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Azure's new storage products keeps Microsoft competitive

New Azure storage offerings from Microsoft or from vendor partners such as Qumulo aim to increase parity with hyperscaler rivals and draw more enterprise buyers into its cloud.

Microsoft Azure's storage services continue to expand with new data management controls, cold storage options and wider availability of a managed cloud SAN service.

Each of these offerings brings Azure closer in parity to hyperscaler rival AWS and enables partner vendors to build new services, such as a new cold cloud file storage offering from Qumulo, released today.

Individually, these features aren't significant additions. But collectively, they show the Azure platform is continuing to mature, said Simon Robinson, an analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group.

"[Microsoft is] playing catch up to some degree," Robinson said. "These are things that are becoming table stakes for hyperscalers. … Organizations are increasingly wanting cloud native products and want the cloud to be as good as on premises."

All new in Azure

Azure Elastic SAN, which became generally available in February after a preview launch last fall, provides a managed cloud SAN SaaS.

The service replicates the experience of a SAN appliance using software and interoperates with a customer's existing SAN appliances and volumes on premises.

"These [SANS] are really important to enterprises and have been the Achillies heel to cloud," Robinson said. SANs make use of block storage, which demands both speed and high availability for mission critical databases compared to object and file.

Other storage updates include Azure Storage Actions, a new data management console for customers in the Azure storage ecosystem, which entered public preview in February.

Storage Actions automates data management tasks or performs one-off actions via a cloud console. During Actions' preview period, supported storage includes Azure Blob Storage, the vendor's general object storage, and Azure Data Lake Storage, a storage service targeting big data analytics workloads.

Capabilities available in the preview include retention times, legal holds, Blob index tagging and deletion options. The service automatically provisions and scales resources as needed with after action reports available. The service includes connections to REST APIs and the Azure SDK. It's available for free in preview barring charges for storage capacity used and transactions performed.

More enterprises are offloading data to cloud object storage for AI and ML projects, said Dave Raffo, an independent storage analyst. Having such capabilities available in a cloud without the need for an external service could make Azure more attractive for a cloud migration.

"This seems to be aimed at vast amounts of data as more of these lakes grow and as more people use AI," Raffo said.

Microsoft is bullish on AI, having made significant investments in generative AI (GenAI) companies, Robinson said. The market hype surrounding GenAI might cause companies to consider keeping data for AI projects in Azure for potential connections to the large language models from OpenAI or Mistral AI, companies both backed financially by Microsoft.

"That's why Microsoft is putting so much into [developing Azure]," Robinson said. "This is the moment."

Chill partnerships

Azure Storage features such as the Azure Blob cold storage tier, which debuted last year, also enable new partner products.

Azure cold storage, equivalent to offerings from AWS and Google, enables customers to store data at lower cost for longer periods. Cold storage has faster data access compared with the archival tier, which could take hours to retrieve data, but cold storage requires a 90-day storage minimum.

Partners are building off this technology, including cloud file storage vendor Qumulo's new Azure Native Qumulo Cold.

ANQ Cold, available today, is an addition to the Azure Native Qumulo platform that lets customers store less-frequently accessed file data in the Azure cold storage tier at a lower price.

These [SANS] are really important to enterprises and have been the Achillies heel to cloud.
Simon RobinsonAnalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

The ANQ Cold service also comes with additional features, such as up to 5 TB of data retrieval actions for file reads per month, Qumulo spokepeople said. But data must be retained for a minimum of 120 days.

Qumulo customers include media and entertainment companies as well as medical organizations, both of which have large amounts of file data they might need to view frequently but might not need to interact with. such as patient X-rays.

Integration with the Qumulo file platform enables file storage elasticity for automated scaling of cold storage Blobs, eliminating the need to manually manage Blob size in Azure.

Colder storage tiers might provide flexibility in pricing, but technology buyers should be aware of application and user demands, said Marc Staimer, founder and president of Dragon Slayer Consulting.

"The key is the tradeoff between cost and performance," Staimer said. "Make sure you know what the performance requirements are before you buy anything."

Microsoft's willingness to partner and build with other companies such as Qumulo or Oracle has organically built out the cloud's customer base and capabilities, according to Sid Nag, an analyst at Gartner. Microsoft's own ubiquitous enterprise applications, such as Microsoft 365, might have drawn customers into Azure, but the support for multi-cloud uses and other vendors is causing them to stay.

"Microsoft's cloud story has been tied to the applications," Nag said. "They're quite open to this multi-cloud narrative as well. They're an all-around cloud provider."

Tim McCarthy is a news writer for TechTarget Editorial covering cloud and data storage.

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