We sat down with Mike Wall, a Nirvanix Board Member and storage industry veteran, this week to get his take on the evolution of storage and his opinions on cloud storage. Wall’s take on the industry and Nirvanix’s place therein shed some light on where the cloud storage market has come from, its state today, and which direction it will turn in the future.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I started my career with IBM in New York in the sales and marketing departments for about nine years. I moved to a supercomputer company called Cray Research in 1987, where I was in charge of marketing and sales operations. After that I spent 15 years with Intel, where my last role was the Storage Group general manager. Today, I am the CEO of a Dicom Grid, a Phoenix based healthcare I.T. start-up that has developed unique IP that enables the storage and transmission of medical imaging studies over the public internet while still maintaining HIPPA compliance.
What motivated you to join Nirvanix’s Board of Directors?
During my time at Intel, I was the sponsoring executive for several storage related investments. In the process of going forward with any investment, we would always do a large amount of due diligence on the market opportunity, the competitiveness of the technology, and validate whether or not the product was ready for the marketplace. When I came across Nirvanix’s Storage Delivery Network last summer while at Intel, it was obvious that it was the right product at the right time. I saw a great opportunity to help guide a team and further develop a product that I believed had enormous market potential. Soon after leaving Intel, I joined the board of directors for Nirvanix and have been so for about nine months.
When you joined the Board of Directors, what were your goals for Nirvanix?
My goal was to help bring in people who understood the architecture, the technology, and who could really get ‘under the hood’ and ensure that we deliver on the promise of the Storage Delivery Network. Soon after, we brought on Patrick Ritto as our VP of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer. Patrick is someone who I believed could understand the technology and lead the development team. Not only did Ritto validate all of these criteria but, even more importantly, he confirmed that this product was ready to satisfy the large enterprise customer. He has built out the team with other experienced individuals and, after a thorough analysis of the core technology, put together a solid product development plan. Our architecture will scale and still deliver the performance required to meet the needs of the large enterprise. With the team now in place, the focus has shifted to honing the Storage Delivery Network by focusing on reliability, scalability, and performance of the system.
I also work closely with the sales and marketing teams on their ‘go to market’ plans and direct customer engagements.
How have you seen storage evolve?
Having been involved with storage solutions at Intel for the last decade, I was able to help lead changes in the market place from proprietary storage systems to standards and commodity based hardware platforms. Intel and other companies in the marketplace worked with the OEM’s to improve cost efficiency and develop software solutions based on standard hardware, such as the Intel microprocessors. What evolved was a distinct transition from expensive proprietary systems to much less expensive systems based on standard technology.
The next phase of the evolution of the marketplace is to drive even more cost out of the system by enabling customers to buy a service; ideally, a service in which users don’t have to encumber themselves with large capital expenditures for hardware, investment in plant, equipment, and personnel. From my position, I was able to see the advent of cloud computing and storage as a natural evolution. As the technology advanced, providing computer and storage services at a lower cost point was the natural progression.
Where will the cloud storage providers of today succeed where other Storage as a Service (saas) providers have previously failed?
A lot of the earlier versions of storage as a service may have been based off great ideas or technologies, but it was before the marketplace was ready for it. The marketplace is definitely ready now. Enterprise customers can no longer afford to spend large portions of their money on plant equipment and personnel or provide services that are not primary to the core functions of the business.
There are plenty of ideal niches for cloud storage to begin to permeate the market. The low hanging fruit of cloud storage, or what I refer to as tertiary storage, are ripe for the picking. One example of tertiary storage would be disaster recovery data. Anything which needs to be accessible, but is not part of a transaction or day to day in business, is an ideal use case for cloud storage.
Most companies, such as large enterprise corporation like a General Electric, have their own storage infrastructure. It’s only natural for humans, and hence, large corporations, to want to control all their own data. But, if the only thing that they gain from spending millions of dollars in capital expenditures, building and incurring costs for personnel, power, cooling, security, and everything else, is an often times unfounded sense of control, then at a certain point these companies need to reevaluate their strategy. They must weigh how much they are spending and ask themselves if this is really vital for their day to day operations. Often times the answer is no, and the next logical step is to start the transition to the cloud.
There’s a lot of low hanging fruit. Companies have vast amounts of data that they must be able to access, want stored safely and reliably, but is not ‘transaction oriented’ data and they want it stored for a lot less money. A specific example is my new company DiCOM Grid. We store medical imaging studies in the cloud for our customers. In 2008, there will be over 800 million medical imaging studies created that require over 100PB for disaster recovery alone!! That’s an example of the sweet spot for companies like Nirvanix. Over time, as networks get faster, and the technology becomes more common place, cloud storage services will move up the food chain and, in some cases, may provide primary storage.
What do you think makes Nirvanix stand out against other cloud storage providers?
There are a lot of companies out there that are touting themselves as cloud storage providers. Anyone can throw a storage array on the internet and say they have storage as a service. There are the enterprise class cloud storage providers, like Nirvanix, and there are the offsite PC backup or hobbyist clouds, like Amazon S3. While these services are all grouped in the same category, there is really no comparison. There is such a vast difference in the capabilities of those different solutions.
What will separate the men from the boys, is who can deliver a very user-friendly storage network with high performance, high reliability, and a system that can scale up to petabytes globally. That is the competitive differentiation that Nirvanix offers the marketplace relative to our “competitors”.
What is the main reason that the marketplace will make the switch to cloud storage?
Economics, economics, economics. It’s really a cost reduction play. Once the corporate criteria for accessibility, performance, scalability, reliability, and security of the technology have all been reached, then it comes down to one thing, the potential to significantly reduce corporate costs. An enterprise needs to be able to take advantage of the cost benefits of the cloud while maintaining their productivity and competitiveness as a company. There are a lot of companies that can offer cheap storage in the cloud, but they can’t satisfy those enterprise criteria. Nirvanix has met the enterprise performance criteria at a significant cost savings.
What do you think is driving the doubts of cloud storage skeptics?
Anyone who is criticizing cloud storage is probably part of the group who will be hurt financially by the lack of hardware sales. From what I have seen, most of the skeptics are the hardware and solutions vendors, who are seeing what a great threat cloud storage is to their business. Naturally they will try to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It is not to their advantage for cloud storage to be embraced by the marketplace. They are attempting to delay the inevitable.