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Amazon attempts to win over enterprises with cloud storage gateway

Stuart J. Johnston, Senior News Writer

Like many public cloud service providers, Amazon Web Services has made a good business from SMBs but, like most other cloud players, has had a tough time attracting enterprise customers.

Incompatibilities between AWS’ public cloud and customers' on-premises storage of critical data are among enterprise IT concerns.

With AWS Storage Gateway (SG), now in beta, Amazon offers a storage service built on a software-based appliance that lets companies continue to store data in private clouds while backing it up to AWS' cloud-based Simple Storage Service (S3) in the background.

The new thing here is the perceptual shift that will result: IT managers will now be running AWS code behind their firewalls, a fact which will enhance the perception of AWS as an enterprise player.

Shlomo Swidler, CEO of Orchestratus Inc.

SG is only a partial solution for many enterprise shops, but it's a start for others, particularly for data protection and disaster recovery (DR) scenarios. One long-time AWS user said it may help enterprise IT staff get a little more comfortable running certain types of applications in the public cloud.

"AWS Storage Gateway is nothing new technologically -- other vendors have been offering similar service for a while," said Shlomo Swidler, CEO of Orchestratus Inc., a cloud computing consultancy. "The new thing here is the perceptual shift that will result: IT managers will now be running AWS code behind their firewalls, a fact which will enhance the perception of AWS as an enterprise player," Swidler added.

That's part of the plan.

Once the AWS Storage Gateway’s software appliance is installed on a local host, you can mount Storage Gateway volumes to on-premises application servers as iSCSI devices, enabling a wide variety of systems and applications to use them. Data written to these volumes is maintained on the on-premises storage hardware while being asynchronously backed up to AWS, where it is stored in Amazon S3 in the form of Amazon EBS (Elastic Block Store) snapshots, explained Werner Vogels, Amazon's CTO, in a recent blog post.

That brings up one shortcoming -- the current release uses the gateway to store data volumes.

"You have to have enough storage for all of your data," said Dan Streufert, IT director at thermoplastics molding manufacturer MedPlast, Inc. The company, which has some 600 employees, uses AWS for cloud services. Though it considered SG, the company opted to stay with a competing product from StorSimple.

StorSimple supports an SSD-based hardware tier, provides redundant controllers for failover and performs data deduplication besides just data compression as SG does, Streufert said.

"SGW is good if you are looking to store a moderate amount of data inexpensively, with moderate uptime requirements. It has its place, but the StorSimple solution is more robust," Streufert added.

Amazon officials plan to update to only caching volumes on SG "soon."

SGW is good if you are looking to store a moderate amount of data inexpensively, with moderate uptime requirements. It has its place, but the StorSimple solution is more robust.

Dan Streufert, IT director at MedPlast, Inc.

As for criticisms that enterprises are worried about the safety of their data, and whether committing to SG leaves open questions about vendor lock-in, Amazon officials point out that the data is stored using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256, symmetric-key encryption with 256-bit keys.

Additionally, Amazon claims some enterprise customers have been using AWS to house important data for some time, pointing to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which uses S3 to store data from the Mars Rover.

Matt Gerber, CEO of IT disaster recovery and data vaulting firm IT-Lifeline, which is planning to be an early adopter of AWS SG, concedes that financial services and health care customers are not ready to commit highly sensitive information to SG, largely due to regulatory considerations.

"They're willing to put a toe in the water [but] they're not … going to trust their critical data [in the cloud]," Gerber said.

Vendor lock-in, however, is less of a threat to IT users than some critics and competitors portray it, according to Orchestratus' Swidler. "I don't see lock-in as a big hang-up here. It's very easy to get your data out of AWS for reasonable cost via AWS Export," Swidler added.


Stuart J. Johnston is Senior News Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at sjohnston@techtarget.com.


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