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Igneous Systems CEO: Data protection market transforming

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Igneous is seeking to take hold of a market that's 'up for grabs.' The vendor's Hybrid Storage Cloud provides backup and archive of unstructured data, as well as data management.

The data protection market is "up for grabs," according to Igneous Systems CEO and co-founder Kiran Bhageshpur, and he sees an opportunity for his company.

Customers are looking for a more modern, cloud-friendly, hybrid way of protecting data across multiple locations and systems, Bhageshpur said in a podcast Q&A.

It became clear to Bhageshpur in the last year that the data protection market is set to be remade in the near future.

"I think we're in the beginnings of a two- to five-year transformation of how businesses will deal with large and continuous growing data sets, and it's going to be a very exciting time for both us and the industry as a whole," Bhageshpur said.

Igneous Systems, with its Hybrid Storage Cloud, protects data on premises and in public clouds. The company focuses on backup and archive of unstructured data, which has been increasing dramatically. Igneous handles the data management, offering its platform as a service.

"I think what we're doing is very unique with regards to the infrastructure that we offer and the software solutions we offer," Bhageshpur said. "Customers don't monitor the system, they don't worry about whether things are failing or not, they don't worry about change management or updating software. It's all our software running in our cloud that automatically takes care of that."

The last year saw Igneous Systems' first two quarters of revenue. It also closed a funding round of $15 million in January and now claims $41.6 million in total funding. The company has more than 50 employees, up from about 40 in January.

Bhageshpur expects 2018 to be busy as well. For more details on the company's backup and archive capabilities, Bhageshpur's views on the market and the rise of unstructured data, listen to the podcast, and read the transcript below.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and condensed.

How would you sum up the last year for Igneous Systems and the data protection market in general?

Igneous Systems CEO Kiran BhageshpurKiran Bhageshpur

Kiran Bhageshpur: 2017 was quite the exciting year for us. That marked our first two quarters of revenue. We got our product out to a variety of different enterprise customers, and we got to a place where we felt comfortable enough to do another round of financing, which we did in early January.

We started to build out the enterprise go-to-market teams to expand on that early success in 2017 into 2018 and onwards. All in all, a lot happened in 2017 for us as a company, and if you look at the broader market of data, it's also been a year of big changes, especially with what a variety of other companies and players in this space have been doing.

What kind of trends are you seeing in the data protection market?

Bhageshpur: The data protection market overall has been pretty stagnant until the last couple of years. Just like things have been changing with traditional on-premises legacy infrastructure -- with this giant move to the cloud and leveraging of public cloud infrastructure -- the data protection market is also up for grabs.

Whether it's using traditional data protection software from companies like Veritas and Commvault or tier-one storage providers, like EMC and NetApp, all of that is being disrupted, it's up for grabs, as customers look for a more modern, more cloud-friendly, more hybrid way of dealing with data in multiple locations on multiple systems across multiple vendors. So, really, 2017 was when it became pretty apparent that this is a space that is going to get remade in the next two to five years.

Regarding your product, Hybrid Storage Cloud, unstructured data is a real focus, and that type of data in general is growing pretty dramatically. How does your company effectively handle all that data for backup and archive purposes?

Bhageshpur: Unstructured data is growing rapidly. In fact, if you look at studies -- and this is in line with our personal experience -- unstructured data tends to be twice as large as structured data and growing twice as fast. And this is happening everywhere, both in the public cloud and on premises. What we do that is quite different and unique is we integrate with all sources of unstructured data, whether it is tier-one filers that exist in the enterprise or other types, like in the cloud with platforms like Amazon S3 and so on. And we provide customers a way of modernizing their data protection infrastructure that exists both on premises, as well as into the public cloud.

With large-scale unstructured data, you're talking about a world with many hundreds of millions of files, billions of files, hundreds of terabytes to petabytes, to tens of petabytes, and it tends to be split among multiple systems and multiple locations. So, a key part of what we do is place a layer of data management infrastructure and software on that so customers can manage all of that data in one swoop, rather than in various different silos.

Sometimes, backup and archive are incorrectly used interchangeably as terms. What do you see as the biggest differences between the two, and how does Hybrid Storage Cloud handle each one differently?

Bhageshpur: Not too many people think about the nuance and the difference between the two, but they serve different purposes. Backup tends to be the second copy of the data, and it's typically for disaster recovery or business continuity reasons, or even regulatory reasons, depending upon the type of data set and industry, whereas archive tends to be the first copy of the data.

Backup is pretty well-understood. I have lots of data on my primary systems. I want to make certain I have a second copy, either on a different system or out in the public cloud, or I could choose to go replicate it. That's a fairly well-understood use case, and what you're trying to be prepared for is some sort of a failure or human error on that primary source of data. We do that. We back up all possible sources of unstructured file data, whether it is a NetApp filer, a Dell EMC cluster, a Pure Storage FlashBlade, a Qumulo modern file system, StorNext, Oracle ZFS, all of these sources. We back the data up very effectively and economically.

Archive is a different use case. If you think about this world of growing unstructured data, the data tends to be actually active for a moderate amount of time. It could be minutes to hours to weeks, maybe months at best. But the data has value in the years and decades time frame. So, archive is when customers want to ensure that only the active data is on their tier-one infrastructure, and the tier-two or the archive repository is the long-term repository of that data. Again, in this case, we integrate with all the tier-one repositories of data and ensure a programmatic, easy movement of data from the tier one to us and back the other way. Think of us as the GitHub of large-scale unstructured data. We can go put the appropriate sets onto a high-performance system, like a Pure Storage FlashBlade, for that appropriate use case, which could be very I/O-intensive, but it doesn't need to all live there all the time.

Looking ahead now, what are the biggest challenges in the data protection market for Igneous Systems to tackle in the coming year, or couple of years, ahead?

Bhageshpur: The market is still in the early days of transformation. If you look at enterprise customers, pretty significant volumes of data still tend to live on premises. It also tends to live on fairly legacy, well-understood systems, such as NetApp and Dell EMC, with new entrants, like Pure and Qumulo, coming into play.

Our opportunity and focus is to leave that tier-one data where it is, but being able to modernize the data management across multiple platforms, across multiple locations for our customers. And the reason customers really want to go modernize and leverage the cloud is: It's not just about, 'Hey, I'll back up my data to the cloud,' even though that's an important and good use case, but, 'What does that allow me to do if I archive that massive data set into the cloud?' Then, I can suddenly restore it into a cloud file system, which is also a space that is very nascent and maturing.

But if I now restore all that data into a cloud file system, I can use the enormous amount of compute available, to be able to process that, to be able to analyze and do a variety of things on that data set that's cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming on premises today. So, I think, we're in the beginnings of a two- to five-year transformation of how businesses will deal with large and continuously growing data sets, and it's going to be a very exciting time for both us and the industry as a whole.

In terms of a specific security concern, ransomware continues to be an, unfortunately, strong presence in IT. What does Igneous do, if anything, regarding ransomware protection and recovery?

Bhageshpur: We have the ability to roll back in a much more fine-grained way to the way data looked at any point in time in the past. And the data underneath the cupboard where we store it is on an immutable store, so at all points in time, we have a clean, good sense of what the data looked like. So, recovering from ransomware, for the data that's backed up onto us, is as simple as going to the interface and doing a restore from the appropriate virtual fold that we have on our system.

And we do this at scale. We're not doing this one system at a time. We do this across all of your NAS systems, across all of your locations.

How do you see ransomware and other cyber-issues developing in the year ahead? Do you see this problem getting worse or better over time?

Bhageshpur: I think the problem is getting more complex, which calls for creative and different solutions than the way people have been looking at it. Let's take the most recent example in the news with regards to Facebook and the data leak with Cambridge Analytica. This is an example of a company with incredibly sophisticated data management infrastructure, and yet, the issue was there was this leak because of policies and management of data. If that can happen to Facebook, it can happen to anyone else, right?

Data, by definition, is going to live in a variety of different locations in a variety of different systems. It's going to be on premises, on a variety of legacy NAS filers, it's going to be in the cloud, it's going to be backed up in multiple places. One of the key challenges is a single pane of glass visibility of what exists where, who is accessing it, how frequently and is that in line with past behavior. Is the access of that particular data correct for the particular application or person accessing it? These are levels that enterprises are going to be forced to deal with or risk having a very nonagile infrastructure. All that we are doing is along this line, because backup and archive are the foundations of unstructured data management, but it's as much about data discovery, data insight, storage insight and data security as you go through this transformation in the next two to five years.

Earlier this year, you said that Igneous Systems was still in the low double digits of customers. What is your goal number by the end of 2018, and how do you get there?

Bhageshpur: End of 2018, you're going to see a significant increase in the customer count, and we are already well on track to that two-and-a-half months into the year. We are certainly building a direct enterprise sales force in strategic locations where there are customers with large and growing volumes of data. We are working actively through the channels, so we have a bunch of channel partners signed up. Folks who understand the product are bringing new opportunities to us.

Stay tuned over the next two months for our more formal partnership with a variety of other players in this ecosystem, because I believe we are complementary with a variety of other companies, and you will see some more announcements around that. We expect that to provide us with the opportunity to get in front of customers that otherwise might not have been possible.

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