As Google Ponders Storage, Amazon Scores With VARs

While Google has been talking for some time about moving into the online data backup market, and may be closer than ever to doing so according to some news reports, the online search engine specialist will find rival Amazon and a multitude of service provider partners already in the game.

Amazon S3, an offering of Amazon Web Services, is a Web service that provides a highly scalable, reliable, and inexpensive data storage infrastructure on which other businesses can build an online storage infrastructure for their own services.

Unlike many online data storage services, which require a minimum charge for capacity which may or may not be fully utilized, Amazon S3 charges all users 15 cents per Gbyte of storage used per month, and 20 cents per Gbyte of data transferred.

Several service providers have based their data storage infrastructure solely on Amazon S3, while others use Amazon S3 in conjunction with other data storage infrastructures. Such service providers may provide the Amazon S3 capacity as part of their monthly billing, while others provide the technology for customers that sign up directly with Amazon.

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One of those is BeInSync, a San Jose, Calif.-based online backup service provider which has based its entire storage infrastructure on Amazon S3.

Adi Ruppin, vice president of marketing at BeInSync, said his company opened its services from Day One using Amazon S3 for its storage, and within 60 days had tens of millions of files uploaded to Amazon.

"Think about it," Ruppin said. "If we had to build our own infrastructure, we could never tell how much capacity we'd need. Amazon is scalable. We will soon announce deals with customers storing Tbytes of data. This is the only way to go."

BeInSync offers consumers and businesses online data backup with such features as security and encryption, a user accounting system so each user has his or her own space, management capabilities for small and midsize businesses, continuous data protection, and data snapshots. The actual data is stored on Amazon S3's infrastructure. "Amazon for our purposes is a very big disk," Ruppin said.

BeInSync sells its services to small and midsize businesses for a charge of $10 per month for a license for one user. That price includes 15 Gbytes of storage space. Customers can purchase additional storage capacity for 30 cents per Gbyte.

"You may find services that look cheaper than 30 cents per Gbyte," Ruppin said. "One company offers 25 Gbytes for close to free. But if you want to do restore, you pay more. When you do backups, you really need to be able to do restores. If it's cheaper than what we provide, you really need to look at reliability."

Ruppin said it is hard to match the reliability of Amazon S3 in terms of protecting data. "Amazon has multiple data centers," he said. "Everything is replicated at least three times in at least two data centers geographically separated. We're happy with their APIs and reliability."

BeInSync is currently talking to managed service providers, solution providers, and OEMs about reselling its technology, with an OEM announcement expected to come soon, Ruppin said. "There's lots of interest in on-line backup," he said.

Next: Online Backup Provider Jungle Disk Targets Small Business

Like BeInSync, Atlanta-based Jungle Disk also provides online backup as a service using Amazon S3 as the storage infrastructure. However, customers of Jungle Disk sign up directly with Amazon for an online storage account, and purchase the software needed to interface with Amazon from Jungle Disk.

The Amazon S3 infrastructure is a pure Web service, which is why companies like his can sell software that lets end users take advantage of the online storage capacity, said Jungle Disk's CEO Dave Wright.

"There's no Website or user interface to interface with it," he said. "So you need third-party software to use it."

Jungle Disk sells the software for $20 per user, primarily to consumers but increasingly to small businesses,

The company has a private-label version of its software for other service providers looking to offer on-line backup as a service, Wright said, but it was not designed for use by resellers.

However, he said, the company plans to launch a program in the first quarter of 2008 for solution providers and service providers who want to offer such a service. The product could be co-branded or white-labeled, with solution providers having a choice of letting their users sign up with Amazon S3 directly or packaging the Amazon S3 access as part of a complete service, Wright said.

The company plans to beta test a new version of its software designed specifically for small businesses and workgroups of up to 100 users with the ability to provide sub accounts and administration control, with production shipments scheduled for January, Wright said.

Elephant Drive, of Los Angeles, also uses Amazon S3 for online backups. However, said CEO Michael Fisher, it is only part of its storage infrastructure which also relies on commodity storage arrays plus a few high-end models for high-performance requirements.

"For us, Amazon S3 is a burst-management tool for when we get a surge in incoming data," Fisher said. "So it's a cash management tool because we don't have to invest in extra capacity."

Amazon S3 also serves as a poor man's content distribution network for Elephant Drive, Fisher said. For instance, in Europe, where the company does not have its own data center, customers can still load content there using the Amazon S3 infrastructure.

While Elephant Drive uses online backup as a way to attract end users, what keeps them is the data protection and data access the company offers, Fisher said. "Some customers use it to make data accessible anytime, anywhere," he said. "Some use it more like a disk drive."

Elephant Drive's software abstracts the location of the customer's data, Fisher said. "The data is held in multiple places, and not tiered at all," he said. "If you use our user interface and see three objects, one might be in an Elephant Drive data center, one in one S3 data center, and the third in another S3 data center."

While the read and write performance of data when using Amazon S3 is typically lower than for data stored on other arrays, the actual customer experience will vary, Fisher said.

"To the end user trying to upload a file, it might be transparent because their performance may be throttled by local bandwidth," he said. "Sometime's it's better when using an Elephant Drive data center, sometimes it's better from S3. Our software makes the decision from where to access data in real-time."

Next: Hosted Email Providers See Value Of Online Storage

While several service providers use Amazon S3 primarily for offering online backups, others use it as part of an overall service such as online photo sharing and online video broadcasts.

One of those is, a Blacksburg, Va.-based provider of hosted e-mail. The company, which was acquired by RackSpace in October, hosts and manages customer mailboxes with its own NoteWorthy e-mail system, said CTO Bill Boebel. currently hosts about 700,000 mailboxes for about 80,000 businesses and a handful of end users, and offers them a complete service including such functions as collaboration, shared calendars, and shared task lists.

NoteWorthy is running on about 400 Linux-based servers, which also serve as the primary storage for the e-mail boxes. E-mail data is encrypted and mirrored internally, and then backed up to Amazon S3's infrastructure once a day, Boebel said. has two data centers, and plans call for them to be able to mirror the e-mail data between them for added protection, Boebel said. also manages RackSpace's Microsoft Exchange e-mail infrastructure, which is protected using a separate storage infrastructure. Eventually it, too, could be interfaced with Amazon S3, Boebel said. "We'd like to," he said. "But we have other priorities to integrate. Now we're focused more on integrating the front end. The back end integration is a lower priority. Right now it works."

Service providers who work with Amazon S3 welcome Google's move into the online storage market.

Next: Google Enters A Dynamic, Growing Market

"Online storage is becoming a commodity, and Google proves that to be true," BeInSync's Ruppin said.

Jungle Disk's Wright said he is excited about Google entering the on-line backup market, one that is still full of startups like his company. "Google getting in this market will help push the market," he said. "Google benefits us by validating the market."

However, he said that the on-line backup market will be monetized differently than the ad-driven model Google currently uses. "There are a lot of ad-driven online photo storage sites," he said. "But our users' primary concern is the security of their data. We offer complete encryption so no one else, including us or Amazon, can see their data."

Boebel at said that Google's move is interesting. "Competition is good for this space," he said. "It might drive prices down."

Fisher at Elephant Drive said Google's "imminent" entry into the online storage space is not new news. "It comes up every few months, and then dies down," he said. "Google says it will offer a product. Some part will be free, some will be paid. But we've seen no performance information."

The online data backup market has been heating up lately as a host of vendors and service providers large and small enter the fray.

EMC in May acquired Berkely Data Systems, developer of the technology behind the Mozy online backup business, for $76 million.

Hard drive vendor Seagate late last year acquired online backup developer EVault for $185 million to go after the small business data protection market. EVault recently unveiled its new EVault Unified Recovery platform, which now includes such features as data deduplication, replication of data to a secondary site for disaster recovery, and data self-healing capabilities.

Other storage hardware and software vendors who have recently moved into the online backup market include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Iomega, and Symantec.

In addition, several small vendors are also targeting the online backup space, often with a channel model that allows solution providers to either resell the services hosted by the vendor or host the services themselves.