Storage Soup

Sep 7 2015   4:48PM GMT

Formation Data Systems CEO offers take on hot storage trends

Carol Sliwa Carol Sliwa Profile: Carol Sliwa

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Formation Data Systems CEO Mark Lewis has strong opinions on the direction that storage needs to take.

He sees the adoption of on-demand, “as-a-service” cloud models as the future, in contrast to the traditional networked storage model that “so many players out there in startup storage land” continue to follow.

Lewis founded Formation Data Systems in September 2012 after failed attempts to create a “ubiquitous data virtualization layer” at EMC with Invista and at Compaq/Hewlett-Packard with VersaStor. Formation raised $24.2 million in Series A funding in December 2013 from Pelion Ventures, Third Point Ventures, Dell Ventures and Mayfield.

The FormationOne Dynamic Storage Platform is data and storage virtualization software that runs on commodity x86 server hardware, whether bare metal or virtual machines (VMs), at multiple service levels, from archive to tier 1. The objective was to create a “consistent data layer” to enable capabilities such as snapshots, replication and deduplication across blocks, files and objects.

Lewis contrasts Formation’s approach to the model followed by EMC, which he said must write management code separately for siloed platforms such as Data Domain, VNX, Isilon, Symmetrix and XtremIO.

In the following interview excerpts, Lewis addressed some of the hottest technologies:

What is your strategy on hyperconvergence?

Lewis: My belief is that, from a market framework, the storage market in aggregate is going to go through two disruptions. At the entry level, we see hyperconverged, and I would characterize that as Nutanix, SimpliVity, et al, which has been going on for four or five years now. We’ll do very, very well at the entry to mid-tier and what I call single application, VDI frameworks because it’s very economical. It will replace a lot of low-end SANs, iSCSI, low-end NFS clusters, stuff like that because at that end, why do you need even storage and servers separated?

We believe at the high end that hyperconverged is not that interesting. When you’re going to need an elastic system that may operate against hundreds of applications, many, many use cases, the idea of converging the ratios of servers, network and storage and having to have a one all in box actually is economically suboptimal. So we believe that with larger scale systems, you really do want to consolidate as you have around networking, compute and storage in elastic deliverable pools because you might start out with a small amount of storage and a large amount of compute and then have to grow the storage or change the networking. And when you have hundreds and hundreds of potentially scale-out applications, those ratios aren’t the same. We believe that the new unified platform storage – we call it dynamic storage – becomes the disruptor for the mid- to high-end market vs. legacy large SANs and what not.

Which vendors or technologies have you gone up against with pilot customers?

Lewis: We’ve gotten most of our deal flow through people who have tried Ceph and been unable to be successful there or found that that it was far too much work . . . Other than that, we have some people that were presently on Amazon or [Amazon Web Services] AWS, and for scaling and other flexibility reasons want to build some or all of their own data centers. These would be startups software-as-a-service companies.

Then again, it’s less competition and more selection of alternatives. Some will say, ‘Well, I’m just not ready to do anything different.’ And so the alternative is to do nothing. We’ll see how it shakes up.

How do you differ from Ceph and vendors that claim to be software-defined, with the ability to run on any server hardware?

Lewis: By any definition that I’ve seen of the word, we are software defined. I believe that’s kind of like saying we’re defined as being a car or something. It’s accurate but not descriptive or helpful. It’s been so overused. I see people rebranding their old arrays saying, ‘We’re software, and we run an Intel processor in there,’ even though it’s unique, and ‘We’re going to be software-defined.’

We’re different in both technology and customer enlightenment and focus. We are trying to build something that will ultimately get categorized as modern enterprise storage – not technology, not open source.

Ceph started its life as open source software. Really cool stuff. Really technical. But really not very usable within enterprise storage . . . We looked at Ceph as the potential framework for Formation, but it didn’t have the enterprise-type technology we felt was needed. We are trying to appeal to people that need enterprise storage features and still would like to have it done within a private cloud. You have to be able to snapshot, to have quality of service guarantees, multi-tenancy, policy-based management, things like that.

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