Zetta opens its storage cloud to all

The service is going out for general sale, aimed at enterprises

A cloud storage provider that designed its system from the ground up to meet enterprise needs is ready to offer its service to the world.

The Zetta Enterprise Storage Cloud, from Sunnyvale, California, startup Zetta, is set to enter general availability on Wednesday after months of beta testing, evaluations and use by a limited set of customers.

Zetta is designed as cloud storage specifically for enterprises, with features such as encryption and data integrity checks that set it apart from offerings such as Amazon S3, according to co-founder and CEO Jeff Treuhaft.

But industry analysts say the Silicon Valley startup may find it hard going up against services that are expected from more established IT vendors.

Founded early last year, Zetta is going after a relatively new task in cloud storage, offering to handle enterprises' primary storage instead of just backups and archives. It's a daunting task to take on the original copies of customers' important data, but the realities of building and running an in-house data center are starting to weigh on enterprises, especially in a challenging economy, some analysts say.

Still, companies are just starting to get used to the idea of handing off this component of IT to a third party.

Zetta claims it has solved the problems of enterprise cloud storage by building its software and hardware infrastructure specifically for multiple customers and for distributed computing.

Vendors that have tried to offer such services in the past just took equipment designed for individual enterprises and used a thin layer of software to adapt it to a multiuser service platform, according to Treuhaft. That prevented the earlier vendors from scaling up their services to meet demand, an issue that has only grown more important as the growth of stored data accelerates, he said.

Zetta began by developing its own file system, but not a special API (application programming interface) for sending data to the cloud. Customers can address Zetta's storage using standard file systems such as CIFS (Common Internet File System) and NFS (Network File System).

Its platform also includes features most IT departments are used to in their own environments, such as encryption, data integrity checks, the ability to retrieve snapshots of data over time, and eventually replication between two specific geographically dispersed Zetta data centers.

Because of its robust infrastructure, the company can offer higher SLAs (service-level agreements) than can other cloud storage providers such as Amazon's S3, Treuhaft said. Enterprises have embraced the promise of that kind of service, he said.

Nearly 50 companies participated in a beta test that began last December, and some of those plus other potential customers picked out by Zetta became paying customers after commercial service was begun in July.

Equinix, a global provider of collocation services, has been testing Zetta's service and hopes to use it for its own internal Microsoft SharePoint data. The Zetta cloud provides a resilient enterprise-class infrastructure that offers lower cost and faster deployment than building internal storage capacity, said CIO Brian Lillie.

"These guys know what they're doing," Lillie said. One of Zetta's data centers is hosted in an Equinix facility, but Lillie said he was interested in what the company was offering before it moved in.

The startup is doing everything that could be done to make a cloud-based service meet traditional enterprise storage requirements, IDC analyst Laura DuBois said. As enterprises grapple with running their own data centers, they may find this type of approach appealing once they get more used to the idea of cloud storage. The only real difference is that with an in-house data center, security risks are more contained, DuBois said.

However, Zetta is facing an uphill battle, because bigger names, such as Hewlett-Packard, want to do much the same, she said. Zetta could use this to its advantage.

"They need to form partnerships, and they need to get their technology adopted by larger IT companies," DuBois said.

Analyst Steve Duplessie of Enterprise Strategy Group put it more bluntly. "Corporations do not give up their data to unknowns easily," he said.

Zetta's ability to work with standard file systems is a key advantage, according to analyst Henry Baltazar of The 451 Group. It's not easy to apply a cloud storage service's API to an existing in-house application or shrink-wrapped software, Baltazar said.

In time, Zetta may also host computing resources as well and offer software vendors a way to host their applications in the Zetta cloud. It would be an opportunity specifically for purveyors of software for storage-related tasks, such as e-discovery and application data tiering, to "go where the data is," Treuhaft said.

When these kinds of vendors try to set up their software in enterprises' own data centers today, they tend to face a different configuration and a different integration nightmare at every potential customer site, which makes it harder to sell their capabilities, he said.

Zetta has two data centers in Silicon Valley today and plans to add facilities in New Jersey, Virginia, the Chicago area, Texas and Southern California over the next two years.

Pricing of the service begins at $0.25 per gigabyte per month, for a minimum of 1TB. There are discounts for larger space and term commitments.

Zetta said it can find economical options for network connectivity to its data centers and does not expect bandwidth to make up more than 20 percent of the cost of a customer's service.

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