
Luis Alvarez, president and CEO, said his company wanted to test the market but not invest too much up front.
"So we started working with eFolder to test the water," he said. "At the time, we were not ready to make the investment, nor did we want to get into the market in a [halfhearted] way. EFolder provided everything we needed, including encryption."
Since then, Alvarez has continued to work with eFolder, and has also added SonicWall, San Jose, Calif., and Zenith Infotech, Warrendale, Pa., to its list of Storage-as-a-Service partners.
eFolder is great for customers looking to store their everyday documents, or documents related to applications such as QuickBooks, and provide easy access to those documents to customers who travel a lot, Alvarez said.
Zenith Infotech provides a hardware appliance for the customer site tied to a remote hosted storage service, which works well for customers with a lot of servers and that need instant failover to virtual servers in case of a problem, he said.
Alvarez Technology Group uses SonicWall's CDP (Continuous Data Protection) appliances, which let companies with multiple remote offices build their own disaster recovery networks. Alvarez said some service providers keep one of the customer's SonicWall CDP appliances to provide disaster recovery service to all the customer's remote offices.
For solution providers and service providers looking to add hosted Storage-as-a-Service to their line card, there are several ways to get started.
Traditional solution providers, for instance, can use the technology from any one of several vendors to build an SMB storage service and realize a recurring revenue stream while utilizing someone else's cloud and keeping up-front costs to a minimum.
Larger solution providers are using other technologies to either build their own storage cloud or use a hosted storage cloud like the Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) cloud to provide Storage-as-a-Service to SMBs and even enterprises. However, public cloud options like Amazon S3 must be approached carefully in terms of their service-level agreements.
Managed service providers can use certain vendors' technologies to make cloud-based storage an integrated part of their total services offerings.
And ISVs can take advantage of other technologies to integrate a storage cloud seamlessly into their applications.
Many of these technologies are actually turnkey solutions, letting solution providers and their customers quickly and easily work with storage.