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Cloud file storage still nascent, but growing quickly

File storage lags behind object and block storage in the market, but Nasuni's offering on Google Cloud indicates a growing appetite for the format.

Storage in the cloud is dominated by object, but cloud file storage is growing fast.

The total market for cloud storage is split 60-30-10 between object, block and file, respectively, according to IDC. However, enterprises are migrating more file-based workloads to the cloud and it has opened opportunities for vendors such as Nasuni to address an underserved need.

Nasuni provides a cloud-based global file system, essentially replacing traditional NAS. It is a cloud file storage system, and customers interact with it like any other file system on the front end, but it lives on cloud object storage such as AWS S3. Nasuni most recently became a SaaS partner with Google and launched in Google Cloud, and has similar partnerships with AWS and Azure.

Nasuni's partnership with Google Cloud comes at an opportune time, said Andrew Smith, research manager at IDC. Customers are looking for the best of both worlds -- the ability to keep the hierarchy of their file-based workloads and the cheaper storage of object in the cloud.

The translation from file-based on-premises to object-based cloud isn't straightforward, though. Some vendors, such as Nasuni, LucidLink and Cloudian, solve this by providing a file front end with an object back end. Traditional NAS vendors such as NetApp partner with cloud providers to allow direct translation of their files to the cloud, which is the case with the Azure NetApp Files offering. But even with these options, most file-based workloads remain grounded on premises, Smith said.

I think the file segment's been underserved and has the most room to grow.
Andrew SmithResearch manager, IDC

"I think the file segment's been underserved and has the most room to grow," Smith said.

Enterprises typically start their cloud journey by migrating less critical object storage workloads, with use cases such as backup and archiving, Smith added. Recently, cloud adoption accelerated during COVID-19, and organizations have started investigating ways to lift and shift their file-based workloads to the cloud, as well. Therefore, Smith characterized the growing interest in cloud file storage as being buoyed by increased cloud adoption in general, and file is "the last piece of the puzzle."

The growth IDC has been seeing in cloud file storage is from businesses lifting entire workloads such as SAP, an entire database or high-performance computing to the cloud, Smith said. These workloads need low-latency access to storage and compute.

Nasuni's platform is noteworthy in that it's not going after those kinds of workloads, Smith said. It's instead targeting file shares, collaboration software, VDI and application workflows.

Additionally, Nasuni has built-in data protection features such as continuous versioning and ransomware mitigation. As file-based workloads are more critical than object-based ones, security and compliance concerns get taken more seriously -- another reason cloud file storage hasn't gotten as much initial traction as block and object, Smith said. Nasuni's data protection features provide a unique entry point to cloud file storage.

Screenshot of Nasuni Filer
Nasuni now offers file storage with a cloud object storage back-end on Google, AWS and Azure.

"Nasuni does focus on the backup and DR aspects, which might not be built in natively for cloud file workloads. Security, compliance and performance are the top three roadblocks for getting to cloud," Smith said.

Since businesses take their file workloads more seriously than their backup and archiving jobs, Smith believes there will always be a higher level of scrutiny before businesses adopt cloud file storage. Customers will continue to be paranoid about who holds the encryption keys to the data they put in the cloud, or whether they or the cloud provider are ultimately responsible if the cloud provider is breached. However, Smith pointed out, these are "perennial concerns" that would come up regardless if it's file or object.

A lot of file workloads haven't moved out of traditional on-premises environments yet because it's the most difficult migration to do. File has a lot longer runway than block and object, so it's taking longer for it to hit its stride and really take off, Smith said.

"You can't just point it to a cloud object storage target and keep doing what you do. Whole applications need to be moved and refactored," Smith said.

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