The cloud storage hype has been bothering me for some time (see Are there economies of scale in storage?). Even more irritating than the “storage as a service” meme.

The problem with cloud storage is threefold:

  • The availability isn’t as good as a disk drive.
  • The performance is limited by network latency and bandwidth, i.e. terrible by traditional storage standards.
  • The economies of scale for the clusters behind cloud storage remain undefined – but the pay-as-you-go model has a distinct CapEx advantage.

In short, it is a new class of storage with a distinct set of benefits and problems. The problem for product designers: how to best conceptualize cloud storage.

That’s where thinking of cloud storage as a component makes sense. It is a storage device with distinct levels of reliability, availability, performance and cost.

Flash, disk drives, DRAM, SRAM, arrays, tape are all storage components. They all get built into storage devices or even – in marketing jargon – “solutions.”

Why not a service?
Dismissing cloud storage as a lousy service – limited bandwidth, high-latency, subject to Internet squalls and provider goofs – isn’t enough. It isn’t a service because it requires a framework of enabling technology around it to be useful – which is why it is a component.

A car wash, haircut or a Google search is a service. You show up in your car, with your hair or a browser and a complete transaction occurs. A job completes.

A component is instrumental in job completion, but it doesn’t do the job. A disk drive is a component. It needs power and a front-end interface – USB, 1394, eSATA – for the simplest use case.

Service, component, who cares?
A key problem in research is asking the right question. A key problem in marketing is giving the right answer to the right question.

In this case, the right question is “how can cloud storage be used to create a compelling value proposition for our target customers?”

The StorageMojo take
The number of similar cloud services on the market suggests the wrong question is being answered. While there is a market for raw cloud storage – as Amazon’s S3 has shown – the real opportunity is incorporating it as a component – in a solution to a business problem.

This is an example of where the common technical meaning of the term “service” – the provision of a discrete function within a systems environment – differs from the common marketing meaning. As a result marketing and engineering are talking at cross-purposes – again! – about a developing market.

As the most successful consumer storage products of the last decade – USB thumb drives and the iPod – show, embedding storage into an attractive package is key. Amazon may be the world’s largest supplier of OEM cloud storage, but the real money will be made by those who build it into a convenient solution.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.