Iron Mountain, the well known information management company, is exiting the cloud storage business. The company announced yesterday that they will be phasing out their basic cloud storage services by 2013. Iron Mountain isn’t the first provider to turn its back on the cloud just as the space is getting off of the ground; but it is probably the most high profile company to exit this business.
I’ve always liked Iron Mountain because the name makes me think of the Hobbit (remember Dain of the Iron Hills?) In fact I think that Iron Mountain is one of the all time great company names, and their marketing group deserves credit for leveraging this to build a very strong brand around what is arguably a pretty dull and conventional service—that of records management. The extension of this brand into the cloud seemed obvious and fitting, so at first blush its disappointing that they’ve made a decision to reverse course.
In reality though, it seems that Iron Mountain is performing more of a realignment of its cloud strategy. Simple cloud-based storage is just not very hard to do, and so the field is rapidly becoming as crowded as the battle of five armies. Differentiation is the key to great brands, and its hard to standout from S3 or Carbonite or Mozy or any of the dozens of providers peddling mass storage services in the cloud. Iron Mountain seemed to recognize that their brand could be better served—that is, both leveraged and protected—by ducking out of the commodity bazaar and moving up the street to provide a more specialized and business-aligned service.
This is all very interesting because over the next few years we will see that brand—that most mysterious response in the consumer’s mind—is going to be the deciding factor that makes or breaks a cloud provider’s success. And as Amazon has demonstrated, cloud branding can come out of the most unlikely places.
This is what makes me–and many others I’m sure–hesitant about storing much stuff “in the cloud”. If a (large) provider can suddenly decide to “quit”, what can happen with smaller providers? Imagine the hassles. I have my photos up on SmugMug, but have resisted going all the way by subscribing to Carbonite, Mozy, or their ilk.