Is storage as a service back?

Nearly 10 years after the dotcom bust killed off the first crop of storage service providers (SSPs), storage-as-a-service is back, and this time it might just take off.

Big names are involved - from EMC and Seagate to Microsoft and Google - and unlike the SSPs, the services on offer are well developed and relatively inexpensive.

The idea is simple: instead of hosting your own storage, you rent capacity and access it over the network. Advantages include outsourcing storage management and shifting cost from the capital budget onto operating expenses, and of course a service provider can achieve the sort of economies of scale that the average business could only dream of.

The biggest use for storage as a service so far has been online backup, but more are now emerging. For instance, several providers, including Microsoft with its Live Mesh and My Phone services, also promote it as a way to synchronise data across multiple client devices, or share files and folders with other users.

A third opportunity is archiving, because an online repository could gather data from many different systems and make it all searchable. Yet another is to host corporate videos with a service provider.

Many organisations remain wary of the concept though. Some cite privacy or data security concerns, others worry about availability and the network bandwidth needed, and then there is the question of whether there really are cost savings to be had.

As a result, most of the storage services around are aimed at individuals, and they are used as secondary storage - as an external hard disk or tape drive might be - says Hamish Macarthur, chief executive of analyst house Macarthur Stroud International.

"We are now starting to see resellers picking picking up services from the likes of BT Global Services to offer to small businesses," he adds. "But in essence, it is for consumers, and basically it's backup - it tends to impose discipline that they didn't have before.

"There are one or two examples of it as primary storage, but that's not going to be a prime model, although the suppliers would like it to be."

Hosted backup

Whilst any online storage could in theory be used as a backup target, services such as Asigra, Carbonite, EMC's Mozy, HP Upline, iDrive and Seagate's i365 eVault are dedicated to backup.

The advantage for the smaller IT department is there is no longer any need to change tapes and move them off-site, says Georgette Banham, the IT & business systems manager at AE&E Lentjes UK, which backs up its servers using Iron Mountain's LiveVault service.

"A managed service suited us in terms of ensuring consistency with the backup," she says. "The advantages are ease of operation and business continuity - LiveVault offers high availability and restore, regardless of location."

It also encourages better storage management practices, she adds. For instance, it makes it important to archive project data so that backup costs do not rise. And she says there have been no bandwidth issues.