By Rob Mason on January 12, 2011
Contrary to what you might have heard, cloud storage isn’t cheap. Dedicating a blog post to this topic might seem crazy for a company that provides the leading gateway to cloud storage, but here at Nasuni we’re not the types to avoid discussing what really matters to our customers. And let’s face it, cost is a major issue for most IT departments – especially as data continues to grow at exponential rates.
So, how does the cost of cloud storage compare to traditional storage? There are hidden costs to the cloud, but I’ll refer you back to my previous post (and upcoming webinar) on the real cost of a GB in the cloud for those details.
Let’s start instead by looking at the leading cloud storage provider, Amazon. With petabytes of storage in the cloud and billions of objects, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry. Amazon also has made great use of economies of scale to offer one of the least expensive cloud storage offerings on the market: Amazon’s current pricing is $0.125/GB/month. So, take the case of a customer that wants to store 5TB within the next 3 years and, for simplicity’s sake, assume they grow that capacity linearly from 0 to 5TB over the 36 months. The total cost over 3 years would be $11,563 or $2.31/GB.
Now let’s look at an entry-level Network Appliance FAS-2020. It’s a bit tricky to get pricing, but with some Googling around, you can find an FAS-2020 6TB unit for $9,004. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about specifying and configuring a NetApp device, but let’s assume you can configure those six 1TB drives into a 5+1 RAID-5 group. This will give you 5TB of usable space. Given an initial cost of $9,004, that works out to $1.80/GB.
Whoa. What happened? Granted, we have not factored in additional software licenses that may be needed for replication (mentioned later in this article) or annual service and support fees. But could an enterprise NAS device actually be less expensive than cloud storage? Or are we comparing apples to oranges?
Before we try to answer that question let’s look at two leading consumer cloud storage products since the consumers were the first to adopt the cloud. First, Dropbox. As we’ve said before, we love this company. They solve some real pain for consumers. And with a reported 4 million users, they must be doing something right. Dropbox limits your capacity in the “Pro” version to 100GB for $199/year. Using the same 36-month time period, you would pay a total of $597 for the 3 years to store 100GB or $5.97/GB.
Next up, Carbonite Pro, another great service from a good company. They limit your capacity to 500GB. For that amount it costs $250/month, or $9,000 over 36 months. This means you’d be paying a whopping $18/GB for backup only for that 500GB.
And finally, consider the Buffalo TeraStation III, and match it up against the 8TB capacity pricing quoted on Amazon.com at $1,258. Again, I’m not a configuration expert – please add your input in the comments if you are – but let’s assume you can take the 4 2TB disks and make a 3+1 RAID-5 set to end up with 6TB usable. That gives you a cost of $0.21/GB.
So, at first glance it appears that low-end NAS to enterprise NAS ranges from $0.21/GB to $1.80/GB. On the other hand, cloud storage related offerings work out to $2.31/GB for the base capacity and $5+ for real solutions.
Is there really such an enormous premium on cloud storage? Is this all due to hype or is there something more going on behind the scenes?
There is definitely a ton of buzz around cloud storage, but customers are not going to repeatedly pay more than twice the price for anything just because of hype. In each of the local NAS comparisons above we looked at the cost of locally protected storage, but those offerings didn’t include offsite protection. Higher end systems like those from NetApp have replication functionality. So you would need to buy a second NAS and host it at a remote site to get offsite protection. Combine that with NetApp’s excellent snapshot capability and you’d have no need for backup. You’d have an all-in-one primary storage, backup and DR solution.
But it will cost you. To get there, you have to double the $1.80/GB for the NetApp solution, bringing you to $3.60/GB.
Yet this is just the start. Where will you host that second file server? Perhaps you have a second data center at a remote office and you can do bi-directional replication between your sites. So you have space at the second data center already and you just have to manage those two systems and upgrade capacity, replace components, etc. Still, there’s a significant cost for all of that management. And if you don’t have a second location things get a little more complicated.
You’ll need a colocation facility, which means renting a partial rack in someone’s data center. You’ll have to pay to have them install your NAS in their data center (or do it yourself if it’s accessible to you) and then pay their charges for the space, bandwidth, etc. At these colo facilities there’s quite a premium on bandwidth, so you’ll need to be careful with this approach.
Now compare that to Amazon S3. They claim they’re “designed to provide 99.999999999% durability and 99.99% availability of objects over a given year.” This is because they are making multiple copies of your data. They’re copying it to different machines in different facilities. Furthermore, they’re “designed to sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities.”
On top of that, they handle all the repairs, recovery and management themselves. You don’t need to be involved. While it does vary greatly with each cloud provider, the level of protection you get with cloud storage most likely far exceeds anything you get if you roll your own storage solution—even with enterprise class NAS. Plus, the clouds do so at a base price that is actually less than rolling out your own solution.
The problem, though, is that cloud storage is a utility like electricity is a utility. You need a device to deliver the service. For cloud storage, each appliance that delivers the service comes in its own form and brings its own functionality at a price premium above the basic utility cost. As you look at the solutions provided by different vendors it’s important to look at all the different problems they solve for you and add up the value. If capacity and data growth are important, then a solution with limited capacity offerings will not work for you. If offsite protection is your chief concern, then you need to focus on that. If backup is important, you need to make sure that the backup solution provided meets your needs. Then you need to examine how various vendors provide that functionality.
Beyond the simple cost of storage the math gets difficult. Consider some of these questions:
With Nasuni, you get enterprise-class storage that never runs out of capacity, delivers hourly offsite backups to one or more cloud storage providers and can be completely recovered from a disaster in less than 15 minutes. Oh, and by the way, we include stellar 24/7 support at no additional cost. For enterprise customers looking at the next generation of storage controllers, cloud-integrated storage brings together the best of both worlds, fast on-premises storage with the unique properties of the cloud.
For more information about Nasuni or our pricing, please contact us at any time.
Rob Mason has more than 20 years of operational, management and software development experience, all of it in storage. A meticulous builder and obsessive tester, with an eye for talented engineers, Rob produces rock-solid software, and, through his own example of hard work and ingenuity, inspires his teams to outdo themselves. His determination for thoroughness extends to financial and operational matters, and at Nasuni, he is a powerhouse behind the scenes, managing the company’s operations, in addition to its engineering team. As the VP of Engineering at Archivas from 2004 to acquisition, Rob oversaw all development and quality assurance. After the Hitachi acquisition, he continued in his role, as VP of HCAP Engineering, managing the integration of his team with Hitachi’s and supporting the rollout of HCAP. Before joining Archivas, he was a senior manager at storage giant EMC, where he was responsible for the API, support applications and partner development for EMC’s content-addressed storage product, Centera. In a previous stint at EMC, he was Manager and Principal Design Engineer for the elite Symmetrix Group, where he improved the speed and reliability of EMC’s flagship enterprise storage disk array. Between Centera and Symmetrix, Rob was the co-founder and VP of engineering at I/O Integrity, a storage-based startup developing a high-performance caching appliance. He has a bachelor of science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s in business administration with honors from Rutgers University. Rob holds upwards of 30 patents.