Cloud Storage: Channel Slowly Warms To Public Clouds

While solution providers who bring cloud storage to customers can cite a litany of issues related to public storage clouds, many of them have found such clouds to be indispensable to their line cards.

For many in the channel, new cloud-related storage technologies and careful consideration of which workloads are best-suited for public clouds have overcome the potential issues of security, latency and even cost.

The growing importance of public storage clouds to many solution providers coincides with a burgeoning market for services related to the technology.

[Related: Cloud Storage Week 2015: Lots Of Opportunities, Lots Of Questions]

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Spending on enterprise storage systems deployed for delivering public cloud services is expected to grow at a cumulative annual growth rate of 11 percent between 2014 and 2019, according to an October report from Framingham, Mass.-based market researcher IDC.

That will result in sales of external storage arrays and storage inside servers of $14.5 billion in 2019, up from $8.6 billion in 2014, IDC said.

Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm Gartner in June estimated that by the end of 2016, 60 percent of global companies will likely be storing customer-sensitive data in public clouds, up from under 20 percent in 2014.

Growing interest in public cloud storage stems from several factors, including increased adoption of Software-as-a-Service and cloud compute, lower capacity costs, improved collaboration between geographically dispersed business units, and a shift in budgets away from capital investments.

"The outlook continues to be positive for public cloud storage, and customers should consider augmenting their on-premises environments with public cloud storage for use cases such as content distribution, media streaming, archiving, backup and disaster recovery," Gartner wrote.

That growth outlook is music to the ears of many solution providers who have adopted public storage clouds for part or all of their storage practice.

Some solution providers have already gone all in on the idea of public cloud storage.

A lot of small businesses, especially newer ones, want to operate in a distributed model, with employees scattered geographically, and are finding public clouds the best solution, said Anthony Chiappeta, president of AMC, a San Dimas, Calif.-based managed services provider.

"They need global access to storage by employees, and the cloud is more convenient," Chiappeta told CRN. "These companies often exist in a Web browser."

Such clients are increasingly turning to the cloud, with $250 Chromebooks connecting to Amazon WorkSpaces managed desktop services, where they don't worry about security or about losing the device, Chiappeta said.

Many of AMC's clients use Amazon EC2 for block storage because of the tie-in to the Amazon cloud instances those customers build, as well as the technology's ease of use, Chiappeta said. "Just tell Amazon how much capacity you need per virtual machine, and you're done," he said. "I'm not a big fan of [storage area networks] anymore."

The one area where Chiappeta said his company looks outside Amazon on a storage basis is for file sync and share. AMC partners with Atlanta-based eFolder and its Anchor file-sync-and-share technology because of its good portal and its excellent integration with AMC's other managed services tools, Chiappeta said.

However, he said, clients replicate data from the eFolder cloud to Amazon. "We have clients who load eFolder agents on their virtual machines in Amazon to take care of the file syncing," he said. "Amazon also works well with Connectwise."

Day1 Solutions, a Falls Church, Va.-based managed services provider, both resells and helps customers connect to Amazon's cloud storage because of the cost and reliability, said Luis Benavides, Day1 CEO and founder.

It's not that Amazon is cheaper on a raw capacity basis, Benavides told CRN. Enterprise NAS, for instance, may not cost more than using Amazon Elastic Block Storage in combination with software from Houston-based SoftNAS.

"But it's not just the cost of storage," he said. "You need to look at power, cooling and people requirements. And Amazon S3 provides three copies of data for reliability. Most on-premises solutions provide only a single extra copy for resiliency. I wouldn't be too quick to assume on-premises storage is cheaper."

Benavides said his company also partners with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp, which connects its storage solutions to the Amazon cloud via Amazon's AWS Direct Connect solutions.

"This gives customers control over their physical storage with cloud on the back end," he said. "It's great where performance or policy is an issue, or as a first step to the public cloud."

Working with Amazon as a public storage cloud opens other doors for Day1, Benavides said.

"Storage may be the customer's first experience with the cloud," he said. "If we're successful, that can open the door to other cloud opportunities."

For other solution providers, public storage clouds are part of an overall storage solution that may also include private clouds and legacy on-premises solutions.

Public clouds are useful in several business situations, said Eryck Bredy, founder and chief technology officer of BNMC, an Andover, Mass.-based solution provider and managed services provider that provides its own private cloud as a service to clients but is exploring how to integrate public clouds.

Bredy told CRN that businesses requiring remote storage for disaster recovery purposes, or storage for certain applications like SAP or that have a huge public cloud focus, are big potential users of public storage cloud services. However, he said, his clients still face hurdles.

"We have clients with HIPAA [health-care privacy compliance] or Sarbanes-Oxley [accounting compliance] requirements where sensitivity to the privacy of their data is important and so we recommend private clouds," he said. "But we are exploring public clouds as it grows."

Paragon Solutions Group builds its own private cloud to in effect serve as a public cloud for customers, and for now is staying away from public clouds like AWS or Microsoft Azure, because customers want a partner that takes responsibility for their information, said Chris Dye, chief technology officer of the Minneapolis-based cloud services provider.

Paragon does use public clouds to temporarily help customers looking to quickly ramp up their cloud presence, as it takes time to build the right infrastructures, Dye told CRN.

However, he said, technology changes will push Paragon and its customers over time to embrace public storage clouds.

"We have no plans to move now," Dye said. "But as infrastructures evolve, we can see us moving in that direction over time. With technologies like VMware's NSX software-defined networking, I can't see any good reason why we wouldn't consider moving to public cloud infrastructures."

It is time for the channel to seriously look at how to work with public cloud storage, said Dan Molina, CTO at Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider that has for years built private and hybrid clouds working with technology from its primary vendor, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

While Nth has yet to work directly with a public storage cloud provider, it is coming, Molina told CRN.

"We're preparing to talk to Amazon to see how their channel transactions work," he said. "Companies like Amazon normally offer very slim margins, which is understandable. But if we want to cover our customers' requirements, we need to work with companies like Amazon."

Moving to public storage clouds is happening in fits and starts, said John Thome, vice president of Chi, a Cleveland-based solution provider.

Changes in IT staffs and budgets have the typical small and midsize business customer that Chi serves looking at whether to move completely to a public cloud, and mistakes are being made, Thome told CRN.

"We had one customer recently decide to go all cloud after working with a Microsoft consultant," he said. "But the customer found its costs doubled. We'll see what happens now. Just recently, I quoted them pricing for a new SAN."

While the use of public storage clouds is growing, channel partners said lofty expectations for cloud storage must be tempered with the reality that the cloud is not a panacea for all manner of storage ills.

The move early November by Microsoft to scale back the amount of cloud storage it offers via its OneDrive service illustrates the importance of value over price, Bredy said.

"With the cloud, there's no such thing as a free lunch," he said. "A lot of companies offer free cloud storage, but people abuse it. Users don't think about the consequences. Customers who use free storage morph their workflows into the cheap option instead of morphing the right storage option into their workflow. They end up doing things they shouldn't do as a business."