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Amazon EFS Infrequent Access price drop could spur adoption

Price drop for Amazon's Elastic File System Infrequent Access option could stir competitors to follow suit and fuel greater enterprise adoption of cloud file storage.

Steep costs have kept many enterprises from using cloud file storage, but the price drop for Amazon's Infrequent Access option could coax more adoption and stir competitors to follow suit.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) charges 30 cents per GB per month for the standard class of its NFS-based Elastic File System (EFS) for Linux workloads. But the cloud giant recently lowered the monthly price of the Amazon EFS Infrequent Access (IA) that it launched in February, from 4.5 cents per to 2.5 cents, to give customers a less expensive tier for file storage.

Enterprise uptake has lagged for public cloud file storage compared to popular object-based options such as Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), Microsoft's Azure Blob Storage and Google Cloud Storage. Customers often buy cloud object storage to back up and archive cold data, and many tend to use faster, more expensive file- and block-based storage for latency-sensitive applications that run in the public cloud.

Amazon claims per-operation latency is single-digit milliseconds for EFS and double-digit milliseconds for EFS Infrequent Access. But with only 20% of an organization's data typically in active use, the remaining 80% could tier to Amazon EFS IA to save money, the cloud provider says.

Amazon's customers can set Lifecycle Management policies to automatically shift data from EFS to EFS IA if files are not accessed for 14, 30, 60 or 90 days. They could access EFS and EFS IA file data through the same namespace.

Amazon EFS price hurdle

Stephen Whitlock, who works in cloud operations for compute and storage at The Hartford, said he didn't look at Amazon EFS at 30 cents per GB. But Whitlock said he would consider cloud-based file storage after he heard about Amazon's cheaper EFS Infrequent Access option during an AWS Summit over the summer.

A recent 451 Research survey of 330 IT professionals showed that just 13% of their organizations use file storage in the public cloud, and within two years, 21% expect to have cloud-based NAS.

Henry Baltazar, a research vice president at 451, predicted the percentage would turn out to be higher now that lower cost file storage options are hitting the market. He said the price drop for Amazon's EFS Infrequent Access would encourage more people to use it and change their view of EFS as an "expensive all-flash service that's only used for high-performance use cases."

Baltazar said many enterprises have legacy applications written to NFS-based NAS systems. Rewriting those applications to object storage would be difficult, and transferring file-based data to or from NAS to object storage requires a translation layer, he said. Plus, end users are accustomed to using file shares, he added.

Cloud file storage competition

Baltazar pointed to Google's July acquisition of Elastifile, a high-performance cloud NAS startup, as an indicator that cloud file storage is heating up and providers want to ensure they can meet demand. Besides Microsoft and Google, AWS also competes with storage vendors that partner with cloud providers to make available their NAS capabilities in the cloud.

"Everybody's going to make sure that they're not going to be outdone," Baltazar said. "When prices drop, people are going to have to respond with competitive offerings."

Microsoft's Azure File share has standard and premium storage options as well as various redundancy choices. Premium pricing starts at 24 cents per "provisioned gibibyte" (GiB), or roughly 26 cents per GB, according to the Azure site. The standard service costs 6 cents per used GiB, or 6.4 cents per GB. Microsoft did not respond to questions on its cloud file storage strategy and pricing plans.

Prices for Google Cloud Filestore vary by region. For instance, in Iowa/US Central1 and Oregon/US West1, the monthly cost per GB is 30 cents for the premium tier and 20 cents for the standard service. In Los Angeles/US West2, the premium is 33 cents, and the standard is 22 cents. In northern Virginia/US East4, the price is 36 cents for premium and 24 cents for standard.

Elastifile's managed storage service on Google Cloud has a per-GB monthly price tag of 30 cents for the performance-optimized option, 17 cents for general-purpose use and 10 cents for capacity-driven use cases.

A Google spokesperson offered no information on the company's future plans, pricing or competitive strategies. She said teams are "hard at work" on integrating the Elastifile technology, "but it's still early days."

Analysts predicts others will lower prices

Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Scott Sinclair said he expects Google and Microsoft will follow Amazon's lead and reduce the cost of their file storage services. He said cloud providers have the impetus to lower prices because on-premises file storage has become "incredibly cost effective." Because enterprises can be reluctant to move files out of their data centers due to the time and cost, the Amazon EFS IA price drop could help to address their hesitancy, Sinclair said.

But Dragon Slayer Consulting president Marc Staimer cautioned that costs for public cloud-based file storage could still be difficult to justify even with the newly lowered pricing. He said the average price remains high for the combined EFS/EFS IA option.

Staimer said his research shows that on-premises file storage generally costs less than Amazon's object-based S3 -- never mind the more expensive Amazon EFS -- after about 18 months for an enterprise that already has a data center or uses a colocation facility. On-premises file storage would be more costly only for companies that don't already have a data center, he said.

"The only rationale I can find for doing Amazon's EFS and Infrequent Access is if you're doing bumpy work -- in other words, you have high utilization but then you're going to get rid of the data later," Staimer said.

One of the lowest cost cloud object storage providers -- startup Wasabi, at $0.0059 per GB per month -- has no plans to get into file storage. CEO David Friend said cloud-based file options tend to work best as primary storage for transactional applications that run on the same provider's cloud compute instances, when speed and latency are critical issues.

By contrast, object storage doesn't require tight coupling to other cloud services and generally works well for data that is not transactional in nature and can tolerate a modest amount of latency, Friend said. He noted that Wasabi customers are generally looking for large amounts of storage to keep data for long periods of time.

"File-based storage is more of a high-performance, high-price niche," Friend said. "The bulk of the world's data will end up in object storage."

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