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July - 2011 - issue > Cover Story
The-Storage-Market-is-Changing-and-the-Game-Changer-is-Here!
Vimali Swamy
Friday, July 1, 2011
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Ursheet Parikh and Guru Pangal’s office in Santa Clara is quite abuzz with activity. Their company’s break through offering is setting new standards in the cloud storage space since they left Cisco and Brocade to start StorSimple. Their initial investors were Index Ventures and Redpoint Ventures.

Since the early days the momentum has grown and grown. With large industry leaders like Microsoft and VMWare certifying its cloud storage offering - the company has uniquely achieved the most stringent “Certified for Windows Server 2008” level of certification and also VMware Ready status. StorSimple was recently named the Microsoft BizSpark Partner of the Year, is a Silver award winner in Storage Magazine’s Products of the Year and was identified by Gartner as a cool vendor. Having won a slew of recognitions and awards in such a short time, it is indicative of the momentum the company has. It should come as no surprise that having already secured two rounds of venture funding in the last two years, the company has just closed its third round of funding from its investors — Ignition Partners, Index Ventures, Mayfield Fund and Redpoint Ventures, bringing the total funding to a cool $31.5 million. Richard Fade of Ignition Partners who led the third round summarizes the potential of StorSimple well. “History has shown first movers with great breakthrough products capture disproportionate value for their customers and investors - we believe StorSimple to be just such a company. StorSimple is a company we wanted to become a bigger a part of. It has an awesome team, a proven product, early market leadership and deep partner relationships with companies such as Microsoft, who recently selected StorSimple as a Partner of the Year.”

Up until now, large enterprises either stored all their data in a datacenter, on-premise, investing millions of dollars in a storage infrastructure, or hosted it completely in the cloud. But this posed quite a challenge because a traditional storage device created a barrier when the volume of data grew rapidly while a cloud always created an aura of uncertainty in operations.

Founded in 2009, StorSimple is driving a new trend in the storage market by providing an on-premise enterprise cloud storage appliance. Storage requirements are growing at 60 percent to 70 percent year-on-year and this can drive storage CapEx and OpEx to grow at similar rates. In reality only a small percentage of data, called the working set, gets regularly used. The StorSimple appliance identifies and manages this working set locally on high speed Solid State Disks (SSDs) and automatically tiers the ”colder” data to cloud storage. Applications get local SSD performance with the elasticity of the cloud through automatic tiering based on a BlockRankTM algorithm that does for blocks of content what Page Rank does for Google. The appliance, in one box, delivers automatically tiered primary storage, cloud archival, cloud data protection and cloud disaster recovery.

DATA, STORAGE & CLOUD –THE BIG ENTERPRISE CHALLENGE

A decade back, the mere mention of "cloud computing" was met with skepticism by IT executives for only a handful knew what it really meant. And for those who did, few expected that it would go from buzzword status to actually having a major impact on their IT organizations. Today, the cloud has come a long way from being a mere catchphrase to a very real force on the IT landscape. Similarly, for software developers, it has gone from being a somewhat vague concept to a new paradigm that is quickly emerging as a standard in how we build and deploy applications.

What changed everyone's minds? The concept of “Cloud” and its offerings has had a tremendous influence driven by giants like Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com and Microsoft who have paved the market trends in this space. Now, rather than spending big ‘moolah’ to build and deploy vast infrastructures to support new web and mobile applications, companies have a cheap and easy alternative for hosting them. This has been a boon for software developers, who were previously beholden to enterprise infrastructures to get their applications up and running. In almost every way, the cloud has begun to offer the benefits promised during those moments when it was first teased, making many IT executives anxious to fully tap it’s potential as a business technology investment.

But in recent years though, the cloud has been attaining a cult status amongst developers and business decision makers alike, driven by the ever growing amount of data and content.

At the same time, like many new and evolving technologies, challenges to cloud adoption and industry-wide use as a development platform remain. Many executives, wary of cost issues in the event of unforeseen problems, and shaken by the potential unreliability of cloud technologies (as was recently witnessed with Amazon's outage), have been reticent to move their infrastructures to the cloud. And though cloud advocates have made enormous strides in education about cloud security, many are still unwilling to take the plunge.

What enterprises are looking for is “the best-of-both worlds” - SSD performance with the data protection of the cloud (even in the event of failures) and enterprise grade security. This is what StorSimple offers.

“Today, it is common to require six different devices or technology to manage data through its full lifecycle - like primary disk storage, archival storage, disaster recovery, backup software and more. What StorSimple provides is a single integrated appliance that replaces these six devices on which the same data would have to get managed at different stages of its lifecycle and integrates seamlessly with the cloud and automates all of the data management,” says Ursheet Parikh, Founder and CEO, StorSimple. A certified partner of Microsoft and VMware, the company manages storage and backup for working set apps such as, shared file drives, virtual machine libraries, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange, offering SSD performance with cloud elasticity.

THE ENTERPRISE OFFERING

Certain industries have by their nature a lot more data and content to manage, such as media, entertainment and gaming, construction, healthcare, technology, pharma and finance. These are the industries that are feeling the most pain (and cost) and want to exploit the advantages of “Cloud-as-a-Tier” architectures. This is the target user group for StorSimple.

The company essentially plays into two major segments — Fortune 1000 enterprises and mid sized enterprises (companies with over $2 billion revenue). These companies have regional or country specific data centers that they virtualize. But for independent data storage at these levels, companies spend anywhere between $300,000 and $400,000 in capital equipment alone. Instead, now the companies can buy a StorSimple appliance for just $50,000 and leverage the cloud and save up to 80 percent in upfront expenditure. For example, Fortune 1000 companies have thousands of locations where they have to deploy these and StorSimple brings down expenses drastically.

“The cloud has some inherent advantages when it comes to storage. One gets instant thin provisioning; unlimited elastic expansion; built-in high-availability; availability from anywhere in the world; no hardware maintenance; and utility billing for storage. When you blend this into a hybrid cloud storage strategy it has a major impact on the agility of an organization and lowers the cost structure driving the budget to OpEx as opposed CapEx,” states Parikh.

For each of these user segments, the company offers three products — the StorSimple 1000, 5000 and 7000 series of appliances, all of which offer local storage that tiers to the cloud. The 1000 series is a cloud on-ramp, with four 1gigE copper connections, a 50TB capacity limit gained through 10TB increments, and a single tier of single-level cell (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) SAS-interface flash. The 5000 and 7000 both have an additional local tier of SAS hard drives, starting at 20TB and 40TB respectively, and maxing out at 100 and 200TB, again with 10TB increments. Their flash is solely SLC NAND. These high-availability appliances have the four 1gigE links as before, or two 1gigE and two 10gigE links, and fully redundant controllers, fans, power supplies and replaceable drives. The high availability appliances also support non-disruptive software upgrades. Usable storage capacity indicates the amount of data written to the system. This data may be stored locally within the integrated storage tiers or in the configured cloud storage services. The amount of data stored locally is dependent upon working set size and deduplication ratios.

The working set of data for an application needs to be directly on line locally and the rest, can be stored in the cloud, where there are no space - terabyte or floorspace - limitations except those imposed by cost. An iSCSI volume can span these multiple tiers of storage with automatic movement of data between tiers. The appliances provide thin provisioning, with only written data occupying space, not an application's full allocation of storage – you only pay for what you use. When data arrives in the appliance it is deduplicated at sub-file level. "Every block is then ranked through a unique BlockRankTM algorithm to determine the working set of data that is necessary for every day operations, while automatically moving less used data, which can make up nearly 75 percent of a business’ data, to the cloud. This gives enterprises the best-of-both worlds - SSD performance and the elasticity of the cloud,” explains Pangal, Co-founder and President.

One of the myths about cloud storage is one will have to rewrite your user and backup applications because cloud storage uses a HTTP/REST API. The approach Storsimple took was to create an appliance that takes less than ten minutes to install in the datacentre and presents itself as a block level iSCSI drive. Applications work out of the box by using this drive that has volumes spanning SSD, Serial Attached Scsi (SAS) and cloud storage. No changes, at all, are needed with for example VMware, Shared Filed Drives, Virtual desktops, SharePoint and Exchange.

For example, with only 25 percent of content stored on premise and a good deduplication rate, StorSimple moves only a small fraction of the data to cloud. For recovery, the volume group can be immediately mounted and the working set accessed – compared to moving the whole backup over the WAN.

Data sent to the cloud is encrypted, at AES-256 level, the WAN links are optimized, and supported cloud storage services include Amazon, AT&T, EMC Atmos and Microsoft's Azure. Parikh says that multiple cloud services can be used simultaneously at a given time, thereby giving the freedom to a user for the cloud service he wishes to opt for. The focused application areas are Microsoft File Servers, Virtual Machine libraries, Microsoft SharePoint or Microsoft Exchange. With the SharePoint application plug-in, the database is stored on SSD while the content – including large objects such as audio, video and CAD drawings – can be spread over SSD, hard disk drive or the cloud. This application plug-in includes Microsoft VSS-consistent application backup and restore. Apart from this, there are tools for backup and recovery to/from the cloud. For disaster recovery StorSimple has a unique Cloud Clone architecture that allows companies to have a full copy of the data in the cloud in a separate bucket to the primary data volume. In the case of a cloud data center disaster the full data set is immediately available from a separate, independent location.

Security breaches typically happen when human beings get access to unencrypted data. When one extends storage of unencrypted data to the cloud one is effectively extending the potential access to people not employed by the company or company's policies. Hybrid cloud storage appliances, such as StorSimple, when installed on the internal network appear as an iSCSI drive. All blocks sent to the cloud tier are deduplicated, compressed and have AES 256 encryption applied to them. Therefore the access by people not employed by your company is against block level, deduplicated, compressed data with military grade encryption applied to it.

“What is as important is key management. There is no point encrypting all cloud data if you give away access to the key to decrypt the data to people not employed by your company. That is analogous to locking your house and giving strangers (non-employees) access to the key,” says Parikh.

PLAYING BY INDUSTRY DEMANDS

A common consensus amongst most cloud storage adopters is “The only thing predictable about storage requirements is that they will be unpredictable and much bigger than you could possibly imagine.” An interaction with customers in enterprises, regional offices and medium sized businesses, revealed that companies that are focusing on their Windows and VMware infrastructures want to dramatically reduce the escalating cost of their enterprise storage infrastructure across primary, archival, data protection and Disaster Recovery; eliminate tape and get instant backup and restore in minutes not days; and simplify the management of multiple storage devices with separate management interfaces.

Parikh gives one such example of its engagement with a leading construction company based in the U.S. The client knew that one area they could truly differentiate themselves from their competitors was with their prowess in technology. With most of their representatives on field, they required fulltime access to all information about the projects in real time and a repository for archiving based on a ten-year retention policy.

To provide this, SharePoint worked great until the information started to grow exponentially. Like many SharePoint administrators, the company had to start limiting the type of content that users put into the system because the performance suffered as data grew. For a construction company, keeping blueprints, photos, documents, and videos at many stages in the project is critical. Additionally, administrators had backup software they would use to manually archive the data, but taking the tapes offsite required too much manual intervention and it was easy to foul the process especially with the growing volumes of data. This in turn had a grave impact on the company’s operations, both in terms of cost and time.

It was at this time the company came across StorSimple. The company chose StorSimple and Windows Azure to address their SharePoint performance, scalability and backup issues. The StorSimple SharePoint Optimizer compressed the SQL database dramatically, allowing it to perform optimally. Today, the company is well positioned to counter the growing wave of data, while optimizing the data access across different users.

THE 50 BILLION DOLLAR MARKET

Over $50 billion per year is spent on storage and data protection products and services providing a huge opportunity. “Most of this goes to incumbent storage vendors. Their challenge is, from a business, organization and architectural model they are tied to storage status quo with a very profitable, portfolio of separate storage devices that have typically been obtained through acquisition. To these companies the cloud is a disruptive model that has the potential to dramatically reduce their revenue stream. Sales guys just do not want to sell lower priced offerings that drive revenue to other companies. So what you see is a new category of companies whom you could not have thought as your traditional data storage services provider which includes companies like Amazon, Microsoft and service providers like AT&T,” explains Parikh. These players do not have any business to lose when selling cloud at competitive prices. Instead the cloud is a purely incrementally revenue opportunity. Additionally, if a customer chooses cloud storage then they are more likely to come and use their cloud for applications, compute and other items as well. “Microsoft is supportive of Storsimple and sees incredible value because we have helped them achieve their cloud sales quota very quickly. We help to bring the big $50 billion incremental revenue opportunity to Microsoft and also see that they get these deals quickly as we offer a best-of-breed solution which customers can deploy without making any changes to their application. Microsoft has seen customers go from first conversation to purchasing Microsoft Azure within 90 days enabled by StorSimple. We also encrypt everything that goes to the cloud. This enables highly regulated industry like Healthcare to adopt cloud,” adds Parikh. There is a big transition happening from traditional storage to cloud storage and StorSimple is a key part of this transition.

Despite the galloping success of StorSimple, Parikh and Pangal have a clear vision clear and are actively engaging in accelerating the growth of the company, thanks to the significantly increased demand both in the U.S. and internationally. With U.S. government investing heavily in the cloud and other geographies showing traction for the same, the company sees a large demand for its technology and offerings.

The StorSimple Product team is based out of U.S. and India. Their India operations has been part of the core development of IP right from the inception and are expecting to grow significantly in India in the near future. “We believe in hiring the best talent possible, wherever they are located,” says Pangal.

It is with this vision that Parikh and Pangal are taking giant but firm leaps forwards and revolutionizing the cloud storage market. Will they continue to disrupt it? Well, there seems to be no doubt about it.

StorSimple @ Glance Founded : 2009 Founders : Ursheet Parikh & Guru Pangal Headquarters : Santa Clara , CA Other Offices : Bangalore, India Headcount : 50 plus Funding : $31.5 Million Investors : Ignition Partners Index Ventures Mayfield Fund Redpoint Ventures Website : www.storsimple.com

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Reader's comments(1)
1:Yes, definitely this is Game Changer for Storage Market. Good Article and Kudos to Parikh & Pangal for their achievements. All the best.
MOVVASK
Posted by: Movva Sai Krishna - 13th Jul 2011
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