There comes a point when it is not just about storage space

Is the difference between cloud storage provides about free space? In a word, no. I wrote about the cloud storage wars and potential bubble here:

The cloud storage wars heat up

http://avoa.com/2014/04/29/the-cloud-storage-wars-heat-up/

4 reasons cloud storage is not a bubble about to pop

http://avoa.com/2014/03/24/4-reasons-cloud-storage-is-not-a-bubble-about-to-pop/

Each of the providers is doing their part to drive value into their respective solutions. To some, value includes the amount of ‘free’ disk space included. Just today, Microsoft upped the ante by offering unlimited free space for their OneDrive and OneDrive for Business solutions.

Is there value in the amount of free space? Maybe, but only to a point. Once they offer an amount above the normal needs (or unlimited), the value becomes a null. I do not have statistics, but would hazard a venture that ‘unlimited’ is more marketing leverage where most users only consume less than 50GB each.

Looking beyond free space

Once a provider offers unlimited storage, one needs to look at the feature/ functionality of the solution. Not all solutions are built the same nor offer similar levels. Enterprise features, integration, ease of use and mobile access are just a few of the differentiators. Even with unlimited storage, if the solution does not offer the feature you need, storage value is greatly diminished.

The big picture

For most, cloud storage is about replacing a current solution. On the surface the amount of free storage is a quick pickup. However, the real issue is in the compatibility and value beyond just the amount of free storage. Does the solution integrate with existing solutions? How broad is their ecosystem? What about Single Sign On (SSO) support? How much work will it take to implement and train users? These are just a few of the factors that must be considered.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 10/27/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/10/there-comes-a-point-when-it-is-not-just-about-storage-space/

Is the cloud unstable and what can we do about it?

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 9/29/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/09/is-the-cloud-instable-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/

 

The recent major reboots of cloud-based infrastructure by Amazon and Rackspace has resurfaced the question about cloud instability. Days before the reboot, both Amazon and Rackspace noted that the reboots were due to a vulnerability with Zen. Barb Darrow of Gigaom covered this in detail here. Ironically, all of this came less than a week before the action took place, leaving many flat-footed.

Outages are not new

First, let us admit that outages (and reboots) are not unique to cloud-based infrastructure. Traditional corporate data centers face unplanned outages and regular system reboots. For Microsoft-based infrastructure, reboots may happen monthly due to security patch updates. Back in April 2011, I wrote a piece Amazon Outage Concerns are Overblown. Amazon had just endured another outage of their Virginia data center that very day. In response, customers and observers took shots at Amazon. However, is Amazon’s outage really the problem? In the piece, I suggested that customers were misunderstanding the problem when they think about cloud-based infrastructure services.

Cloud expectations are misguided

As with the piece back in 2011, the expectations of cloud-based infrastructure have not changed much for enterprise customers. The expectation has been (and still is) that cloud-based infrastructure is resilient just like that within the corporate data center. The truth is very different. There are exceptions, but the majority of cloud-based infrastructure is not built for hardware resiliency. That’s by design. The expectation by service providers is that application/ service resiliency rests further up the stack when you move to cloud. That is very different than traditional application architectures found in the corporate data center where infrastructure provides the resiliency.

Time to expect failure in the cloud

Like many of the web-scale applications using cloud-based infrastructure today, enterprise applications need to rethink their architecture. If the assumption is that infrastructure will fail, how will that impact architectural decisions? When leveraging cloud-based infrastructure services from Amazon or Rackspace, this paradigm plays out well. If you lose the infrastructure, the application keeps humming away. Take out a data center, and users are still not impacted. Are we there yet? Nowhere close. But that is the direction we must take.

Getting from here to there

Hypothetically, if an application were built with the expectation of infrastructure failure, the recent failures would not have impacted the delivery to the user. Going further, imagine if the application could withstand a full data center outage and/ or a core intercontinental undersea fiber cut. If the expectation were for complete infrastructure failure, then the results would be quite different. Unfortunately, the reality is just not there…yet.

The vast majority of enterprise applications were never designed for cloud. Therefore, they need to be tweaked, re-architected or worse, completely rewritten. There’s a real cost to do so! Just because the application could be moved to cloud does not mean the economics are there to support it. Each application needs to be evaluated individually.

Building the counterargument

Some may say that this whole argument is hogwash. So, let us take a look at the alternative. If one does build cloud-based infrastructure to be resilient like that of its corporate brethren, it would result in a very expensive venture at a minimum. Infrastructure is expensive. Back in the 1970’s a company called Tandem Computers had a solution to this with their NonStop system. In the 1990’s, the Tandem NonStop Himalayan class systems were all the rage…if you could afford them. NonStop was particularly interesting for financial services organizations that 1) could not afford the downtime and 2) had the money to afford the system. Consequently, Tandem was acquired by Compaq who in turn was acquired by HP. NonStop is now owned by HP as part of their Integrity NonStop products. Aside from Tandem’s solutions, even with all of the infrastructure redundancy, many are still just a data center outage away of impacting an application. The bottom line is: It is impossible to build a 100% resilient infrastructure. That is true either due to 1) it is cost prohibitive and 2) becomes a statistical probability problem. For many, the value comes down to the statistic probably of an outage compared with the protections taken.

Making the move

Over the past five years or so, companies have looked at the economics to build redundancy (and resiliency) at the infrastructure layer. The net result is a renewed focus on moving away from infrastructure resiliency and toward low-cost hardware. The thinking is: infrastructure is expensive and resiliency needs to move up the stack. The challenge is changing the paradigm of how application redundancy is handled by developers of corporate applications.

Seven Things the CIO should consider when adopting a holistic cloud strategy

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 8/25/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/08/seven-things-the-cio-should-consider-when-adopting-a-holistic-cloud-strategy/

 

As conversations about cloud computing continues to focus on IT’s inability at holistic adoption, organizations outside of IT continue their cloud adoption trek outside the prevue of IT. While many of these efforts are considered Shadow IT efforts and frowned upon by the IT organization, they are simply a response to a wider problem.

The IT organization needs to adopt a holistic cloud strategy. However, are CIOs really ready for this approach? Michael Keithley, Creative Artists Agency’s CIO just returned from CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Symposium which brings together the industry’s best IT leaders. In his blog post, he notes that “(he) was shocked to find that even among this elite group of CIOs there were still a significant amount of CIOs who where resisting cloud.” While that perspective is widely shared, it does not represent all CIOs. There are still a good number of CIOs that have moved to a holistic cloud strategy. The problem is that most organizations are still in a much earlier state of adoption.

In order to develop a holistic cloud strategy, it is important to follow a well-defined process. The four steps are straightforward and fit just about any organization:

  1. Assess: Provide a holistic assessment of the entire IT organization, applications and services that is business focused, not technology focused. For the CIO, they are a business leader that happens to have responsibility for technology. Understand what is differentiating and what is not.
  2. Roadmap: Use the options and recommendations from the assessment to provide a roadmap. The roadmap outlines priority and valuations that ultimately drive the alignment of IT.
  3. Execute: This is where the rubber hits the road. IT organizations will learn more about themselves through action. For many, it is important to start small (read: lower risk) and ramp up quickly.
  4. Re-Assess & Adjust: As the IT organization starts down the path of execution, lessons are learned and adjustments needed. Those adjustments will span technology, organization, process and governance. Continual improvement is a key hallmark to staying in tune with the changing demands.

For many, following this process alone is not enough to develop a holistic cloud strategy. In order to successfully leverage a cloud-based solution, several things need to change that may contradict current norms. Today, cloud is leveraged in many ways from Software as a Service (SaaS) to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). However, it is most often a very fractured and disjointed approach to leveraging cloud. Yet, the very applications and services in play require that organizations consider a holistic approach in order to work most effectively.

When considering a holistic cloud strategy, there are a number of things the CIO needs to consider including these six:

  1. Challenge the Status Quo: This is one of the hardest changes as the culture within IT developed over decades. One example is changing the mindset that ‘critical systems may not reside outside your own data center’ is not trivial. On the other hand, leading CIOs are already “getting out of the data center business.” Do not get trapped by the cultural norms and the status quo.
  2. Differentiation: Consider which applications and services are true differentiators for your company. Focus on the applications and services that provide strategic value and shift more common functions (ie: email) to alternative solutions like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps.
  3. Align with Business Strategy: Determine how IT can best enable and catapult the company’s business strategy. If IT is interested in making a technology shift, consider if it will bring direct positive value to the business strategy. If it does not, one should ask a number of additional questions determining the true value of the change. With so much demand on IT, focus should be on those changes that bring the highest value and align with the business strategy.
  4. Internal Changes: Moving to cloud changes how organizations, processes and governance models behave. A simple example is how business continuity and disaster recovery processes will need to change in order to accommodate the introduction of cloud-based services. For organizations, cloud presents both an excitement of something new and a fear from loss of control and possible job loss. CIOs need to ensure that this area is well thought out before proceeding.
  5. Vendor Management: Managing a cloud provider is not like every other existing vendor relationship. Vendor management comes into sharp focus with the cloud provider that spans far more than just the terms of the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
  6. Exit Strategy: Think about the end before getting started. Exiting a cloud service can happen for good or bad reasons. Understand what the exit terms are and in what for your data will exist. Exporting a flat file could present a challenge if the data is in a structured database. However, that may be the extent of the provider’s responsibility. When considering alternative providers, recognize that shifting workloads across providers is not necessarily as trivial as it might sound. It is important to think this through before engaging.
  7. Innovation: Actively seek out ways to adopt new solutions and methodologies. For example, understand the value from Devops, OpenStack, Containers and Converged Infrastructure. Each of these may challenge traditional thinking, which is ok.

Those are seven of the top issues that often come up in the process of setting a holistic cloud strategy. Cloud offers the CIO, the IT organization and the company as a whole one of the greatest opportunities today. Cloud is significant, but only the tip of the iceberg. For the CIO and their organization, there are many more opportunities beyond cloud today that are already in the works.

The number of 9’s don’t matter but business metrics do

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 8/11/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/08/the-number-of-9s-dont-matter-but-business-metrics-do/

Information Technology (IT) organizations across the globe use a number of metrics to measure their success, failure and standing. One of the more popular metrics is the ‘number of 9’s’ as a measure of system uptime. Why use 9’s? It is relatively easy for technology organizations to measure system performance. Unfortunately, it does not matter outside of IT.

What are 9s?

The number of 9’s refers to the percentage of system uptime. Typically, we hear about three 9’s, four 9’s or five 9’s. Three 9’s refers to 99.9% uptime, or .1% downtime whereas five 9’s refers to an ever-illusive 99.999% uptime or a mere .001% downtime.

These metrics have been used for a very long time; from internal IT organizations reporting status to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) from service providers. The number of 9’s is used as a metric to set performance targets…and measure progress toward them. The problem is, they are technology focused. When looking at the inverse as a function of downtime, it equates to the following table:

Downtime TableEven at four-9’s, that equates to a maximum of only 52.56 minutes of downtime per year. Unfortunately, this means very little if the company is in retail and those 52 minutes of downtime came during Black Friday or Cyber Monday. In addition, the number may be artificially low as other factors may not be included in the calculation.

The Fallacy of Planned vs. Unplanned Downtime

First, it is important to differentiate between scheduled downtime and unplanned downtime (outages). Most measure their system performance based on the amount of unplanned downtime and exclude any scheduled downtime from the calculations. There has been an ongoing debate for years whether to include scheduled downtime.

Arguably, if a system is down (planned or unplanned), it is still down and unavailable. In today’s world of 24×7, 100% uptime expectations, planned downtime must be considered. Ironically, the inclusion of planned downtime causes uptime figures to drop and may cause a rethinking of how applications and services are architected.

Technology Metrics

In today’s world, do these metrics even make sense anymore? They are not business metrics…unless you are a service provider that makes your business about uptime. For the majority of IT organizations, these metrics are just ‘technology’ metrics that have little to no relevance to the business at hand. Just ask a line of business owner what five-9’s means to their line of business. For IT, it is hard to connect the dots between percentage uptime and true business impact. And by business impact, this refers to business impact measured in dollars.

Business Metrics

If not 9’s, what business metrics should IT be focused on? Most companies use a common set of metrics to gauge business progress. Those may include Cost to Acquire a Customer (CAC), Lifetime Value of Customer (LVC) and Gross Margin. Customer engagement is a key area of focus that includes customer acquisition, retention & churn. For IT, these metrics may seem very foreign. However, to a company, they are very real. Increasingly so, IT must connect the dots between that new technology and the value it brings to business metrics. As IT evolves to a business focused organization, so should their metrics of success.

The Role of the CIO

The CIO, above all others, is best positioned to take the lead in this transformation. Instead of looking for ways to express technological impact, look for ways to express business impact. It may seem like a subtle change in nomenclature, but the impact is huge. Business metrics provide a single view that all parts of a company can directly work toward improving.

A good starting point is to understand how the company makes money. Start with reading the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. Are there any hotspots that IT can contribute to? And what (business) metrics should IT use to measure their progress.

Not only will this shift IT thinking to be business focused, it will also highlight better alignment with other business leaders across the company.

Death of the Data Center

Back in 2011, Mark Thiele (@mthiele10), Jan Wiersma (@jmwiersma) and I shared the stage at a conference in London, England for a panel discussion on the future of data centers. The three of us are founding board members with Data Center Pulse; an industry association of data center owners and operators with over 6,000 members that span the globe.

Our common theme for the panel: Death of the Data Center. Our message was clear and poignant. After decades of data center growth, a significant change was both needed and on the horizon. And this change was about to turn the entire industry in its head. The days of building and operating data centers of all shapes, sizes and types throughout the world was about to end. The way data centers are consumed has changed.

Fast forward the clock to 2014, a different conference (ECF/ DCE) and a different city (Monte Carlo, Monaco). The three of us shared the stage once again to touch on a variety of subjects ranging from SMAC to DCIM to the future of data centers. During my opening keynote presentation on the first day, I referred back to our statement from three years earlier professing “Death of the Data Center.”

Of course, making this statement at a Cloud and Data Center conference might have bordered on heresy. But the point still needed to be made. And it was more important today than ever. The tectonic shift we discussed three years in London was already starting to play out. Yet, the industry as a whole was still trying to ignore the fact that evolution was taking over. And by industry I’m referring to both internal IT organizations along with data center and service providers. How we look at data centers was changing and neither side was ready to admit change was afoot.

The Tectonic Data Center Evolution

During the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, a shift in IT spending took place. At the same time, cloud computing was truly making its own entrance. Companies of all sizes (and their IT organizations) were pulling back their spending and rethinking what ‘strategic spending’ really meant. Coming into focus was the significant costs associated with owning and operating data centers. The common question: Do we still really needed our own data center?

This is a tough question to consider for those that always believed that data, applications, and systems needed to be in their own data center in order to be 1) manageable and 2) secure. Neither of those hold true today. In fact, by many accounts, the typical enterprise data center is less secure than the alternatives (colocation or cloud).

The reality is: This shift has already started, but we are still in the early days. Colocation is not new, but the options and maturity of the alternatives is getting more and more impressive. The cloud solutions that are part of a data center’s ecosystem are equally impressive.

Data Center Demand

Today, there is plenty of data center capacity. However, there is not much new capacity being built by data center providers due to the fear of over capacity and idle resources. The problem is, when the demand from enterprises starts to ramp up. It takes years to bring a new data center facility online. We know the demand is coming, but when. And when it does, it will create a constraint on data center capacity until new capacity is built. I wrote about this in my post Time to get on the Colocation Train Before it is Too Late.

Are Data Centers Dying?

In a word, are data centers going away? No. However, if you are an enterprise running your own data center, expect a significant shift. At a minimum, the size of your existing data center is shrinking if not completely going away. And if you are in an industry with regulatory or compliance requirements, the changes still apply. I have worked with companies some of the most regulated and sensitive industries including Healthcare, Financial Services and Government Intelligence Communities. All of which are considering some form of colocation and cloud today.

Our point was not to outline a general demise of data centers, but to communicate an impending shift in how data centers are consumed. To some, there was indeed a demise of data centers coming. However, to others, it would generate significant opportunity. The question where are you in this equation and are you prepared for the impending shift?

HP Launches Helion to Address Enterprise Cloud Adoption

Today, HP takes a huge step forward to address the broad and evolving enterprise cloud demand through their HP Helion announcement. HP Helion presents HP’s strategy to provide a comprehensive cloud portfolio. As HP’s CEO Meg Whitman mentioned, “HP is in it to win.” HP is investing over $1b in their cloud-based solutions. It’s clear that HP is working hard to win the new enterprise game.

Traditional IT demand is not going away, but the demand for cloud is increasing. Most enterprises struggle to leverage traditional IT while adopting Transformational IT. Providers, such as HP, need to address this complex and hybrid approach. With Helion, HP ups the ante in addressing this demand.

Today, HP launches their Helion brand encompassing their entire cloud portfolio. The formerly know HP Cloud solution is now part of the Helion branding. But the key change isn’t the branding change. It’s the end-to-end products that address an enterprise’s needs regardless of their state of cloud adoption.

Open Source Software Part of HP’s Strategy

HP’s commitment to OpenStack is not new. They have two board members as part of the OpenStack Foundation. And their further commitment to embrace OpenStack as part of their core cloud offerings furthers both HP and the OpenStack movement as a whole. OpenStack is a key opportunity for enterprises and service providers alike. However, open source software, and specifically OpenStack has presented significant challenges for enterprise adoption.

One of the first solutions from HP is their OpenStack Community Edition (OCE). OCE is intended for entry-level use up to 30 nodes. OCE is an approachable way for enterprises interested in OpenStack to get started. For enterprises interested in going beyond 30 nodes, HP’s commercial solution bridges the gap.

OCE is not only open source, but supported by HP. It’s also one of the first distributions based on the OpenStack Icehouse release. HP intends to ship updates every six weeks, which will keep the distribution fresh. HP OCE is available today as a free download.

Also announced today was HP’s commitment to Cloud Foundry. Cloud Foundry presents an additional opportunity for enterprises to embrace cloud through PaaS. For many enterprises, PaaS presents the solution between a core infrastructure solution and SaaS solutions. Plus, PaaS provides portability for applications based on a specific platform.

In Summary

HP Helion presents one of the most comprehensive end-to-end solutions for enterprises today. OpenStack is very interesting for enterprises, but difficult to consume. Helion lowers the bar and gives enterprises options they’ve been clamoring for.

First Impressions of EMC World

EMC World, EMC’s core annual conference is this week in Las Vegas and there are a number of very core things to watch out for. EMC’s presence in the enterprise space is legendary. However the enterprise space is gaining momentum in the enterprise IT evolution. The question is: Is EMC in a position to support these changes and continue to provide the leadership they’re known for. Bottom line: Companies are moving to the cloud. On the surface, this could present disaster for EMC. Key will be EMC’s ability to shift and help customers embrace the cloud.

Importance of Storage

Storage has grown up. No longer are the days where storage is just a place to store data and files. Storage is now key to the success of any given application. EMC clearly understands this and needs to evolve to this change. This is new! But it provides a radical shift in opportunity for companies like EMC. Look for EMC to make the connection between applications and storage.

Partnerships & Ecosystem Development

EMC provides leadership to enables IT to provide greater business value. The key is to evolve quickly and provide solutions that are needed both today and moving forward.

One could argue that no one company can (or should) be everything to everyone. Even very large enterprise providers such as EMC, need to embrace this shift. One example of EMC’s recent shift is their partnership with SAP. Frankly, this is a great sign of maturity on the part of EMC. Similarly, HP recently started providing their ‘Shark’ solutions for SAP’s HANA. Look for EMC to embrace this relationship and look to other key relationships between EMC and key enterprise players.

Open Source Software Integration

It is clear that open source software (like OpenStack) is changing the way enterprise solutions are built and consumed within a completely new economic model. The more mature enterprise-class providers will acknowledge this shift and embrace it. Look for EMC to provide greater integration with open source solutions.

Enterprise to Service Provider Shifts

Historically, enterprise-class providers create solutions specifically for enterprises…not service providers. Service provider requirements are quite different from that of their enterprise counterparts. At the same time, the shift in demand from enterprise to service provider happens over time, not all at once. Look for EMC to acknowledge this shift in terms of integration between solutions and changes in their management tools. The impact of general-purpose storage solutions also changes the paradigm for EMC. EMC needs to demonstrate value beyond the underlying physical hardware.

The VMware and Pivotal Impact

A constant question for EMC is how VMware and Pivotal play a role in EMC’s future. Both companies provide solutions that support the evolving changes within the enterprise. But potentially create a loggerhead for openness. Can EMC embrace the changes and innovation from both VMware and Pivotal, but still maintain flexibility in their open approach to alternative solutions? Look for indications of this through their partnerships and reference architectures.

Timing is Everything

EMC provides core storage solutions for key enterprise applications. In many ways, these are the very applications that are both sensitive to enterprises and harder to move. In both cases, this translates to risk. Enterprise customers have been hesitant to make the shift from traditional storage solutions to alternative approaches. That attitude is changing. Change is no longer an option it is a requirement. How is EMC taking a leadership role to help existing enterprise customers make this shift? Look for EMC to provide examples of flexibility beyond the traditional enterprise constraints.

In Summary

This year, more than any in the past, is a watershed year for EMC. This year, the stars are aligning where customers are open for change, looking for help and ready to get started. The traditional enterprise sacred cows are up for grab. Now is the time for EMC to demonstrate how they can make this shift and continue to provide leadership to the enterprise customer.

Initial Impressions from IBM Impact

This week is IBM’s Impact Conference in Las Vegas. In past years, IBM conveyed components of different strategies around Mobile and Cloud. However, they have since moved to an integrated approach. This integrated approach is great, but offers a few challenges for an incumbent such as IBM. Here are some things to watch for this week:

Hardware is King

Many of the conversations at Impact have mentioned IBM’s heritage and leadership in the hardware space. This year, IBM celebrates 50 years of the mainframe. And there is plenty of innovative work IBM is doing in the hardware space.

The question is not about IBM’s leadership in hardware. It is more around their longer-term vision. IBM is a company challenged with keeping existing customers engaged (many of which are hardware customers), while engaging an even strong software and services story. The days of the general purpose processor that supports a myriad of applications is less important than specific infrastructure geared toward highly specialized workloads that run at scale.

The Shift in Enterprise Demand

Enterprises are still buying hardware today. But the demand for hardware is shifting from enterprises to service providers. As such, providers like IBM must evolve their software, management and tools to support the change in customers. This impacts the usability for enterprises and service providers alike. And vendors like IBM need to both acknowledge these shifts…and have an answer to the demand.

The Converged Story

Many want to talk about mobile and cloud in specific silos. IBM has been no different in the past. However, at Impact this week, IBM is talking the converged story around both mobile and cloud. This is a key shift in thinking that mirrors the holistic thinking any enterprise should take.

The SoftLayer Parlay

IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer presented a brilliant opportunity to build a platform for the future. IBM needs to continue innovating and leveraging the SoftLayer platform in a myriad of ways that accommodates the varied requirements of customers (both current and potential).

OpenPOWER Foundation

This week, IBM is promoting their OpenPOWER Foundation pretty heavily. While this is a great move in the right direction, the branding might be off-putting for potential new customers looking for an ecosystem that is less tied to IBM’s hardware heritage. Look for further distinctions to be made in this space as IBM evolves.

Hybrid & Holistic

Finally, moving away from a silo approach, look for IBM to take a holistic approach to embracing both hybrid cloud and mobile strategies. Again, this mirrors where enterprises today need to go. Not necessarily where they are today. But that provides opportunity for IBM to take a leadership position in the industry.

4 Reasons Cloud Storage is Not a Bubble About to Pop

With the recent S-1 filing by Box for their Initial Public Offering (IPO) the question of a Cloud Storage Bubble is raised once again. But is it really a bubble? And should enterprise customers take note and run for the hills? There is more at stake than what appears on the surface.

Box Files Form S-1 IPO

By Box filing their S-1, their financials are put on display for all to scrutinize. Within those figures, we learn that their 34k+ paying customers contribute $124m in revenue that offsets operational costs to the tune of a $169m loss last fiscal year. Over the past four years of reporting, Box reported an increase in the loss trend. But is this enough to consider impending doom?

Cloud Storage Startup Landscape

In 2013, Nirvanix (another cloud storage startup) closed up shop and sent their customers scrambling. Dropbox is another of the closest competitors to Box and announced their intent to IPO as well. Could Box and Dropbox be following in Nirvanix’ footsteps? Enterprise storage is expensive. Yes, there are economies of scale and tricks you can play to maximize the efficiency, but storage infrastructure is expensive.

So, let’s take a look at some potential hypothesis on what may be occurring:

Hypothesis One: There is a minimum amount of capital required to achieve profitability.

Nirvanix only took on $70m while Box and Dropbox took on $414m and $607m respectively. Consider that enterprises need stability in their cloud storage provider, a substantial number of enterprise features (ie: auth, security) and a solid ecosystem for integration. It is probable that $70m is not enough to reach ‘escape velocity’ in this space. It is possible that $400-600m may not be enough either. It is also likely that scale plays a significant role too. It will be interesting to see Dropbox’ figures when they file their S-1.

Hypothesis Two: The real value for cloud storage is not in unstructured file storage.

Sure, the ability to store, share and collaborate on files online is valuable. However, is there greater value in the meta-data that comes from understanding the behaviors of those files? Plus, similar to the problem email systems and enterprise storage vendors addressed years ago with data de-duplication, there is value to managing files at scale. Not to mention that the meta-data around that data could be repurposed for other functions.

Hypothesis Three: Unstructured file storage is simply a loss leader.

There are many directions a company like Box or Dropbox could take based on their current service offerings. Of course there are many directions this could take, but that is for a future discussion.

Hypothesis Four: The shifting enterprise storage paradigm will not allow cloud storage failure.

It is simple enough to treat all storage the same, but in reality it is not that easy. Traditional methods for storing files on internal storage sub-systems is cumbersome at best when we move into a SMAC (social, mobile, analytics, cloud) based world. Enterprises are already shifting toward cloud-based storage to alleviate the pressure and shift their paradigm. The thought of having to move back to traditional methods would break many apps and services. In the end, enterprises really need to move forward and are not able to go back.

Consider the Options

On the surface, it may appear that Box (and ostensibly Dropbox) may be losing money today, there is much more at stake. Enterprises know they need to make a shift to a SMAC based world too. The cards appear to point favorably in the direction of additional options beyond the currently cloud storage portfolio offering. I would look more toward the future opportunities of the space through one of the four hypotheses and less on the impending implosion.

The Shark of HP Converged Systems

The story of Converged Infrastructure (CI) continues to gain steam within the Information Technology (IT) industry…and for good reason. Converged solutions present a relatively easy way to manage complex infrastructure solutions. While some providers focus on CI as an opportunity to bundle solutions into a single SKU, companies such as Nutanix and HP have produced solutions for a couple of years now that go much further with true integration.

As enterprise IT customers shift their focus away from infrastructure and toward platforms, application and data, expect the CI space to heat up. Part of this shift includes platforms geared toward specific applications. This is especially true for those operating applications at scale.

Last week, HP announced their ‘shark’ approach of hardware solutions geared toward specific applications. One of the first targets is the SAP HANA application using HP Converged System 500 as part of a co-innovation project between HP & SAP. It is interesting to see HP partner with SAP HANA with so much emphasis on data analytics today. In addition, specialized solutions are becoming increasingly more important in this space.

Enterprise IT organizations need the ability to start small and grow accordingly. Even service providers may consider a start-small and grow approach. Michael Krigsman (@mkrigsman) recently wrote a post outlining how IT projects are getting smaller and still looking for relief. HP expressed their intent to provide scalable solutions that start small and include forthcoming ‘Project Kraken’ solutions later this year. Only time will tell how seamless this transition becomes.

Additional Reading:

HP CS Blog Entry:

http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Converged-Infrastructure/HP-ConvergedSystem-for-SAP-HANA-meet-the-industry-s-most/ba-p/157176#.UynDsdy0bfM