Q&A: CloudByte Chairman, Evan Powell, on the Future of Storage
San Jose-based, CloudByte Inc., a leading software-defined storage company, recently announced the appointment of Evan Powell as its new Chairman. A serial entrepreneur and builder of open source communities, Evan has had successes at Clarus Systems, Nexenta and recently StackStorm.
Currently Evan serves as an advisor and investor in a number of start-ups, including the emerging leader of intelligent object storage, Cloudian, as well as Keewi, TextIQ, Journey Software and others. We talk to Evan about what got him interested in SoundByte and what’s in stock for the storage industry.
RIQ: Congratulations on your appointment as Chairman of CloudByte. We have to begin by asking what attracted you to the company?
Evan: CloudByte has been working for a number of years on arguably the most challenging layer of enterprise infrastructure — the storage layer. The depth of understanding they have and the technology they have developed are extremely impressive.
However, even more than the technology and the team, what attracted me was that they perceived something I’ve experienced first hand, which is that the way enterprises build and run technology is changing dramatically due to cloud and moreover the so called DevOps movement.
RIQ: Tell us about CloudByte and their core capabilities.
Evan: Well the core capabilities of any good storage technology are to keep customer data safe and to do so in a way that fits with how users are creating and storing this data.
In our case we believe:
Our software or software + hardware business model better fits what customers need
Our ability to containerize ourselves — so that CloudByte software runs IN containers — is crucial as containers are becoming increasingly important as building blocks of DevOps environments and Cloud Native architectures.
The ability of CloudByte — especially via the fast growing open source OpenEBS community — to deliver storage services TO containers — has the potential to be the best in class thanks to our technology heritage and our focus on the Kubernetes and related communities.
Historically storage has been the most expensive and the least innovative part of the enterprise stack. But that is about to change.
RIQ: The storage industry had seen a sea change in the past few years. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the storage sector?
Evan: Historically storage has been the most expensive and the least innovative part of the enterprise stack. I am extremely happy to see that the industry is changing to better address user needs. I still think we all too often build storage business in a 20th century way — via expensive direct sales teams that largely sell based on speeds and feeds or $ per TB. The next wave in storage is for much more technical DevOps users to adopt storage primarily because it proves itself able to better address their real use cases and because the storage solution has a community around it that reduces the cost of evaluation and the risk of the vendor being acquired or going away — this self-adoption mechanism has already disrupted much of the IT stack and in certain sectors with success like Gluster and others is succeeding in storage now as well.
RIQ: What are some of the common mistakes/ pitfalls that organizations face while developing their storage strategy?
Evan: In storage, metrics that are relatively easy to measure are all too often prioritized over those that are trickier to capture. For example, we look at $/TB and IOPS or even maximum capacity as opposed to really understanding whether the storage will make us more or less competitive as a company. Today IT matters more than ever as nearly ever enterprise confronts new entrants that are 10–100x better at adopting, building and operating technology than even best of class enterprises were 5–7 years ago. And this shows up in fundamental measures of strength such as revenue per employee.
Notorious DevOps leaders like Netflix are 4–8x more productive in terms of revenue per employee than other entertainment providers. So the trick for storage is to allow the consideration of which storage technology to use and to buy to shift over to those in the organization that are directly responsible for building and operating technology — the developer and DevOps teams. That sharing of power with the end users within the enterprise is happening and should be embraced by storage teams if they want to remain relevant.
RIQ: What are your thoughts on which way the storage-as-a-service industry is slated to grow?
Evan: Well, CloudByte’s IP includes the ability to isolate QoS down the volume — and is inherently multi-tenant. This is one reason our Elastistor continues to do well in this sector. I do think IT as a service in all its flavours will continue to grow because it allows for users to try before they buy and therefore to buy on much more important criteria — such as operational agility — than simply on price, speed and capacity.
RIQ: And how is your company equipped to be part of the growth story?
Evan: We are uniquely positioned thanks continuous efforts to be this year’s overnight success in storage. We have years of experience developing the deep technology needed for enterprises, SaaS operators and others to trust us with their data — and we have a new approach and understanding of the exploding set of requirements around DevOps thanks to the open source OpenEBS community.
RIQ: Who do you see as your top competitors?
Evan: Actually the billions and billions of dollars that investors have poured into storage in the last several years has resulted in some analysis paralysis in the market especially because the majority of that money is being spent on top down sales and marketing noise. It is that paralysis that is our primary competitor. Unlike most storage companies, though, our solutions are easy to try out and we are extremely confident that we will win more often than not on the merits — not just because we also have the speeds and feeds but because we are building communities that themselves represent and support the real needs of enterprises to use technologies that make them more agile in their operations and hence more competitive.
RIQ: What are the 3 top technologies the IT leaders need to watch out for?
Evan: GitHub. Not just because GitHub often becomes the bedrock upon which a real Devops environment is built thanks to “infrastructure as code” but because it is like Facebook or LinkedIn for developers. Take care of your developers or they will find someone that will!
Lambda and serverless computing. If your enterprise goes to Lambda and serverless computing they will experience a level of operational agility that is extremely hard for on premise IT to achieve. And they will benefit from the savings that Lambda offers versus traditional IAAS. If you want to retain your developers you have to understand that their friends are increasingly working at places that enable them to have a far greater impact with much much better feedback loops, thanks to DevOps and to services like Lambda, than your organization.
Stream processing. Speaking of serverless, take a look at PubNub as an example of an emerging service that allows developers to deliver applications that stream process heretofore unimaginable amounts of data — or of course take a look at the booming Spark community whose software underlies much of the shift to stream processing in part thanks to ease of use for developers versus prior approaches. Batch processing still has a huge role to play however increasingly we can process data in real time or near real time to allow for use cases that simply were impossible in the not too distant pass.
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