Mathias Rosenthal - Fotolia

Nasuni CEO: Enterprises now think 'cloud first'

Nasuni CEO Paul Flanagan says his cloud NAS company competes with the large public clouds by offering a global file system, managing data across clouds and avoiding lock-in.

Nasuni CEO Paul Flanagan said plenty of things keep him awake at night, but he doesn't worry about major cloud providers coming out with on-premises storage or enterprises bringing data back on site.

Flanagan said the cloud NAS vendor's customer count has grown from about 300 to 435 during the past year. He also claimed Nasuni deployments are expanding at a greater pace than in the past, especially among big-name enterprise customers.

Boston-based Nasuni sells a cloud-based file system that provides a single namespace to manage unstructured data. The vendor caches data on premises in physical or virtual appliances and shifts less frequently accessed data to private or public cloud object storage.

Flanagan joined Nasuni as president in April 2017 and shifted into the CEO role at the end of 2018 when founder Andres Rodriguez moved from CEO to CTO.

"[Rodriguez] and I spoke, and it was the right time for Nasuni to bring somebody in with a little bit more deep operating experience and who has taken a couple of companies public," said Flanagan, previously CEO of StorageNetworks and CFO at Vistaprint -- now Cimpress.

Flanagan said his tenure at service provider StorageNetworks was a key reason he decided to invest in Nasuni when he was a managing director at Boston-based Sigma Partners and later at Sigma Prime Ventures. "I believed in the concept of delivering storage as a service," he said.

We recently caught up with Flanagan to discuss cloud storage trends.

What have been your areas of focus in the past two years since joining Nasuni?

Nasuni CEO Paul FlanaganPaul Flanagan

Paul Flanagan: We've raised $70 million in two rounds of financing from Goldman Sachs and Telstra Ventures and a number of other investors. We've grown the company from 80 to 230 employees. I've spent a lot of time recruiting. We've put in a lot of processes and policies inside the company to help us to scale -- from onboarding a new customer, to professional services, to building what we think is a world-class customer success and support organization.

That's a lot of work that is not spent thinking about where the technology needs to go. When you've got somebody who's as talented as [Rodriguez], you don't necessarily want him spending all his time raising money, recruiting, putting in processes, doing interviews, setting up systems.

What are the hottest customer trends in your market space?

Flanagan: The fact that the market is starting to think cloud first is driving momentum. Nasuni now is finally in a spot where some of the largest enterprise companies in the world are using Nasuni to manage their unstructured environment and their file data.

A lot of that is the momentum of customers starting to think about how they can use the cloud to manage a complex unstructured environment, change the way the business is run and change the way they collaborate on data to do designs for buildings, athletic wear or builds.

How have you had to improve or change your product to respond to the latest customer trends?

Flanagan: The secret sauce of our business is the ability to think and collaborate on data across multiple locations around the world. As we've gone into larger enterprise environments, the product just gets stressed. It gets put into environments that we haven't conceived of or haven't tested for. So, we need to constantly get better on performance, on availability -- just making it truly enterprise-class, best-of-breed network-attached storage technology.

There's a lot of stuff that we can do around ingesting data and getting data directly to the cloud in a faster, more seamless way. Once we get the data into an environment, we've got our Nasuni management console. But you [have to] be able to manage a multi-cloud environment, [because] you can have your data in both public and private storage, object store providers. And [you have] to be able to move data from one cloud to another cloud and access your data using best-of-breed applications, like search or analytics, from another cloud.

So, there's a lot of integration work that we need to continue to build out and enhance. Between primary and archive, and then on top of sync and collaborate, we want to make it so that customers don't ever have to back up their data again, and they don't ever have to move their data again.

To us, there's just active data and inactive data. Your active data's more valuable. Your inactive data is a little bit less valuable -- still valuable. We want to charge you accordingly. But we don't want to put the burden on you to have to move that data off of more expensive infrastructure to less expensive infrastructure. We've got it all built into this one platform.

Are most companies using the cloud now? And do you think hybrid cloud is going to win in the end?

Flanagan: I would say more than 50% of companies are using the cloud, and they utilize a minority of the capabilities. We've got a lot of customers that are using the cloud now, but we've only got like 10% of their available capacity. This could expand by a factor of 10 or 50 for us. There's a tremendous amount of expansion opportunity.

A majority of companies are still early in the adoption. There's a lot of testing and onboarding. We do a lot of NetApp replacements. It's not that we're going to go in and sweep the floor of a data center and take out all the NetApp in one fell swoop. We might get a particular application or a particular location where we'll replace some NetApps that are up for a refresh, or Windows file servers or [Dell EMC's] Isilon.

We'll get a piece of the business and demonstrate our wherewithal, and we get more and more. We might get 50 TB, and in two or three years, it might be 500 TB. It could be a 1 or 2 PB. We've got a number of examples like that. And not only that, it's new use cases inside those enterprises.

As far as hybrid, I would say it's going to be the winner for a long period of time. Maybe someday everything will be cloud-based. But I think hybrid solutions will be around a long time, possibly past my shelf life.

Who is your main competition these days?

Flanagan: A lot of times, it's NetApp, Windows file servers or sometimes Isilon. As far as other competition, the other companies that were all kind of categorized in the same class when we started were Ctera and Panzura. We see them occasionally, but we don't see them a lot competitively in deals. I think that's more a function of how big the market is. I doubt the three of us are all getting every single deal off the market.

The third group of competition is AWS and Microsoft Azure's own solutions, which help companies lift and shift their data into their object stores. But those aren't file systems. I wouldn't call them competition as much as they are confusion in the market.

A prospect will say, 'Why can't I just use Azure Files?' And it's like, 'Because Azure Files doesn't do A, B, C, D and E.' You do have to sell around that, but we don't lose deals to Azure Files or to the AWS Gateway. There are some good use cases for AWS, Azure Files and AWS Gateway. Those are not use cases that we're going after. They don't need a global file system.

Do you expect the major cloud providers to encroach into your space?

Flanagan: Sure. Microsoft and Azure are pretty smart companies. There's no question they look at what we do and see value in it, because of the joint wins that we have with our customers. Now, they've got a backlog of things that they're trying to build from a technology standpoint. When are they going to have the truly global file system and the permissions, the hierarchy, the ability to sync, collaborate and scale, the global [file] lock? I have no idea where a global file system resides on their pipeline or on their product roadmap.

But from a customer standpoint, let's just say [the cloud providers] have the same product as us, and you decide to go to Azure. Now, you're kind of locked into Azure cloud. So, if you want to use multiple clouds, you don't have a console to be able to manage multiple clouds, both public and private. You can use Azure's applications, but let's say you want to run Google Analytics on it. You do not have the ability to do that.

With Nasuni, you've got the ability to put your data into a particular cloud or in multiple clouds and access that data from other clouds to run best-in-class applications across that data. You're not locked in with that one particular cloud.

What are your thoughts on the public cloud providers' on-premises options, such as AWS Outposts or Google Anthos?

Flanagan: It's not something that we spend a lot of time worrying about right now internally, and it's not something that's impacting our business. We see our customers looking to move more and more [data] off prem than on prem.

So, you're not worried about the trend of companies bringing some of their data back on premises?

Flanagan: No, I just don't think the market's going to go that way. There's a [lot of things] that keep me up at night. That's not one of them. We've had great customer retention. In fact, we see our customers expanding.

Dig Deeper on Cloud storage

Disaster Recovery
Data Backup
Data Center
and ESG