2014 stands to be a pivotal year in the history of the world’s largest software maker. Not only will Microsoft be nearing the end of its fourth decade in business, but it will be commandeered by only its third CEO and the first since the soon-to-be-retired Steve Ballmer took over from Bill Gates on Jan. 13, 2000.
While it is still the world’s dominant provider of PC operating systems and workplace software applications, Microsoft famously has attempted to gain similar success in other lines of business for years. The company has experienced widely varying degrees of success in businesses such as video game hardware, smartphones, containerized data centers, automobile connectivity and cloud services, among others.
In the data center sector, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has invested a huge amount of capital in its Windows Azure cloud system in a concerted attempt to catch up with the runaway success of another Pacific Northwest company, Amazon. In fact, eWEEK learned through a Microsoft insider that the company has bought enough extra cloud-related data center hardware to cover 17 football fields–or 979,200 square feet. If each server or array takes up a footprint of three square feet, we’re talking about more than 326,000 devices.
Company Has Bought Plenty of Capacity for Cloud
In 2014, Microsoft needs to start firing up all those servers and arrays for new customers, but this is extremely hard to do with Amazon so far out in front in cloud services. According to IT researcher Gartner, Amazon’s stranglehold on the Web services market is such that its cloud computing service, AWS, has sold more than five times the combined capacity of the next 14 competitors, including Microsoft.
However, one area where Microsoft can expect to make some inroads next year is in cloud storage hardware and software sales, and not only because there is an insatiable demand for reliable services from all vendors. It is mostly because the company’s October 2012 acquisition of StorSimple and its easy-to-use appliances is on a fast ramp upward.
A StorSimple appliance can be operated by anybody who is familiar with Windows, and that takes in just about everybody on Earth. It uses drop-down menus and wizards and requires a minimum of clicks. It classifies all content to determine whether it is a working copy or an older version. It keeps all working copies on local drives and automatically migrates all other content onto the cloud.
Automatic Processes Speed Production
The appliances automatically deduplicate content, which reduces total storage required by a large margin. Each block is then ranked using StorSimple’s BlockRank algorithm to determine the company’s working set of files that are necessary for everyday operations.
With only one-quarter of the data being stored locally and a deduplication ratio of 10, StorSimple reduces the amount of data that needs to be stored locally and moved over a wide-area network.
Why Microsoft is Banking Heavily on StorSimple for 2014
“By coupling StorSimple with Windows Azure, Microsoft offers something truly unique in the market: hybrid cloud storage,” Microsoft CVP Brad Anderson wrote in a recent blog post. “This kind of approach to storage is a critical part of our Cloud OS vision, and it is a key part of how we look at the adoption and application of hybrid clouds.”
A year after the acquisition, StorSimple sales continue to grow much faster than anybody expected, Anderson wrote.
“To put that in context, market demand is significantly ahead of our initial expectations, and deployment of StorSimple systems grew by 700 percent in the six months following the acquisition. In a very short amount of time, StorSimple has become a key part of our differentiated storage portfolio, and it is a core part of Windows Azure’s storage offering,” Anderson said.
Integration with Azure Cloud
Anderson noted two use cases that are trending in the market: seamless integration with Azure that uses public clouds as an extended tier of primary storage as the data gets colder; and rapid back-up and recovery, made possible via a combination of several processes that automate data protection via snapshots to the cloud.
The latter also supports data recovery for business continuity that is much faster than conventional tape backups.
“This emphasis on continuity is a key part of the disaster recovery scenario; the only data that is actually needed is downloaded to the new data center, and this means the recovery times can often be measured in hours vs. day or weeks,” Anderson said.
Cities Use StorSimple for Multiple Purposes
For example, the city of San Jose, Calif. deployed StorSimple to upgrade its backup and restore process, and later to replace its storage-area network entirely. The city of Palo Alto, Calif., which selected StorSimple over a traditional SAN, ended up spending $60,000 against the $250,000 it would have taken to build out the SAN, Anderson said.
Microsoft has been making storage news for most of the past 24 months, with the launch of the updated SkyDrive cloud storage service, a deal with Symantec to provide cloud-based disaster recovery, and Windows 8, which includes new storage-related features.
The clear message here: Microsoft, despite its slow start in the cloud, is becoming a serious player in cloud storage, thanks to its installed base and new products that work and are easy for business people to use.