Tech

Cloudflare R2 Storage service takes aim at Amazon S3

Cloudflare on Tuesday announced its R2 Storage service with the promise that it will store customers’ data without taking it hostage.

R2 Storage stands for “Really Requestable,” “Ridiculously Reliable,” and several other aspirational formulations approved by marketing copywriters. It’s designed to be compatible with S3, Amazon Web Service’s Simple Storage Service, at least on the API level.

Where R2 diverges from S3 is its approach to billing – that and not being publicly available just yet. In July, Cloudflare took aim at AWS’s “egregious” egress fees – what AWS charges customers to transfer their own data off its servers – by charging $0.015 per GB of data and limited egress fees.

AWS at the time responded by defending its need to recoup its network investment and by noting that it has “made eight data transfer out (egress) related price cuts in the last 11 years.”

But Cloudflare continues to press on price, having perhaps sensed an opportunity to turn Jeff Bezos’s famous dictum, “Your margin is my opportunity,” back on the company that first applied it.

Prince not interested in charming Amazon

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince on Monday evening challenged AWS’s cost-cutting claim by noting via Twitter that the cloud giant’s cost-cutting scissors have gotten rusty: “Fun fact: AWS hasn’t reduced the price of S3 since December 2016.”

AWS did discount a different service, Glacier, this year. And the company has added S3 features during this period, like strong consistency. So it’s not as if AWS has been idly lounging on its $59bn annual run rate doing nothing; it’s just not aiming to be the low-price leader.

Characterizing egress fees as a tax that doesn’t translate into value for customers, product manager Greg McKeon argued that R2 demonstrates Cloudflare’s commitment to the Bandwidth Alliance, an anti-egress fee consortium, by providing zero-cost transfers out for storage objects, regardless of request rate.

“Egress bandwidth is often the largest charge for developers utilizing object storage and is also the hardest charge to predict,” said McKeon in a blog post. “Eliminating it is a huge win for open-access to data stored in the cloud.”

To turn its declared win into a loss for AWS and other competitors that support egress fees, Cloudflare is providing developers with a free migration service that works with any other S3-compatible storage services.

McKeon insists R2’s low price isn’t being made up by shifting costs elsewhere. “Cloudflare R2 will be priced at $0.015 per GB of data stored per month — significantly cheaper than major incumbent providers,” he said, adding that there will be no charge for infrequent storage operations – less than 10 requests per second – and that R2 will charge less per-operation than other major providers.

Better still from a customer perspective, R2 looks to be simpler even than Amazon Simple Storage Service and its no-so-simple tiering system. According to McKeon, R2 manages the tiering of data to maximize performance at peak load and to avoid cost for infrequently requested objects.

“We’ve gotten rid of complex, manual tiering policies in favor of what developers have always wanted out of object storage: limitless scale at the lowest possible cost,” he explained.

Whole lotta shakin’ goin on

In a post to Hacker News, Ben Schaechter, co-founder of cloud cost analytics biz Vantage, suggested Cloudflare has an opportunity to shake things up.

“The amount of effort it takes to understand and account for S3 Intelligent-Tiering is somewhat mind-blowing so to get rid of all of that (and the corresponding fees) would be really nice and TheWayThingsShouldBe™ for the customer,” he said. “On top of that most users just don’t even know S3 Intelligent-Tiering exists so it’ll be great if Cloudflare just handles that automatically.”

In a phone call with The Register, Schaechter said that S3 offers four different classes of storage and that most customers use the standard tier, which is the most expensive. But AWS, he said, offers a service called Amazon S3 Intelligent-Tiering that customers can pay for to have AWS monitor file access patterns and shift them to a different storage class with a more favorable price structure.

“It’s not very well known, it’s complicated, and you have to pay an additional fee,” he said. “What Cloudflare is saying out of the box is not only can we do this cheaper, but we’ll do it on your behalf automatically.”

Schaechter, who worked previously at AWS and at DigitalOcean, acknowledged that AWS is known in the industry for high egress fees. “Amazon,” he said, “can command those fees because they have a suite of 250 other services you don’t get elsewhere.”

Some AWS customers, he said, may be able to move easily to Cloudflare while others, particularly large organizations, may not easily be able to lift and shift their operations. How this all plays out, he said, will depend upon how R2 actually performs once it’s publicly available.

“Not everything is price-related,” he said. “People are willing to pay for better performance.”

Cloudflare R2 is currently under development and those interested can sign up to a wait list for early access. ®




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