Storage Soup


November 28, 2012  1:08 PM

Qumulo looks to repeat Isilon’s culture, success

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Seattle-based startup Qumulo closed a whopping $24.5 million Series A funding round last week, without even dropping the F-word (flash) or C-word (cloud) that many startups rely on to woo venture capitalists these days.

The Qumulo press release did delve into data growth and played up the team’s Isilon connection. CEO Peter Godman, CTO Aaron Passey and VP of engineering Neal Fachan helped develop Isilon’s OneFS clustered file system that propelled that company to an IPO in 2006 and a $2.25 billion buyout by EMC in 2010.

Qumulo’s executives left Isilon in between IPO and acquisition. Now Godman says he would like to recreate the Isilon culture, even if he can’t replicate the software because EMC now owns the intellectual property. The Isilon connection helped sway Highland Capital Partners, Madrona Venture Group, and Valhalla Partners to invest in Qumulo’s first round.

“Our Isilon experience was a relevant factor in our fund raising [with the VCs], but Isilon was also an extraordinary event in our lives,” Godman said. “It was a vibrant and unique culture, and I give credit to Isilon founders Sujal [Patel] and Paul [Mikesell] for creating that experience.”

Mikesell is VP of engineering at Clustrix and Patel is training for marathons after leaving EMC last month, but Qumolo is sure to have other former Isilon employees on the team. Godman said he plans to expand Qumolo’s 18-person team by 50 or so with almost all the hires based in Seattle.

Godman won’t talk about specifics of the product they are developing, but Qumulo’s press release said the startup will solve manageability, scalability and efficiency problems in storage. Those same characteristics apply to Isilon’s OneFS but Qumulo can’t copy that technology.

“We’re respectful of the IP ownership issue,” Godman said. “Everyone who is an engineer has had to deal with that need to stand clear of things you know are incumbent. But the flip side is it’s easiest to avoid infringing on things you know about.”

He said Qumulo will reveal the timeframe for its product next year. He is willing to address more general storage topics, such as how much the underlying technology has changed in the more than a decade since Isilon began developing its clustered file system.

“Object storage is starting to come into its own now, with a lot of vendors and Amazon S3 using it,” he said. “That part has changed a lot. Also, NAND flash is here now. Its rapidly dropping cost and performance characteristics are disrupting storage technologies, so the kind of storage you build for that looks different than the storage you build for hard disk drives. That couples nicely with the emergence of virtualization. Virtual machines place stress on storage that NAND flash is uniquely suited to address in a cost-efficient way.”

Are there any hints there in what Qumulo is doing? We’ll find out in 2013.

November 20, 2012  9:23 AM

When technologies collide, the customers win

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

It should be apparent now that new technology drives advances of older technology. Storage companies have a lot to lose if their technology is eclipsed by newer technology, so they continue to fiercely market and invest in extending the older technology. Survival is a driving force for a company and for individuals that have invested their careers in aligning with a technology.

The competition, if you can call it that, between a new technology and the previous generational technology is interesting to watch if you are not invested in one or the other. The older technology must be advanced to stay relevant. In the storage industry, this competition usually means increased capacity at a lower cost with better performance.

An example of this is the advent of solid state storage in the form of NAND flash technology as part of a primary storage device. Flash-based storage continues to become less expensive quickly with capacity increases due to lithography process improvements, better efficiency with added intelligence to manage usage characteristics, and longer lifespan with techniques such as write amplification. It looks as if the reductions will continue for some time based on investments being made into the technology and the number of competitors, but NAND flash itself will be challenged in the future with new generation solid state technologies. Phase Change Memory (PCM) appears to the next solid state technology with promise for continued advancement in the 2015-16 time frame.

At the same time, solid state storage advances are pushing hard disk drives — the current generation technology for primary storage. Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) and Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) are technologies developed to increase the recording density.

These will address cost issues but may create issues in the areas of I/O access density, which measures the amount of work being done on a disk drive. Because the disk drive is an electro-mechanical device, the number of I/Os may not be increased in relation to the capacity increase and the ability to get information from the device may be reduced in that relationship. The time to rebuild information from a failed drive in a RAID configuration also suffers from new hard drive technology. The larger capacities may take so long to rebuild that the probability of a second failure becomes unacceptable.  Some vendors have implemented advanced Forward Error Correction using Erasure Coding to address this problem.

The advances that new technology forces on older technology are valuable to customers and help “move the ball forward,” to use a football term. Competition is good for the customer whether it is in the form of storage vendors competing with products or in the form of new technologies competing for generational change and dominance.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).


November 13, 2012  10:06 PM

Isilon ready to go live with ‘Maverick’ OS

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

EMC acquired Isilon two years ago to fill a void among big data and scale-out NAS use cases that mainstream NAS products could not handle. Now Isilon is taking steps to become better suited to mainstream enterprise applications with the latest version of its OneFS operating system that works with all Isilon hardware platforms.

EMC is making its Isilon OneFS 7.0 operating system, code-named “Mavericks,” generally available Friday. Previewed at EMC World in May, OneFS 7.0 has data protection, performance, security and interoperability features more suited to mainstream NAS products than the traditional clustered NAS Isilon capabilities.

Isilon is used largely in media and entertainment, life sciences, oil and gas exploration, healthcare and other high-performance applications. Sam Grocott, VP of marketing for EMC Isilon, said the large capacity files used in those industries now increasingly show up in enterprises.

“Isilon has been used in a world of massive capacity and extreme I/O performance environments that can grow quickly,” Grocott said. “Now we’re seeing those types of data sets show up in enterprise data centers. For instance, we’ve seen much more rapid adoption of enterprise customers dealing with extremely large home directories. We’re seeing up to hundreds of terabytes for a home directory.”

EMC claims the new OneFS version increases single file system throughput by 25% over the former version and new caching capabilities reduce latency by up to 50%. OneFS 7.0 reduces latency by giving each storage node its own nonvolatile random access memory (NVRAM) with cache built in, mirroring writes to cache to other nodes’ caches via InfiniBand across clusters, and confirming the write after the mirror. Previous versions of OneFS would write data to disk after caching it before confirming the write was complete.

Data protection improvements include the ability to use an active snapshot as a writeable snapshot, so a snap no longer has to be copied into an active file system to replace a lost file. Copying the snap could require a lengthy wait in a big data environment. EMC also added one-click failover and fail back to Isilon’s SyncIQ replication software for disaster recovery.

New security features include compliance with SEC 17a-4 requirements for tamper-proof data protection, roles-based administration to prevent unauthorized change to files, and the creation of isolated storage pools with authentication zones.

“We’re not physically creating separate storage silos, but we are logically separating access and directories,” Grocott said of the authentication zones. “Service providers are big proponents of this.”

Interoperability improvements include a REST-based API for third-party vendors to write to, and support for VMware vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI) and vStorage APIs for Storage Awareness (VASA).

While casting Isilon as a more mainstream storage system, EMC is stopping short of pushing its iSCSI support for block storage. The midrange VNX platform is EMC’s main unified storage product, even though Isilon does support iSCSI.

“The way customers use our storage, it’s predominantly file today and will continue to be that way,” Grocott said. “We’re going to be focusing on file-based storage.”


November 12, 2012  9:13 AM

Storage software tools can be too independent

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

I recently spoke with a storage software vendor promoting a product that was an independent storage management and reporting tool. The functionality it performed was impressive. There were high-value capabilities that a storage administrator could find useful. The product ticked many of the boxes for what was needed by a storage administrator.

But, it was really a standalone product. It required a separate physical server for installation. It did not integrate with any top-level management software or any other real-time monitoring software. There was no link to any other storage management tools. The product had a narrow focus. It did one thing, but it did it well. I just got this visual image that I had one type of screwdriver given to me but I had to go find another whole box of tools to fix the car and keep it running.

The vendor had great pride in what the product did and that was understandable. The term “best in class” fit the product. But it was only one screwdriver. The tool would be useful, but the scope of managing storage is much bigger than that.

There was opportunity for the product. There would be IT storage administrators who needed that specific tool. The specialists that would use an independent tool are primarily in the high-end of the enterprise market. The lower segments of the industry typically have fewer unique specialists. The administrators there have multiple responsibilities, which in many cases now include server virtualization administration, operating system, networking and storage.

A tool that can work in an environment where the administrator is not necessarily focused on storage and does not have the specialist training would be much more useful. How this reconciles with the “best in class” designation may cause a rethinking of the parameters applied to that definition.

It comes down to being uncompromising in the way the tool operates versus making it work for a broader segment of the market. If there are enough sales of an independent product, the vendor will continue with this method. What constitutes enough sales depends on the vendor and the price of the product. The determination about making the product work in a more integrated environment has many considerations – additional development time required, changes that occur outside of the vendor’s control, which integrated environments to target, etc.

For the IT customer, the evaluation of storage management processes and tools needs to include the different offerings available and the needs for the environment. “Best in class” may not always be best in the environment.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).


November 8, 2012  12:32 PM

FalconStor hires banker to explore sale or funding options

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

After another rocky quarter, FalconStor has hired investment banker Wells Fargo Securities to evaluate “strategic alternatives.”

FalconStor CEO Jim McNiel stopped short of saying the data protection vendor is for sale but said he is considering all options. He said FalconStor cannot fund all the projects on its development roadmap without a cash injection.

When asked during FalconStor’s earnings call Wednesday if he would consider selling off patent licenses or other intellectual property, McNiel said, “the main purpose behind retaining Wells Fargo is to explore all strategic alternatives. We have a sizable R&D pipeline and a number of key products we would like to invest in. We are developing [disaster recovery and next-generation deduplication and backup storage repository products], and those initiatives are being funded from operations. There are other projects we would love to fund, but we can’t do it from operations.”

McNiel predicted that the new data protection products in development would bring FalconStor revenue to double-digit growth, and he said he expects the company to be cash flow positive this quarter after cost-cutting moves including layoffs. But FalconStor’s $17.1 million revenue last quarter was down from %18.9 million last year for a 9% drop. FalconStor lost $3.6 million last quarter. That’s not as bad as the $5.4 million lost in the same quarter of 2011, but leaves the vendor with $25.8 million in cash and assets.

FalconStor is counting on $10 million in annual savings from its recent reorganization, but McNiel said it is difficult to close sales because of soft IT spending and heavy discounting by competitors.

“We weren’t terrifically happy with the results,” McNiel said on the earnings call.

He continued to paint a rosy product picture for the future, however, saying FalconStor’s near-term product roadmap represents a “new day of innovation.”

Rivals like to remind potential customers of FalconStor’s rough recent history, including a $5.8 million payment to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle criminal and civil charges that the vendor bribed a customer. Those charges prompted founder ReiJane Huai to resign as CEO in September 2010, and he committed suicide a year later.

While McNiel said the goal of any transaction would be to increase shareholder value, several FalconStor channel partners said they welcome a sale of the company when McNiel replaced Huai in 2010.


October 30, 2012  7:29 PM

Scale Computing wary of EMC’s ‘VMware trap’

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Scale Computing will use the $12 million funding round it recently closed to market its HC3 “hyper-converged” platform that combines storage, virtualization and networking. That marketing job includes explaining why the startup chose to use Red Hat’s KVM as the embedded hypervisor instead of VMware.

The funding release that went out last week claims that Scale has close to 100 HC3 deployments in the first four weeks of its launch and it accounted for half of the startup’s sales in the third quarter. Scale still sells storage-only systems but is clearly shifting its focus to its converged box.

“HC3 is now the foundational product for the company,” said Pat Conte, Scale’s general manager of worldwide field operations.

While much of the funding round will be spent on marketing, Conte said there are product enhancements on the short-term roadmap. One new feature will be the ability to migrate virtual machines from the user interface. Others include “more complex networking, and things that will enhance the UI but not change functionality.”

One thing Scale will not change in the near-term is its decision to use the KVM hypervisor instead of VMware inside the HC3. Conte said Scale supports VMware for customers who want to use HC3 as a SAN connected to external servers. But the servers inside HC3 are built on KVM along with Scale’s clustered file system.

Conte said Scale chose KVM over VMware because it is cheaper to license and “KVM is the fastest hypervisor we found.”

That’s the technical reason for snubbing VMware. There is also a strategic one, which Scale CEO Jeff Ready laid out in a recent e-mail exchange with me. Pointing to Hitachi Data Systems’ new Unified Compute Platform (UCP) converged stack, which is managed through VMware vCenter, Ready charged that HDS is the latest vendor to fall into EMC’s VMware trap. He added that having an integrated hypervisor is a crucial part of a converged stack, but EMC rivals should avoid using VMware because EMC is the majority owner of VMware. He expects EMC to integrate VMware into its hardware and work more closely with VMware than other storage vendors can.

”When products move to fully integrated hypervisors, it is EMC who sits in the driver’s seat with their relationship with Vmware,”Ready wrote. “And all hardware vendors who are driving customers to a semi-converged solution requiring VMware are falling into the trap EMC has set for them.”

Ready claims Scale avoids the EMC trap by using KVM, “eliminating VMware licensing costs entirely, and offering an elegant, powerful solution that steers customers clear of this EMC trap.” He also maintains the days of VMware’s vendor neutrality are over.

“To me, VMware, as we’ve known it, is dead,” ”Ready added. “The hypervisor itself, as a differentiator, is dead. What matters are the applications, the management tools, and the automation. Selling those types of tools — often at very high licensing costs — is the world of EMC. VMware is EMC. What we are offering is an alternative solution to this, one that leverages the current hyper-convergence trends – and builds its tools, licensing and integration into a package built specifically for the midmarket.”

Of course, basing your survival on the death of VMware is either lunacy or genius. That makes Scale worth watching either way.


October 30, 2012  2:24 PM

Nasuni pulls in $20 milliion in a Series C funding

Sonia Lelii Sonia Lelii Profile: Sonia Lelii

Storage cloud provider Nasuni Corp. today announced it has secured $20 million in a Series C round from a new  anonymous invester. In total, the company has raised $43 million since its founding in 2009, which includes the $8 million it raised in a Series A round and another $15 million it raised in a Series B funding round.

Andres Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder, said most of the new money will be used for to expand sales and marketing.  “We have to be in more places with more prospects,” he said.

The Natick, MA.-based Nasuni has 45 employees and expects to double its headcount in the next year. “We ended closing the round sooner than expected because we got so much interest that we decided to take it.  I had  intended to close the round at the end of the year, ” said Rodriguez.

Nasuni’s strategy is to target the storage-as-a-service market. It’s cloud product is a controller that is placed on a customer’s site and works as a translator so data can be stored in the Amazon S3 or Microsoft Azure cloud. The controller is available on a hardware appliance or as a software virtual appliance that customers can install on any hardware. The company targets primary storage along with built-in backup and replication.

Some of Nasuni’s more recent product announcements include adding a block interface to it cloud storage controller, which had supported NFS and CIFS, so it can deliver unified storage for enterprises’ remote and branch offices. The company also recently announced it is delivering offerings for mobile access to cloud-based storage to help organizations keep up with demand from employees to view, share and collaborate on files from any mobile device or location.,

Besides the anonymous invester, previous investors Fybride Capital Partners of Boston, North Bridge Venture Partners of Waltham and Sigma Partners of Boston took part in this Series C financing.


October 29, 2012  7:35 AM

Per-TB licensing changes behavior, impacts efficiency

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

Once again I’ve run into an information technology director faced with acquiring software for storage that was licensed on a per-terabyte basis. Like others I’ve talked to in that situation, he made his decision based on that charge and not by taking into full consideration what he needed. The cos-per-terabyte charge can be so large that it has an impact on efficient storage operations.

The cost-per-terabyte charge applied in storage varies depending on the product and the vendor. Vendors are not even consistent from product to product on the charges. A few of the different ways they are represented to their customers illustrate this frustrating point:

Per terabyte of managed capacity is a common charge for storage management software. Unfortunately, vendors definite managed capacity differently.

  • Terabytes presented to the host is another measure that requires reading the fine print to understand. It usually means the capacity that that the operating system can see from the storage system. That method of measuring does not reduce the license cost for data reduced with deduplication or compression by the storage system.
  • “Terabytes used” is a broad brush charge specific to the application. It usually means the amount of actual data being stored.
  • Total capacity is the amount of raw terabytes of the storage system, regardless of the efficiency of utilization.
  • Replicated terabytes is a common measure for remote replication software that charges by the amount of data moved to the replicated storage system. Usually this is raw terabytes, and is charged if the data is compressed or not.

Charging by the terabyte often causes unnatural behavior by IT. There can be big efforts to move data around to isolate it from the per terabyte charge of software. Another behavioral change is that IT makes a decision to not use the best management software based on evaluations but go with one that has a more favorable (in their terminology, “a less ridiculous”) pricing model. These actions mean that the best features of the storage software are not used, and the best product does not always win out.

Vendors have reasons for charging by the terabyte. It produces a continuing revenue stream for them, and they argue that customers continue to get value from their product so they should continue to pay. They usually add a maintenance charge to pay for support and updated versions.

There is a stark contrast in the way the storage system is priced compared to the software. The storage system is purchased with a single price in most cases, and there is a warranty period for several years. The charge per terabyte software licensing appears to be gold mine compared to the payback from the storage hardware.

Maybe the charge per terabyte is not really equitable for customers, and their dislike of the practice (much stronger terminology would be appropriate) is justified.  It certainly gives validation to the open source movement.

Licensing charges do affect product and management decisions, and lead to less than optimal solutions. They also lead to a product not being as pervasive (number of accounts using) as would be expected from the product’s value. Making the customers change their behavior because of the pricing model is an example of vendors not listening to the customers and inviting competition.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).


October 25, 2012  6:52 PM

Apple, Facebook still love Fusion-io

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Fusion-io CEO David Flynn said the server flash vendor is selling into more enterprises who want to speed database performance. But the bulk of its business continues to come from standbys Apple and Facebook.

Fusion-io reported $118.1 million in revenue last quarter, up 59% year-over-year and up 11% from the previous quarter. The company had net income of $14.9 million, up 52% from the previous quarter.

And it had Facebook and Apple largely to thank for its success. They have been Fusion-io’s largest customers almost from the start, and last quarter combined for 56% percent of its revenue. One of the two – Fusion-io didn’t disclose which one – placed an unexpected $10 million order that put Fusion-io over its forecast for the quarter. Another 14% percent of the revenue came from sales through Hewlett-Packard, which sells Fusion-io cards in its servers.

Flynn said traditional enterprises are using Fusion-io products, particular its ION Data Accelerator software, to improve database performance and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is also becoming a key application for flash.

Flynn said Fusion-io’s recently announced partnerships with NetApp and Cisco will not produce substantial sales until early next year. He also said Fusion-io is a better partner than Violin Memory, whose reseller deal with HP for its all-flash arrays is under fire.

“Our products and go-to-market strategy are designed to complement our partners’ existing storage and server businesses,” Flynn said. “But contrast, the proprietary flash appliances offered by Violin Memory are not designed to complement but instead to attempt to replace.

“The Violin relationship with HP has been strained for a long time. [Violin] hadn’t really made a good partner because its prodcuts are more in confliction with HP’s.”

 


October 25, 2012  12:34 PM

Quantum spins up disk sales as tape withers

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Quantum might have turned the corner with its disk backup and storage software products last quarter, just as its tape sales took a big dip.

Quantum reported $42.4 million in revenue from disk and software last quarter, topping the $40 million it needs to break even on those products for the first time. Disk and software revenue grew 18% year-over-year, and CEO Jon Gacek said it could hit $50 million this quarter.

However, a steep decline in tape sales caused Quantum to lose $4.9 million on its $147.3 million in overall revenue. Gacek blamed the tape sales drop on customers waiting for the transition from the LTO-5 to LTO-6 format. Quantum’s overall revenue fell 3% from last year, mainly because of a $13.6 million drop in OEM tape automation sales.

Quantum’s disk and software category consists of its DXi disk deduplication target appliances, vmPro virtual machine backup and StorNext archiving for large files. Revenue from those products increased 18% year-over-year and 38% from the previous quarter. Gacek said the DXi8500 enterprise platform increased 30% year-over-year and 129% sequentially, the midrange DXi6700 slipped 6% and the entery-level DXi4000 was up slightly.

Gacek also said the DXi win rate was 55% against the competition, which in almost every case is EMC Data Domain. He said the win rate was even higher for the DXi8500 despite EMC’s attempts to throw its weight around.

“EMC is not trying to compete based on products,” Gacek said. “They’re trying to play the big-company gain of saying ‘We’re the market share leader, we’re so much bigger than [Quantum], look at [Quantum’s] market share, they don’t even make money.’ Sometimes that works, but sometimes it backfires with customers looking to make a technology buy.”

Quantum added 120 new DXi customers and 65 StorNext customers in the quarter. It sold the first of what Gacek called a “wide area storage” product combining OEM object-storage technology from Amplidata with StorNext.

“That’s not even generally available yet, but one customer was super excited and took a pre-GA system,” said Gacek, adding the customer was a government agency.

Quantum forecasted an uptick to $160 million in revenue this quarter. Gacek said besides a possible tape rebound, he’s looking forward to continue increases in disk and software and early sales in Quantum’s fledgling Q-Cloud backup and disaster recovery offerings.

“If we’re going to be a specialist in backup, we have to give the customer different than the competition,” he said. “EMC doesn’t offer anything like [Q-Cloud}, and I don’t think they will. I don’t thik the revenue piece is as important as our ability to engage with the customer in a provocative way. “


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