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Morro Data adds replication, Azure Active Directory support

Startup Morro targets SMB customers with a CloudNAS 3.0 file storage update that adds replication capabilities and support for Microsoft's Azure Active Directory.

Morro Data's latest version of CloudNAS is going after Microsoft Office 365 users and those looking for an easier, less expensive way to move files to public clouds.

Morro Data came out of stealth in 2017 with CloudNAS, consisting of a physical or virtual caching appliance and a distributed file system that can span public and private cloud storage. Early CloudNAS customers said the new features will make it more convenient and cost-effective to use public clouds for file storage.

Support for Microsoft's Azure Active Directory (AD) and Replicate shares are the main enhancements in CloudNAS 3.0 released last week. Azure AD support provides common file and identity management for Microsoft Office 365 and CloudNAS file services. Morro Data targets small and medium-sized business customers.

Morro Data's new replication moves data faster than the CloudNAS synchronization feature that was in the product from the start. While the real-time Sync is bidirectional and supports multiple data sources, Replicate moves data from one source in one direction. Morro Data positions Replicate as the better choice for cloud backup or to transfer files while leaving a copy in the cloud.

The CloudNAS on-premises CacheDrive appliance speeds access to frequently used data and serves as a gateway to transfer files to cloud-based object storage. The global file system enables customers to synchronize data in real time between multiple CacheDrive appliances and public cloud storage from AWS, Backblaze or Wasabi Technologies.

Azure Active Directory support

Michael Clegg, COO at Morro Data, based in Fremont, Calif., said CloudNAS customers have migrated to Office 365 and manage user identities and permissions through Azure AD. But he said many still want an on-premises file server to handle data sets that don't work well with Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration server, including large files generated by engineering, finance and biotechnology applications.

Morro already supported local Microsoft Active Directory, but channel partners that resell Office 365 requested Azure AD support, Clegg said. Partners' Office 365 customers don't want to have to manage two sets of user credentials and user authentication, he said. Given that, Morro Data engineers wrote to Microsoft's REST-based Graph API and developed the additional code needed to synchronize the Azure AD identities and user and group permissions with CloudNAS.

Clegg said Morro Data's customers could now click a button to tell the system to import the Azure AD settings. Individual Office 365 users then authenticate against CloudNAS the first time they connect. After that, they use their Azure credentials to access on- and off-premises files.

Microsoft's Azure File Sync offers similar capabilities to customers who want on-premises caching capabilities, but Clegg claimed the service is complicated to use and more expensive than Morro's CloudNAS.

Morro Data charges $89 per month for each CacheDrive appliance, plus $19 per terabyte for Wasabi cloud storage and $39 per terabyte for Amazon S3. Users need their own storage account with Backblaze, and Morro charges $15 per terabyte for a file service fee.

Clegg said about two-thirds of Morro Data's customers use CloudNAS simply to upload files to the cloud for backup purposes or to keep a second copy of data. Some have turned the product's real-time synchronization on and off to control bandwidth consumption, he said. The new replication feature, which is available to customers at no cost, will eliminate the need to do that.

"If you're doing a big file upload, you don't do that in a day and choke up your internet. You can schedule that to go into the evening, so you keep the internet free for normal use during business hours," Clegg said.

Customers also might want to use replication to move files around, Clegg added, especially now that Wasabi no longer charges for data egress. He predicted the elimination of egress fees could start to disrupt the legacy large-file transfer market.

Customers see Replicate as way to save

KPS Global, a walk-in cooler and freezer manufacturer in Fort Worth, Texas, uses the new CloudNAS replication to move old engineering data to public cloud storage for backup and redundancy purposes, according to John Flick, the company's vice president of information technology.

"The key is the transparency for my users. If I map them to this drive, they're not going to know if that data is in the cloud or not -- nor do they care," Flick said.

Flick also noted that he wanted to remove the burden of the "every weekend backup sort of shenanigans that takes forever." KPS runs the CacheDrive appliance in a VMware virtual machine and replicates data to Wasabi cloud storage.

New York-based Archilier Architecture, a 3D modeling and design firm specializing in luxury hotels, started using Morro CloudNAS last fall to shift data to Backblaze cloud storage.  George Fernandez, the company's director of technology integration and operations manager, said that was done to reduce costs.

Fernandez said he plans to try Morro Data's new replication feature to give his company's Shanghai office access to project information without having to grant the Chinese branch access to the company's network. The replication option will be cheaper than synchronization, he said.

"And I can't stress enough how much money we'll be saving compared to the other options out there," Fernandez said, noting that S3 charges egress fees to download files. Backblaze lowered its egress charges, he said, and Wasabi recently eliminated them.

Fernandez said he also likes the idea of the Azure AD support in CloudNAS. He said Archilier switched to Office 365 to reduce costs associated with on-site hardware, but employees also need access to 3D design software files.

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