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Bill Roth, Ulitzer Editor-at-Large

Bill Roth

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Periodically, I pull senior leadership of Nexenta to an out of the office off-site. These meetings allow us to get in the same room for a couple of days, free from the urgent in order to focus on the important.

While there are number of items we cannot speak about because of regulations or just common sense, as a company we strive for transparency. With that in mind, I thought it worth sharing at least 5 observations from the off-site.

1. The market is moving in our favor

We feel incredibly fortuitous to be a part of broader movement towards fixing today’s storage crisis with open storage. Here’s an incomplete list of trends that we put together that are further improving our value proposition. Moore’s Law—the exponential growth of data and, especially, unstructured data; the growth of virtualization and the random I/O requirements of virtualization; the growth of virtualization, which allows for storage to eventually be run as software; the record profits of legacy storage; the boom in SSDs; the cloud driving new economics and further validating commoditization; accelerating adoption of virtual desktops; the aging of legacy storage systems; the sometimes fraught relations between Oracle and open source engineers and users; the penchant for venture investors to invest in yesterday’s business models; the massive risk that putting a new proprietary file system in the data path entails (investors, are you listening?); the storage bridgebay standard; Intel’s investment in its channel, including channel- friendly enclosures; the growth of ODMs to the extent that leading ODMs are larger than all except the top 4-5 technology companies in the world; growing concern about silent data corruption; 10g Ethernet; broad understanding about storage fundamentals, including NAS and SAN value propositions and best practices.

Right place right time!

2. Team, team, team

Given all the trends in #1, the proven power of NexentaStor, our word of mouth, and our extremely capital-efficient business model, our limiting factor primarily is finding and integrating top quality Nexentians. We’ve increased headcount by about 30% in just the last 90 days. So we spend a lot of time trying to build a company that reflects our core values: ITAA—Innovation, Transparency, Aggressiveness, and Accountability. We also focus quite a bit on our customer pledge, which is the pledge every employee and contractor at Nexenta signs to show our focus on the customer. At the off-site, we talked about how we can each build teams that progress more rapidly through the standard form, storm, and perform paths. Today, these efforts include rigorous hiring processes to insure competency and fit; formal onboarding process; bi-lingual (Russian and English) company meetings; CEO lunches; learning from the “5 dysfunctions of teams” (a business parable); doing personality profiling to learn to communicate better (we used DISC profiles); continuously upgrading our offices and systems; trying to take a second to celebrate success; and much more.

What else would you recommend as a way to build teamwork amongst a widely distributed team?

3. Disruption was act I. Innovation is act II

We’ve recently announced some enhancements to NexentaStor that show that we now are able to deliver breakthrough innovations to market. We were early to market with VM Data Center, which marries ZFS snapshotting to the leading virtualization vendors—VMware, Citrix, and Hyper-V—and always have innovated in more obscure ways, such as hardening ZFS for use in storage through the addition of ZFS monitor and other proprietary management additions. Even our HA implementation, while not the first HA in the world, has received plaudits for being superior to alternatives on the market and, with the announcement of support for MetroCluster with NexentaStor 3.1, will receive more focus in the months to come. And, of course, we have the industry’s first NFS namespace cluster on the way, which marries an industry standard, open on-disk format, ZFS, with the infinite scalability of a NFS cluster design.

And there is more, much more on the way. We are taking the fight directly at the premise that legacy storage can innovate, can keep up. Please stay tuned. We’ll be discussing fundamentally new ways to solve the problems of cloud and VDI storage in the months to come. A quick foreshadowing—we do not recommend the use of a proprietary derivation of Linux as a method to accelerate your VDI, unless you don’t mind spending a huge amount of money for technologies that are known to lose your data.

4. Automation and tight metrics are everything

In God we trust, all others must bring data.” —Edward Deming.

We’re now working with more than 3400 active commercial deployments and 250 partners. We sell almost everywhere around the world and have 150 Nexentians (and we keep growing). The only way to continue to scale while “improving” total product value is by paying close attention to what the data tells us. We now have enough data to be able to resolve differences of opinion more quickly and, we believe, the relationships with thousands of users is a competitive advantage if we listen correctly. To pick one example, we have views into complaints by region, by partner, by customer, by tenure, by dollar sold, which helps us direct our partner management and training efforts.

5. Cloud washing is annoying

When you are trying to get noticed for being really good at something that the world professes to want, it can be somewhat annoying to see every vendor in the world claiming to provide storage for the cloud.

Providing storage for cloud compute requires performance and, in particular, the ability to deal with random IOPS cost-effectively while finding and correcting the inevitable silent data corruption. We have a huge number of customers, including of course Korea Telecom (KT), who has built Asia’s largest public cloud based upon NexentaStor. In large public clouds, we never see legacy storage vendors as real competitors. And yet their marketing would make you think that they are active in that space. I recently was asked by analysts and journalists on how we’re going to “catch up” with legacy storage in the public cloud. As far as I know, none of the legacy storage vendors has a public cloud reference account as large as the 20PB running on NexentaStor at KT. Who is playing catch up here?

We are relying on a community, and on word of mouth, to compete with the hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing spent by leading legacy storage vendors. Please re-tweet, comment on our Facebook page, download and try NexentaStor, or otherwise invest some of your time to help make enterprise-class storage for everyone a reality.

Hopefully these 5 observations are of interest to the broader OpenStorage and Nexenta ecosystem, as well as to my fellow Nexentians. We’re setting records for growth in a competitive, booming industry so management of other similar companies should find this to be of interest as well. What are your thoughts? Any surprises about the 5 observations? Any questions?

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More Stories By Bill Roth

Bill Roth is a Silicon Valley veteran with over 20 years in the industry. He has played numerous product marketing, product management and engineering roles at companies like BEA, Sun, Morgan Stanley, and EBay Enterprise. He was recently named one of the World's 30 Most Influential Cloud Bloggers.