Cloud Storage On The Rise

Depending on the needs of an enterprise -- with performance, compliance, scalability and budget -- Storage-as-a-Service options have been leading the way toward the cloud computing model because of the relative ease of deployment and growth of competitive vendors in this space.

In previous issues of CRNtech, we've looked at a number of different offerings including Amazon's S3 -- arguably the biggest cloud storage vendor in the market. As the cloud buildout continues, Rackspace, San Antonio, does continue to impress with a variety of its offerings and approaches. More and more, the CRN Test Center believes VARs may want to keep the company in mind as it moves customers to this model.

Rackspace has very quietly outflanked giants Microsoft and Google in online storage and backup, giving the hosting and cloud computing upstart bragging rights as the market races toward the new IT model in 2010 and beyond.

Unveiled recently, Rackspace's Cloud Drive provides a quick, easy-to-deploy solution for "cloud-based" storage and file backup. Here are the basics: At a price of $4 per month, per user, Rackspace will offer a company or workgroup 10 GB of file storage. Using the interface of the Jungle Disk Workgroup Activity Manager (Jungle Disk is a Rackspace subsidiary), files can be managed and backups can be scheduled and tailored to a specific need. From a desktop or server, the files are copied onto Rackspace's storage infrastructure where they can be managed or retrieved.

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Some take-aways from a look at Cloud Drive from the CRN Test Center: It's simple to set up and deploy, taking about 15 minutes from signing up for the service and scheduling regular backups of specific folders on a PC.

The syncing and sharing features work for the most part. One overnight, scheduled backup failed with this message:

"Unknown SSL protocol error in connection to [] Error Location:JungleHTTP.cpp:825 JungleHTTP::MakeRequest via JXRTransport.cpp:634 JDGatewayConnection::ExecuteAsyncThread."

A manual backup of the same folder was successful without rebooting the desktop, the server or the network. (It may have been other, overnight scheduled system activity that caused a conflict.) On two other nights, scheduled backups took place with no problems.

The Jungle Disk Workgroup Activity Monitor is a desktop application; it did require a system reboot to start. However, Rackspace launched a beta version of a Web interface to this service for file access. It appeared to work fine.

Unlike other offerings, Rackspace provides security in the form of AES-256 encryption -- a smart move that may make the service more attractive to those with compliance concerns.

A continued concern of the CRN Test Center has been the ability of SaaS-based and cloud-based technology providers to meet enterprise-ready benchmarks for uptime, availability and performance. While cloud companies (including Rackspace and Amazon, for example) have had their share of high-profile outages, they have generally responded by working transparently to make improvements in processes. Rackspace, too, makes a real-time "System Status" report available on the Web for its hosted Exchange, Rackspace e-mail and administration tools appliances. It's a good first step in providing metrics and benchmarking.

Rackspace is also working hard to meet the needs of its growing customer base. For example, in its last quarterly earnings report, the company said it added about 10,000 servers to cover about 40,000 new customers during the three-month period. It will be important to continue watching this metric to see how Rackspace keeps up. We applaud Rackspace for providing this window into operational growth and hope that its rivals begin to do so as well.

Overall, the experience using the Rackspace cloud-based storage and backup wasn't perfect, but it was good. More important, it's been delivered to market in a better fashion for smaller enterprises in a much more useful way than Google has arranged its online storage, which is delivered through its Picasa photo-album app and Gmail, or through Microsoft's lackluster SkyDrive. The ability to schedule backups and perform system restorations inside the Rackspace offering -- in addition to the company's functionality that allows employees to sync and share files across the network -- puts it to the head of the line over its two larger rivals in the cloud.

It should be noted that Google recently increased its storage offering to 20 GB of online capacity for $5 per year, shared between Picasa and Gmail, with as much as a full terabyte of storage available to those willing to pay $256 per year. But Google lacks the syncing, sharing and administrative functions of Rackspace.

Note that Microsoft also has made some improvements to SkyDrive since the product first launched, including the ability to share files with people accepted into a personal network. And, while SkyDrive offers a maximum of 25 GB of storage for free, it also lacks the automation tools provided by Rackspace. And SkyDrive still has a gawky and awkward design and Web-based layout.

NEXT: A Tale of the Tape

Here's a quick Tale of the Tape:

Capacity And Price

Rackspace offers 10 GB of capacity that can be shared between colleagues for $4 per month, per user; Google offers 8 to 10 GB for free or 20 GB for $5 for one year; Microsoft offers 25 GB for free on SkyDrive. Amazon takes more of an al-a-carte approach, but pricing at its upper level is now 5-and-a-half cents per GB in its 5-Petabyte tier.

A competitor that is working to keep pace with Rackspace, Terremark, has been working to expand sales of its Infinistructure cloud storage offering to the market. Unlike Rackspace, Terremark does not make a trial version of its offering available to the public; Terremark, Miami, also did not respond to requests by the CRN Test Center for an opportunity to review the Infinistructure offering. The company, like Rackspace, continues to add about 10,000 servers per quarter as it continues its own infrastructure buildout and customer acquisition. Terremark, unlike Rackspace, has yet to turn a profit as a company, although investors have boosted its stock price tremendously over the past several months as Wall Street makes a continuing number of bets on cloud computing companies. Without the ability to test its ease-of-use, performance metrics, channel-friendliness and functionality, however, it's not possible to provide an independent assessment of Terremark's offering. Terremark does have a channel program, with dedicated VAR sales representatives, commission and marketing support, and presales and postsales support. It's a tiered program with registered, certified and premier-certified levels for VARs, ISVs and integrators, the company says.


Rackspace's Jungle Disk offers scheduled backups to its cloud service; Google and Microsoft provide no automation tools.


Rackspace allows for syncing and collaboration among colleagues via its desktop console; Google storage is limited to sharing provided in Gmail or Picasa; SkyDrive allows for link and file sharing between users on a personal network.


Google and Microsoft provide password-protected access to accounts; Rackspace provides password protection and AES-256 encryption.


One Rackspace scheduled backup failed over the course of several days; Gmail has experienced several high-profile outages this year; SkyDrive has been largely available with varying amounts of latency.

While not free like Google's storage or SkyDrive, Rackspace's service provides nice automation, and administration and management tools. Packaged with Rackspace's hosted e-mail offering, it puts the company right in the game with the industry giants and should be on the map for small businesses considering moving partially or slowly to a cloud-based IT model. It's not perfect, but marks a solid start for Rackspace as the industry stands at the threshold of the cloud era.

Compared to Amazon's S3, Rackspace takes a much more turnkey approach and provides noticeably greater ease of use, a factor that could wind up being critical for VARs in keeping their customers inside a comfort zone as they begin deploying more IT in a hosted model. While Amazon has recently taken up a very aggressive pricing strategy -- lowering pricing on its 5-Petabyte-tier offerings by as much as 50 percent as 2009 wound to a close -- Rackspace is still competitive with Amazon on price.

Rackspace's channel program provides compensation and discounts, training, referrals and co-marketing opportunities.

The bottom line: Free, online storage for the masses has been available for almost 15 years, since Yahoo introduced its now-defunct "Briefcase" service. Google and Microsoft continue to tweak and improve what they have in the market, but Rackspace has gone the extra distance to make its Cloud Drive offering not only user-friendly but business-friendly as well. Improvements to Cloud Drive should be expected over time, but for now it is outflanking two of its biggest rivals.

As far as other competitors like Amazon, Rackspace will continue to be challenged in its ability to compete with the sheer scale of its Seattle-based rival. A key differentiator as 2010 moves along will be its engagement with solution providers and its continued effort to maintain strong performance and uptime metrics.

We'll continue to look at cloud-based storage, server and other hosted offerings from other vendors in coming months and expect the number of competitors, pricing pressures and hosting models -- as well as channel programs -- will continue to proliferate. For now, consider Rackspace a must-look when contemplating cloud storage.

COMMUNITY: Get involved and voice your opinion on all things technical. E-mail Edward F. Moltzen at [email protected].