Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The Evolution of Enterprise Storage

Cloud storage cheat sheet: How five enterprise options compare

Before you decide on a cloud storage solution, see how these offerings from Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Rackspace, and Dropbox compare when it comes to features and costs.

It's estimated that 42 percent of IT decision makers will increase spending on cloud computing in 2015, and enterprises with over 1,000 employees are projected to increase their cloud spending by 52 percent. Some of this spending will be for storage, given the rapid acceleration of data under management and the need to find new 'homes' for this data.

Here are five leading cloud storage solutions, and the value propositions they present to IT and end users.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)

Amazon S3 is object-oriented storage that can containerize applications and the associated data and resources that they consume. This storage can scale up or down upon demand, and you only pay for what you use. Amazon has used S3 successfully for its own extensive operations.

S3 can be adapted for storage of content, data backups, and archiving and disaster recovery. It is fully integrated with other Amazon cloud services including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which features workflows that allow IT to easily scale resources up or down, and Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), which provides block-level storage volumes for use with virtual servers in Amazon EC2.

Amazon Glacier is a cold storage solution that addresses the need to store vast repositories of seldom accessed data inexpensively. This helps companies handle the burgeoning data stores that they are expected to maintain.

The cost of entry to Amazon cloud services is attractive: no minimum fee and no setup cost.

Amazon is a good fit for enterprises looking for best-of-breed management in the cloud. S3 will appeal to organizations that try to keep data center costs down by outsourcing the resources necessary for app development and testing.

Microsoft Azure

Now offering virtual cloud-based Linux as well as Windows, Microsoft Azure has adapted to the heterogeneous computing environments that businesses require. Dual Linux and Windows OS support and adherence to open standards also positions Azure as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) option.

Azure provides object storage, which is ideal for application development and testing in the cloud. It also delivers content storage and table storage, which is cloud-based retention of large amounts of structured data.

In 2012, Microsoft acquired StorSimple, a cloud gateway vendor. The StorSimple acquisition enabled Azure to extend into hybrid cloud storage -- and to manage on premises and cloud-based storage under one storage management system. Finding an affordable 'uber-management' software for storage inside and outside of the data center is a pain point for many companies, so Azure's ability to do this increases its value proposition.

From a pricing standpoint, Azure competes head-on with Amazon S3. There are no setup costs, minimum fees, or termination fees. You pay only for what you use.

Azure is a great fit for companies that are already heavily engaged in Microsoft solutions and technology in their data centers; for these companies, extending into Microsoft Azure is a natural entry point into the public cloud. Azure also offers a comprehensive set of cloud SLAs and a network of 19 Azure data centers around the world, which may ease clients' minds in terms of governance and disaster recovery.

Google Cloud Storage

Like Amazon, Google commercialized its internal cloud-based technology for scalable public cloud services to businesses. Google offers Google Cloud Storage in concert with Google App Engine, which is an application development platform, Google Compute Engine, which provides virtual machines, and BigQuery, which is an analytics tool for big data.

Google Cloud offers standard, rapid-access storage, cold storage (which it calls durable reduced availability, or DRA, storage), and a cold-storage nearline-access option that enables more rapid retrieval of cold-storage data. Businesses can configure any of these cloud-based storage options.

Google also presents end business users with opportunities for centralized data storage and collaboration in project and document management; this has been a sweet spot for Google, while enterprise IT adoption of Google storage has been slower.

Google's pricing is based on a per gigabyte/month pay-per-use model.

The best fit for Google Cloud Storage is in end-user corporate administrative areas such as document storage and project management and collaboration.

Rackspace

Focused on high-performance storage needs, Rackspace offers on-demand Cloud Block Storage for applications that are hosted on its cloud servers. For high-performance storage needs, Cloud Block Storage delivers high input-output and uses both hard drive and solid-state technology.

Rackspace's claim to fame is its commitment to OpenStack software, which is the software of choice for creating and managing cloud computing platforms in public and private clouds. OpenStack Foundation members include Dell, IBM, HP, Red Hat, Cisco, VMware, and more.

Rackspace public cloud storage also integrates well with enterprise on-premises clouds that are based on OpenStack; this makes it easy for enterprises with OpenStack environments to create a hybrid storage management solution for their on premises and cloud-based storage.

Pricing is based on a per gigabyte/month pay-per-use model.

Rackspace is the best fit for enterprises that are committed to OpenStack architecture, with the dual goals of powering their mission-critical applications and storage on premises and in the cloud.

Dropbox

Dropbox's storage service uses Windows and Linux technology and is targeted toward end business users. This cloud-based storage offering enables users to store virtually any document and image on Windows, Linux, Android, Mac, and iPhone desktop and mobile devices.

Dropbox features an intuitive user interface to its cloud that can be accessed from anywhere. Its sweet spot is on-demand storage for documents, project collaboration, photos, graphics files, and so on. In the cloud, users can easily share files in a secure environment that is 256-bit encrypted in AES and SSL. Dropbox storage also integrates with over 300,000 end-user computing apps, including Word, Excel, Photoshop, Acrobat, Cisco WebEx, and DocuSign. Storage management and security add-ons are available through Dropbox from IBM, Dell, Splunk, and other partners.

Dropbox for Business storage starts at a minimum fee of $15 per month and a minimum requirement of five users, with the storage allocation starting at one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of space per user.

Dropbox is a strong cloud storage choice for the end user and administrative areas of companies that want to use the cloud to store documents, photos, graphics, and collaborative conferencing and file sharing.

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