"When we think about who's using the public cloud for storage, it's really those like media companies that have need for fluctuating storage, and a lot of it. They go to the cloud, plop stuff in extra storage that they need for a certain period of time -- it's a fluid resource for them," says Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, an analyst at IDC.
Streaming media is the perfect use case for public cloud storage, Clarke adds.
"That's extremely storage-heavy. It's constantly being pinged, but it also involves lots of peaks and valleys and back-and-forth flow to a main pile of storage," she says.
For example, PBS Interactive stores 90% of its streaming video content in the Amazon S3 cloud. "S3 is brain-dead simple -- you put stuff in it and take stuff out of it," says Drew Engelson, chief architect and senior director of platform development at PBS in Arlington, Va.
In PBS's case, S3 is the origin server for media assets that get delivered via Amazon's CloudFront content delivery network. "We put the high-bit-rate original files on S3 for permanent storage and for ingestion into transcoding workloads. So we'll drop a high-bit-rate file into a particular S3 bucket that is being monitored by a transcoding service," he says. "The transcoding service will pick up that high-bit-rate file, transcode it into our final output format and drop those into a different S3 bucket. From there we can deliver those files through CloudFront."
It would have been possible, but difficult, to stream video content using a traditional infrastructure, according to Engelson. "We're a media organization, with a goal of delivering as much PBS content to end users as possible. We've simply found that this is one way that makes it easier to do that," he explains.
Success stories like that have helped generate interest in public cloud storage, says Couture. After all, the model does come with considerable positives -- scalability up and down, pay-by-use pricing, vendor-provided management, and software agnosticism. Those qualities, of course, are particularly appealing to lean start-ups and small and midsize companies, he says.
Gartner is projecting 100% year-over-year growth in public cloud storage services for the next five years -- though Couture points out that that's starting from a minuscule base. For 2011, Gartner projects that cloud storage revenue will hit $150 million to $200 million. "That isn't an extensive neighborhood," Couture says.