Microsoft has previewed a new immutable storage capability for its Azure Storage Blobs, a move cheered by cloud-focused solution providers as a way to get clients in regulated industries to move their sensitive data to cloud storage.
Microsoft, in a blog post written by Mitra Sinha, principal product manager for Azure storage, unveiled the public preview of a WORM, or write-once-read-many, option for Azure Blobs.
The new WORM capability is targeted at businesses which need to retain and prove the integrity of business-related data to meet regulatory requirements from organizations like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Sinha wrote.
"Through configurable policies, users can keep Azure Blob storage data in an immutable state where Blobs can be created and read, but not modified or deleted," she wrote.
WORM for Azure Storage Blobs is useful for such workloads as regulatory compliance, secure document retention, and legal hold, Sinha wrote.
It features time-based retention policy support so that the data can be stored immutably for a specified time, legal hold policy support to hold data immutable until a legal hold is cleared, support for all storage tiers from hot to cool to archive storage, and configuration at the Blob Container level. The WORM capability is available at no extra charge, she wrote.
Solution providers said WORM for Blobs is a welcome feature for clients facing regulatory issues with their data, and in some cases gives Azure a leg-up on competitors like Amazon Web Services.
It's a great move for partners servicing clients in financial markets, said Sam Barhoumeh, founder and CEO of ReadyNetworks, an Evanston, Ill.-based MSP and Microsoft Azure partner.
"Business users have to create regulatory environments around issues related to data processing," Barhoumeh told CRN. "Box.com can containerize data with WORM. Now Azure can do it, too. Just activate the WORM module and tie it to the client."
Immutable storage for Azure Storage Blobs now gives partners a one-stop cloud experience because they no longer have to look to third-party partners to offer immutable storage on Azure, Barhoumeh said.
"This validates Azure for customers," he said. "It's one less thing other competitors can claim as a differentiator. Azure now offers a platform from discovery to delivery of data with respect to entire workload stacks for compliance purposes."
About 30 percent of ReadyNetworks' Infrastructure-as-a-Service workflow goes to Azure, while a higher percentage goes through AWS, Barhoumeh said. AWS offers immutable storage, although partners need to know how to create the storage policies, he said.
"You can template everything happening at Azure or AWS," he said. "But it's not marketed that way. And Microsoft is simpler. It now allows mid-market businesses to add WORM to a service and then move on without the need to establish a warm room for the data. Just sync all the data in a container as immutable."
Matt Darlington, client IT architect at StraightLine I.T., a Clayton, N.C.-based MSP and Microsoft Azure channel partner, said the new WORM capability is a huge deal to the smaller medical clinics and drug and alcohol rehabilitation organizations who make up a significant amount of his company's business.
The lack of the WORM capabilities needed for HIPAA compliance has been a big hinderance for clients who might otherwise look to the Azure cloud, Darlington told CRN.
"This will greenlight some projects that have been stymied," he said. "Drug rehab clients are especially conservative. For one of my drug rehab clients, this has been the singular thing keeping them from Azure."
Azure is becoming a very popular cloud platform for clients, Darlington said.
"Nobody got fired for going with Microsoft," he said. "The skillsets clients have in-house are all more Windows based. So there's less uncertainties for them to move to Azure than to AWS."
Jason Rook, vice president of market development at 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based MSP and cloud services provider, told CRN that the addition of immutable storage to Azure Storage Blobs shows that Microsoft is continuing to find and address gaps in its tools.
"We see this in every facet of Azure, whether it's storage, artificial intelligence, or directory services, where the engineering team continues to broaden the platform and innovate," Rook said.