Review: Microsoft's hybrid cloud storage -- overpriced, underwhelming

Microsoft's Azure StorSimple backup and DR solution offers compelling Azure integrations, but the high price and absence of local management hold it back

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Microsoft bought its way into the storage hardware appliance market with the purchase of StorSimple almost two years ago. With the release of the StorSimple 8100 and 8600 hybrid cloud storage arrays, Microsoft has fully integrated these physical devices with Azure for seamless cloud connectivity. The integration includes the ability to move data from on premises to the Azure cloud for incremental backups, archiving, and full data protection and disaster recovery.

Microsoft has specific target use cases in mind for StorSimple appliances. The most obvious is as a simple file store with actively used files kept locally and older files moved to Microsoft Azure. This essentially implements primary storage on-site and archival storage off-site, with Microsoft Azure as the target for all long-term storage. Other use cases include remote data replication and disaster recovery. The DR capability is augmented by the new Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance, which gives you a counterpart to the StorSimple appliance that runs as a virtual machine in the Azure cloud.

One of the side benefits of keeping snapshots of local data in the cloud is the ability to mount the container directly in the cloud and access it remotely. StorSimple uses VHD files as the base storage format, meaning you can directly attach one of these files and treat it as you would a local file system. This opens the door to any number of potential uses, from application debugging to data analysis to retrieving lost data. The Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance can be used for all of these purposes.

Microsoft notes several specific use cases that aren’t a good fit for StorSimple. You shouldn't use StorSimple as a storage target for backup software or for System Center Data Protection Manager, as a data repository for Microsoft Exchange, or for any high-performance workload. Microsoft also cautions against using StorSimple for large SQL databases, as VM storage for apps with high-performance requirements, or as an archival store for data requiring active cataloging or indexing.

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