Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Public Cloud Storage – Gold Rush or Great Bust?

Depending on your source, public cloud storage offerings are growing with wild success or look more like the average boat investment. We work with a wide variety of cloud storage providers, ranging from the world’s largest installations with many petabytes under management all the way to local MSPs with well less than 100 TB usable capacity. While scale may help with unit cost, it is far from the best measure or predictor of success. We know providers where storage revenues aren’t covering the power bill to keep their disks spinning and others that can’t add capacity fast enough to satisfy growing demand. 

So what separates the pack?

At the risk of being cliché: “Knowing your audience”. Just like it’s the difference between a standing ovation and everyone staring at their smartphones in public speaking, success depends on delivering a well-articulated, targeted message (and offering).
  1. Not a field of dreams – If you’re counting on brand new customers to drive revenues for your storage offering, save yourself a lot of time and money and pack it in now. If you build it, they won’t come.  There are far too many offerings in the market to be successful with your version. Seriously, unless your core business is cloud storage and you are dedicating every last company resource to it, you will not be successful.

    However, a new cloud storage offering as an enhancement for your existing customers can be very lucrative. The average organization is facing immense storage problems and there’s a lot of money out there for helping to solve these issues.  You need to already have the trust of your customers to start the necessary conversations to help them.
  2. Verticalize – While not an absolute requirement, there are much stronger adoption rates for cloud storage in certain verticals than others and for often very different reasons.  Targeting verticals that already are considering cloud storage will save you immensely in wasted marketing dollars and dead-end conversations. 
  3. Create Packages – Offer packages built around common cloud storage use cases that are relevant to your customer base. It will help your customers understand how they can use your offering and frame discussions for your sales team to engage with. Cloud storage truly is the Swiss army knife of data storage; it’s pretty good at a lot of things. But like a Swiss army knife, until you figure out those first couple of important uses, it will just sit in a drawer rather than being in your pocket wherever you go. 
  4. Partner with a Storage Gateway provider – Self-serving point, perhaps.  But regardless of which provider you choose, teaming up with a storage gateway is critical to be successful.  Cloud storage APIs are new concepts to most organizations and modifying applications and business workflows to use them is time and resource consuming. Getting the changes into production can literally take years and glossing over this with customers will quickly lose them before they even get started. And that flashy Web UI and trusty CLI tool you have may demo great, but it’s a long stretch to fit these into most customer’s existing workflows.

    Storage gateways remove these challenges upfront and dramatically simplify a business’s ability to get started with cloud storage. We’ve spent years designing and building our products to fit seamlessly into existing environments and start solving customer problems immediately. Storage is extremely sticky.  Once customers solve a real problem with your solution using a gateway, there are many more opportunities with them that will follow.
  5. Be transparent – Let your customers know how your offering is built.  Cloud “standards” are far from being standard (see my previous post).  Being upfront with your customers on how and why your offering is built the way it is will go a long way in starting a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. Security is invariably cited as the number one inhibitor to cloud storage adoption. While protecting bytes is obviously part of this, security is largely business speak for trusting the provider.
Demand for public cloud storage is growing rapidly. Capturing your piece requires a clear, targeted offering that your customers can understand and start using to solve their problems immediately.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

An API by any other name

Amazon S3 and OpenStack Swift have emerged as the two application programming interface (API) “standards” that cloud and object storage providers have centered around. Nearly every vendor has released or is in the process of developing an interface to their storage platform according to one or both of these APIs. Even tech giant Google provides a fairly comprehensive compatibility API to Amazon’s S3. But what do these “standards” really mean?

Unfortunately, it just means customers have to ask a lot more questions. How do you handle large files? What is a large file in your system? How is metadata updated? How is authentication handled? What about storing content in multiple regions? Is the underlying S3 compatible platform from EMC, Scality, someone else? Is your Openstack API from Swift or Ceph? Even within the same platform, there are differences. Is the storage system running OpenStack Swift with the Essex or Grizzly release? Think it doesn’t matter? Guess again…

We spend a great deal of time with cloud storage service providers, object storage vendors, and our customers working through compatibility issues. At least at the moment, the only thing “standard” about different implementations of these APIs is the name. Learning the differences has been anything but straightforward. For completely unknown reasons, some cloud storage providers are reluctant to disclose which underlying storage platform they’re using. Some object storage vendors are requiring secret handshakes to get the internal compatibility matrix to these API “standards”. 

There’s absolutely no shame in being different. Anyone who’s worked with any of these APIs at length knows there’s good and bad in all of them and frankly, supporting only a subset of one can actually be a benefit. Understanding the differences is the only way customers can make an educated decision on adopting your service or platform.

Our industry has long since given up on tempering Marketing’s zeal to claim all things to all people. We get it, at Internet speed and today’s competitive environment; being caught with yesterday’s capabilities is a real risk.  And besides most towns do look the same at 39,000 feet, but you still need to pack a very different bag if you’re landing in Albuquerque vs. Anchorage. With more and more adaptations of these “standards” coming out almost monthly, every organization owes it to customers and prospects to clearly disclose what their implementation really means. Trust me, everyone will thank you for it.