Nasuni's cloud storage comparison ranks Azure ahead of Amazon S3

A cloud storage comparison conducted by Nasuni showed Microsoft edging out Amazon after a strong performance improvement over last year.

Microsoft Windows Azure Blob Storage managed to push past last year's top-ranked Amazon S3 to grab the gold in Nasuni's State of Cloud Storage Report, which evaluated five public cloud providers for performance, availability and scalability.

In last year's report, Amazon S3 took the top honors, outperforming 15 additional competitors. This year, Nasuni narrowed its cloud storage comparison to five clouds: Microsoft Windows Azure Blob Storage, Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, HP Cloud Object Storage, and Rackspace Cloud Files. The decision to focus on a smaller group was made, in part, because of the wide margin revealed last year between a handful of players at the top and the rest of the competitors, according to Nasuni executives.

Nasuni supports only Amazon and Microsoft for its customers, according to Connor Fee, director of Nasuni marketing. Nasuni sells a storage controller that caches file data on-site and sends less frequently accessed data to a cloud provider. The survey is designed to evaluate cloud storage providers the same way a storage array company would examine the performance of commodity disk drives, Fee said. "We look at these guys [cloud service providers] as suppliers," he said.

"The good news is that everyone performed better than they did last year," Fee said.

The additional good news for Nasuni is that the survey results received a lot less flak from vendors this year. Not surprisingly, a few vendors last year were unhappy with their rankings and complained about testing procedures. This year, the Nasuni report included raw data, changed the availability metric and ran multiple instances -- all things that helped validate tests for the cloud storage providers. The tests were strengthened to "make them more meaningful," Fee said.

So, how did Microsoft pull off a win? For one, the Azure offering has changed significantly since last year, and the product outperformed the field when it came to read-write performance on smaller files, according to the report. The Nasuni engineers wrote small files, read back random small files, and deleted them during the testing so the systems would be forced to search for files -- rather than pull back the ones most recently cached. When it came to scalability, Nasuni looked at how well cloud storage providers fared when the number of objects increased to hundreds of millions -- and Azure was able to handle that workload without any errors.

Still, Nasuni went out of its way to point out the Amazon features that aren't measured with laboratory tests. "While we are very excited about the new technology that Microsoft is bringing to the market, things like experience matter here," Fee said. "Maturity matters.

"Amazon has a lot more experience and has been doing this longer -- and there is a lot to be said for that," he added. "However, Microsoft has been coming out with a lot of functionality, and Microsoft has been really aggressive in pricing with enterprise customers -- and Amazon has not." The cloud storage market in 2012 included HP's move into the cloud with its Cloud Object Storage and Cloud Content Delivery, and the Nasuni survey showed HP performing well in categories such as read-and-write performance, and ranking among a closely bunched top three. In the overall category of availability, Rackspace earned the bronze, behind Microsoft (first) and Amazon (second).

The overall read-write error rate was improved so that even the fifth-place finisher had an error rate of less than 1%. Microsoft won that category with zero errors.

Perhaps the bad news for Nasuni is that Microsoft now owns a cloud storage controller after buying StorSimple in late 2012. That means Nasuni won't finish first on Microsoft's list of favorite cloud storage partners for Azure.

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