Although it's not priced as favorably as Amazon's API-based Simple Storage Service (S3), Nirvanix must think its equally API-driven storage offering is sufficiently differentiated from what Amazon has to offer that it's worth the slight premium you'll have to pay. Compared to S3 which charges 15 cents per gigabyte used, 10 cents for all network transfers in, and then tiers its per gigabyte pricing for network transfers out (starting at 18 cents for the first 10 terabytes transferred and going down from there), Nirvanix charges a flat 18 cents per gigabyte used and then 18 cents per gigabyte transferred in or out.
So what makes Nirvanix different? Well, like S3, according to vice president strategy and business development Geoff Tudor and senior director product management Edgard Capdevielle, Nirvanix's Web services-based storage services are easily incorporated into applications (local executables or Web-based apps) through a collection of APIs. But, as you can see in their video demonstration of Nirvanix's storage management application (above), the service comes with a management layer that makes it possible to subdivide "master account" into "child accounts," each of which, in somewhat of a storage-as-a-service reseller fashion, can be individually be monitored for usage.
With all its controls, the management layer makes it possible to resell storage services if you want to. But the more likely application is where, if you're building or running a large online service that will have or has its own user accounts (as so many do) and each account requires storage, you can associate a child account of your Nirvanix master account with each of your user accounts. For example, if you decide to run some sort of online photo-sharing service, perhaps there's an ad-bearing version that people get to use for free, but that has a limited amount of storage that goes with it. Via Nirvanix's management interface, such limits can be set on a per child account basis. Then, maybe there are paid accounts where your retail price for the service takes the Nirvanix prices into account.
According to the Tudor, the main idea behind the Nirvanix offering is to make it easier to launch new applications and services without having to invest in a scalable storage infrastructure. Using a reference .NET-based "digital locker" implementation that Nirvanix customers can actually incorporate into their own .NET apps as an example, Tudor told me:
This is an application that's written in .NET so you can go to any hosting company and pay $70 and get a server and upload the code and immediately be in the online storage and digital locker business without having to buy $400,000 worth of hardware. Instead, we virtually scale you behind the scenes to petabytes of storage.
In comparing Nirvanix to S3, the execs also claimed their APIs to be more filesystem like (something they think developers will appreciate). To make it easier to develop applications, Nirvanix's Web site is loaded with sample code that can be cut and pasted into a variety of development platforms. As indicated earlier, .NET is supported (via C#). So too is J2EE (Java), Adobe's AIR, Perl, and PHP.
While the service clearly has some differentiating features from S3, I'm guessing that it won't be long before there are other offerings of a similar nature in the market. I could see Amazon itself getting into the business. Or, maybe a third party that builds its own Nirvanix-like management and billing infrastructure on top of S3 will spring up. The reason I mention this is that today, Nirvanix's differentiators (which also include a few different support options) might very well justify the premium cost of the service over a more vanilla offering like S3. Longer term though, as the competition in the storage-as-a-service marketplace heats up, we can expect the costs between the various players to be more in line with each other.