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Tapping next-gen app markets, DigitalOcean adds block storage

Customers seeking to scale out memory independent of compute resources are the focus of a block storage addition from cloud hosting provider DigitalOcean.

IT pros serving up next-generation applications based on massive data sets are hungry for more storage, but without the appetite to scale up to larger, more expensive servers.

Seeking to tap into this growing market, DigitalOcean is adding block storage with a new SSD-backed feature, its first standalone storage service.

The New York-based cloud hosting provider has carved out a niche with software as a service (SaaS) companies and startups seeking ease of use rather than robust feature sets. It claims 700,000 registered customers have launched more than 18 million "droplets," a packaged virtual machine with prescribed amounts of compute, network and storage. The new block storage service costs $0.10 per gigabyte per month, up to 16 terabytes, and those volumes can be attached to and moved between droplets.

Aqua Platform, a startup based in the Netherlands, uses DigitalOcean to host the open source ad serving system Revive Adserver on its SaaS platform. Prior to beta testing block storage, the large volume of data tied to the ads quickly filled discs on its database servers. That required the company to expand to larger droplets multiple times even though it didn't need the extra CPUs and was approaching the point where it would outgrow the service.

"[Block storage] came at the right time, as we were starting to prepare for an eventuality that will become a reality for us," said Erik Geurts, general manager at Aqua Platform.

Aqua Platform set up a database server with identical specs to the ones it already had and linked it to the block storage as a beta customer. Both simple and complex queries performed just as fast, if not faster, than with the built-in SSD discs, Geurts said.

A midmarket sweet spot

This block storage service would be good for database applications with huge data sets and high-end performance demands, said Brian Gracely, lead cloud analyst with Wikibon based in Marlborough, Mass. However, it probably isn't the best answer for storage administrators looking at multi-tiered storage, snapshot replication or disaster recovery. 

Rather than gradually adding a slew of services, such as load balancing and security features, into a fully formed service that doesn't do any one thing particularly well, DigitalOcean has been successful following a path that seems to work best for cloud vendors, Gracely said. These providers focus on a minimally viable product and monitor customers' patterns to add targeted features as demand increases.

This model worked in the early days of Amazon Web Services, Gracely said. "It tends to be very data-driven, versus how the telco and managed service providers go about doing it by trying to build every feature upfront," he said.

DigitalOcean is slowly expanding up market, from targeting individual developers to catering to their business needs. It isn't making the leap to full-scale enterprise provider as many hyper-scale providers have over the past two years, but going after the next-generation applications that are driven by big data and cheap storage could be a real step into being a mainstream infrastructure provider, said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

It's also a refreshing move after several years of market consolidation, he added.  "It's good to see more competition, because many other players are being disheartened and discouraged by the big gorillas," Mueller said.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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