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Cloud storage 2013: Nirvanix dies, others bloom

The demise of Nirvanix cast a pall over cloud storage in 2013, but it was also a year of progress for object and open source software.

Cloud storage 2013 was a year of growing pains mixed with the maturing of technologies and standards. The demise of Nirvanix Inc., admired for its enterprise cloud storage service, taught customers important lessons about moving data into the cloud. At the same time, cloud controllers improved, online file-sharing products took steps to address IT management and security concerns, and object storage-based application programming interface standards and open source OpenStack provided more accessibility. This guide will take you through the top news and trends in cloud storage in 2013.

Nirvanix shutdown

1. Nirvanix goes away, causes turmoil for customers

Nirvanix shocked the storage industry in September when it suddenly told customers it would shut its doors.

The public storage cloud service, which was founded in 2007 and had raised $70 million in venture funding, had showed some warning signs it was struggling. In March, the provider's CEO revolving door continued when former Zynga CIO Debra Charpaty became the sixth Nirvanix boss in five years.

Another ominous sign came in June, when Nirvanix partner IBM paid $2 billion to buy cloud services provider SoftLayer. Nirvanix also faced competition from heavyweights such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Microsoft Windows Azure, which failed to match Nirvanix's enterprise features but beat it on price.

Still, no one expected Nirvanix would shut down, giving its customers and managed service provider partners a month to move their data off its cloud. Moving the data was a difficult process for many, especially those that stored data on the cloud with gateways that use a proprietary format.

The sudden demise of Nirvanix sent a warning to IT managers that use the cloud or are considering it. While the shutdown hasn't turned organizations away from cloud storage, many vow to take a closer look at the financials of their chosen cloud provider, especially if they are smaller players.

Gateways or controllers?

2. "Don't call us 'gateway vendors'"

Vendors who sell storage devices to move data to the cloud get offended if you use the term gateway to describe their product. Instead, they consider themselves cloud storage controller vendors.

Much of that transition is mere marketing, but those vendors did bulk up their features in 2013. Several added high-end features and functions such as flash storage and cloud mirroring for multi-site disaster recovery (DR).

Nasuni Corp. added its first cloud storage controller with flash storage this year, using flash as cache. Nasuni also added a mirroring option that replicates data between cloud providers for DR.

TwinStrata Inc. added Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) to its CloudArray device, along with volume migration to improve performance and an automated snapshot scheduler.

Panzura, which won a multimillion-dollar deal with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys in December 2012, is pitching to customers looking for enterprise-level network-attached storage for primary storage. The Panzura Global Cloud Storage System's Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 security validation gives the startup the ability to attract more government customers.

Confronting security

3. Online file-sharing vendors add security and central controls

Online file sharing has caught on like wildfire in recent years as employees started using products that allowed them to easily sync data across mobile devices. But the rampant use caused headaches for IT administrators who suddenly had to deal with potential security issues due to workers storing corporate data on personal devices. In 2013, online file-sharing vendors concentrated on adding security and management features for IT.

Since acquiring Syncplicity in 2012, EMC Corp. has steadily built up the file-sharing platform. Syncplicity cloud storage 2013 upgrades included a redesign of its mobile client function to make it easier for users to edit and share documents in Syncplicity, a policy-based Storage Vault, and Secure Shared Links.

Dropbox integrated Microsoft Active Directory and a single sign-on feature to its file-syncing and file-sharing service. Dropbox also enhanced its enterprise service with a redesigned console to give administrators deeper visibility into users' data usage and activity.

Sync-and-share vendor Egnyte Inc. integrated its EgnytePlus with third-party providers such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Google Cloud Storage, Microsoft Azure and NetApp StorageGRID.

Enterprise storage vendors NetApp Inc. and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) followed EMC into the sync-and-share market. NetApp Connect uses technology from acquired startup ionGrid, while HDS's HCP Anywhere is an online file-sharing service built into the Hitachi Content Platform object storage archiving system.

Adopting standards

4. Amazon S3 API gains traction among developers

The storage industry is not known for its quick adoption of standards, and lack of a standards for object storage hurt adoption of the cloud-building technology.

In this case, the market determined the standard. Object storage vendors and cloud storage providers have added support for the Amazon S3 application programming interface (API), making it the de facto standard.

Amplidata AmpliStor, Caringo CloudScaler 2.0, Cleversafe dsNet, EMC Atmos, DataDirect Networks Web Object Scaler, Scality Ring and others all support the Amazon S3 API.

Introduced in 2006, Amazon S3 uses a simple Web services interface to store objects in the online Amazon infrastructure. The object has four parts -- metadata, value, key and access -- and is available in the REST and SOAP protocols with responses formatted in XML. It leads the pack among developers because it is a simple API to write to, with controls such as uploading and downloading, authentication, and authorization.

Despite the popularity of the S3 API, there is still a debate in the storage world whether it will win out as the long-term standard. Some view the richer OpenStack object storage API as a solid competitor to the Amazon API.

Open source storage

5. Cloud storage 2013: OpenStack Swift as a cheaper alternative

Open source moved into the cloud storage API debate in a big way in 2013. SwiftStack, a core contributor to the OpenStack Swift community, launched its first product this year: a private storage cloud system built on OpenStack Swift software and commodity hardware.

SwiftStack positions the object storage platform as a lower-cost alternative to public clouds such as Amazon, and it is used by cloud providers such as Rackspace and HP Cloud. The OpenStack Object Storage (Swift) is a scalable redundant storage system in which objects and files are written to multiple disk drives throughout servers in the data center.

The goal is to allow erasure-coded data and replicated data to coexist in the same cluster. Box Inc., EVault Inc. and Intel Corp. join SwiftStack as key collaborators on the open source development effort to add erasure coding to Swift.

Seagate Technology LLC also moved into the open source object storage game in October with the Kinetic Open Storage Platform, consisting of modified high-capacity hard drives and an open source API supported by OpenStack Object Storage.

The drives are due in mid-2014, but their success will depend on how much industry support Seagate can muster to develop applications for the Kinetic platform.

Red Hat expands

6. Red Hat Inc. joins the cloud with OpenStack

Red Hat expanded its move into storage in 2013 with the integration of its storage software and its distribution of RedHat OpenStack cloud technology. The integration of Red Hat Storage and Red Hat OpenStack, which includes Swift object storage and Cinder block storage, followed an April announcement that the company's supported OpenStack distribution had advanced from preview state to early adopter program.

Red Hat Storage is suited to unstructured data such as documents, images, audio and video files, virtual machine images, log files, DR copies, and objects; it is not intended for use with relational databases.