Microsoft StorSimple Hybrid SAN Links Data Center Back to Azure

AzureTwo years after its acquisition of cloud storage gateway vendor StorSimple, Microsoft is introducing new physical and virtual appliances into a hybrid cloud storage service that will blur the lines between on-premises SAN and Azure cloud storage for its customers.

Microsoft acquired StorSimple in October of 2012. Beyond some bold statements about StorSimple’s potential to become its next $1 billion business, Microsoft did little to take advantage of its cloud storage gateway capabilities, allowing StorSimple to continue operating more or less unchanged as a wholly owned subsidiary. At the time, StorSimple’s storage gateways provided on-site storage that tied back to cloud storage services offered through Azure as well as AT&T, Synaptic, Amazon S3, EMC Atmos, Google, and Rackspace. Now, however, with the introduction of this new service, all mention of support for competing cloud platforms has been dropped.

On the hardware side, Microsoft is introducing two 8000-series StorSimple rackmount appliances. Scheduled to ship on August first, both have in-line deduplication, compression, and thin provisioning and are equipped with dual 10G Ethernet connections. Both boxes combine conventional SAN bits—iSCSC disk, SSD—with Azure storage to create high-capacity, three-tier storage. The $100,000 8100 has a usable local capacity of 15 TB on 10 disks with 800 GB of fast SSD cache and 200 TB of Azure storage. The bigger 8600 has a usable local capacity of 40 TB and 2 TB of SSD cache, and it offers 500 TB of Azure storage for $160,000. Although the 8100 and 8600 offer 200 TB and 500 TB respectively, Microsoft suggests a more conservative 75 TB and 200 TB total usable capacity, accounting for space for snapshotting recovery copies, etc. As with the older 5000 and 7000-series boxes, the 8000-series boxes are manufactured and distributed by Xyratex, which was acquired by Seagate in May of this year. Microsoft is continuing to sell the older StorSimple 5000 and 7000 series, but these will not support the new Azure services that it is introducing to work in conjunction with the StorSimple 8000-series hardware.

Microsoft Azure StorSimple 8000 series
Microsoft Azure StorSimple 8000 series

Complementing the 8000-series physical appliance, Microsoft also announced the StorSimple Virtual Appliance. As its name suggests, the virtual appliance’s functionality mirrors that of the physical appliance as an Azure-hosted virtual machine. Completing the update is the Microsoft Azure StorSimple Manager, a cloud-only control panel accessible from the Azure management portal that can be used to manage both StorSimple 8000-series physical appliances and the Azure-based StorSimple Virtual Appliances. As it does with similar Azure management tools, Microsoft has adopted the “simpler is better” approach, which should go a long way toward expanding Azure adoption in smaller organizations that are put off by the complexity of cloud adoption. At the same time, however, Microsoft has taken pains to emphasize that there is still room for systems integrators to help customers maximize value in the new tech. Marc Farley, Microsoft’s senior product marketing manager for StorSimple, emphasized that the new offering is well-suited for disaster recovery. Data stored on the arrays in the data center can be recovered from copies of the data stored in Azure virtual appliances, or Azure hosted applications can access the data stored in Azure, leaving room for ISVs to build new managed services on the back of StorSimple and Azure.

As Microsoft continues to fill out its Azure service portfolio, it is conceivable that StorSimple will become another $1 billion business independent of Azure. At the same time, StorSimple does a great deal to smooth the paths of businesses looking to move more services to the cloud, initially for DR and non-production environments, and later for mainstream line of business applications, including client applications through RemoteApp. For the moment, Amazon and Google lack an equivalent hardware cloud storage gateway, which forces their customers to work with third parties to tie data center SAN to cloud storage. Amazon does have its Storage Gateway, but right now this is a software-only solution, running as a VM in the customer’s own data center, although it is understood that Amazon is working to develop its own hardware appliance. At the same time, while the StorSimple Virtual Appliance is strictly an Azure-based offering, at a press briefing announcing the new product launch, Farley didn’t rule out the possibility of future releases’ enabling virtual appliances in other clouds in the future.

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