Storage Vendors go for broke with OpenStack Swift Storage

openstack logoOpenStack, the open-source on-premise alternative to Amazon S3 is heading into 2015 with a vast mount of momentum. VC’s are falling over themselves to invest in OpenStack related companies and there seems to be genuine enterprise momentum.

The OpenStack story kicked off in 2010 and was initially a combined project between Rackspace and NASA. Fast forward to 2015 and it is managed by the OpenStack Foundation which is a non-profit corporate entity that was established in September 2012 as a means to promote OpenStack software.

Most people may know OpenStack primarily due to it’s infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution, but it also has an object Storage solution, called ‘Swift’ (not to be confused with Apple’s new programming language, also confusingly called ‘Swift’) which also has garnered a momentum of its own.

Object Storage is a type storage architecture that manages data as objects unlike other storage systems which either manage data as a file hierarchy or as blocks within sectors and tracks (block storage).

The advantages of object storage architectures is that they offer unlimited scalability with a lower emphasis on processing and they offer access using Internet protocols (REST) rather than storage commands.

There is a momentum around Object Storage companies that include such commercial vendors as CleverSafe, Cloudian, Amplistore and Scality.

Vendors who are offering an OpenStack Swift distro as part of their offering include:

HP (Helion Content Depot)
IBM (Cloud Manager with OpenStack)
SoftLayer (Now owned by IBM)
SUSE Cloud
Ubuntu OpenStack
RedHat OpenStack
VMWare OpenStack

As an example of the sums of money involved, Mirantis recently closed a round for $100 million and SwiftStack a round for $16 million, taking both company to total investments of $120 million and $23.6 million respectively. IBM also purchased SoftLayer for a reputed $2 billion. It’s clear that VC’s and Software vendors see something special in OpenStack.

Amazon Web Services may rule when it comes to public cloud but a recent survey sponsored by GigaOM gave results indicating that half of private clouds deployed where OpenStack based.

OpenStack, like Amazon Web Services, is primarily supplied with REST API’s and toolkits  that developers can use to interact with the OpenStack infrastructure. As with AWS this creates opportunities for vendors at the Application level to provide Apps and tools.

Storage Made Easy is a company that has already make an impact on the OpenStack community with its Enterprise File Share and Sync product offering, which has been optimized for OpenStack Swift. The company, itself a startup, already has a growing number of service providers and customer using its enterprise application in conjunction with OpenStack Swift, and has partnered with a number of the key players listed above in a strategy focused around taking advantage of OpenStack’s growth.

Other companies are treading the same path and this itself creates an eco-system of enterprise ready Applications ready to take advantage of OpenStack’s foothold in the Enterprise to grow or to be acquired.

Of course, with OpenStack being an open-source initiative it is not just commercial Apps that have sprung up around OpenStack. There are  Open Source Applications such as Swift Explorer and CyberDuck, but strangely, given the Open Source root of OpenStack there seems to be more commercial offerings rather than open source offerings.

All in all OpenStack is an initiative that is in its ascendancy. It used to be said that OpenStack was more hype than reality but as we head into 2015 the money men have placed their bets and they tend to bet on reality rather than hype.



Is Amazon S3 becoming a de facto standard interface ?

I don’t think anyone would argue that Amazon S3 is the big bear of the Cloud market, both on the virtual cloud infrastructure and the cloud storage side of things. Amazon S3 has more than 102 billion objects stored on it as of March 2010.

As befits a dominant player the interface that Amazon exposes for Amazon S3 is becoming so widely used that it almost becoming a standard with regards to how to connect into Cloud Storage. Many new or existing players in this space already support the interface as an entry point into their Storage infrastructure. For example Google Storage supports the S3 interface, as does the private cloud vendor Eucalyptus with its Walrus offering. Also the on-premise cloud appliance vendor Mezeo recently announced support for accessing their cloud using Amazon S3, as did TierraCloud. There are other Open Source implementations as well such as ParkPlace which is an Amazon S3 clone and bittorrent service that is written in ruby.

Additional to this, the multi-cloud vendor, Storage Made Easy has implemented an S3 entry point into it’s gateway so that you can use it with normal clouds even where they do not natively support Amazon S3, such as RackSpace, Google Docs, DropBox etc.

So as far as S3 goes it seems you can pretty much access a multitude of  storage back-end’s using this API, which is not surprising as vendors want to make it easy for you to move from S3 to their proposition or they want their proposition to work with existing toolsets and program code. So is it good for cloud in general ? I guess the answer to that is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

‘Yes’ from the point of view that standardisation can be a good thing for customers as it gives stability and promotes interoperability. ‘No’ from the point of view that standardisation can easily stifle innovation. I’m happy to say that this is not what is occurring in the cloud storage space as the work around OpenStack and Swift demonstrates.

I think right now, S3 is as close as you will get to a de facto standard for cloud storage API interactions. It probably suits Amazon that this is the case, and it certainly suits consumers / developers. Time will tell how quickly this situations lasts.