Nexenta Systems CEO discusses upcoming product launches

Nexenta Systems CEO says NexentaEdge object storage demo will happen at upcoming OpenStack Summit, NexentaFusion management beta launch will follow

The upcoming OpenStack Summit marks a red-letter day of sorts for Nexenta Systems Inc.

The Santa Clara, California-based software vendor plans to demonstrate its new NexentaEdge object storage product at the OpenStack conference in Vancouver. Following the event, the company expects to launch the beta of its new NexentaFusion single-pane-of-glass orchestration and management software for block, file and object storage, according to CEO Tarkan Maner.

Tarkan ManerTarkan Maner

The upcoming products join the company's NexentaStor block and file storage, which is based on the open source ZFS file system and runs on commodity hardware. Maner refers to Nexenta's version of software-defined storage (SDS) as "OpenSDS."

We recently caught up with Maner to discuss the company's latest production developments and OpenStack storage work, customer trends, and the changing competitive landscape

What we do at Nexenta Systems addresses one of the key trends in the industry from an enterprise perspective.

What customer trends have you seen in the last six months to a year?

Tarkan Maner: We are seeing customers tell us, ‘Look I have so much more data than ever before and the way I managed data in the past is not economical anymore for this new reality, with the new data sets.' One customer mentioned 20% less budget next year while the data growth is 50% to 70% year over year. So, they are under tremendous pressure. It's all these new workloads, from social media to mobility to Internet of Things and big data. Obviously customers are trying to figure out the new type of cloud infrastructure.

We see customers finding new ways in the data and end user environments to build open source driven file systems, open source driven automation tools and leverage commodity hardware for low cost without vendor lock-in. This is a big change and big shift in the industry. What we do at Nexenta Systems addresses one of the key trends in the industry from an enterprise perspective: open source collaboration with software-defined everything innovation from the data center to the end user on commodity hardware.

Do customers typically buy your software and install it on the hardware themselves? Or, do they prefer it pre-installed on hardware?

Maner: Enterprises and customers change from vertical industry to geography to site. Typically large customers have more skills and larger IT organizations. They like best-of-breed systems on commodity hardware. That's part of their competitive advantage, because they adjust, customize and optimize the infrastructure based on their own needs with help from vendors like us and our partners. If the customer is midsize or smaller, they usually like it from a reseller or solution provider or the OEM vendor directly. We partner with Dell, Seagate and SanDisk and all the component players. All the resellers deliver the entire appliance ready to go to that smaller customer.

Obviously our business is a very partner driven model. We have our own service organization, pre-sales and post-sales support organization, and our own sales organization to help the customers directly. However, we also partner with disk and flash vendors like Seagate and SanDisk and Western Digital, with Dell and Supermicro and Quanta as the server vendors, and also we partner with VMware, Citrix and Microsoft cloud platform method to deliver the entire solution to the customer.

What percentage of your customers installs the software themselves vs. those who prefer to get the software and hardware packaged together?

Maner: Some customers like it all built in, and we do most of our business that way. But, we have about 6,000 customers. About 2,000 of them are service providers. They are telcos. Their number one competitive advantage is to customize their infrastructure differently using open source tools, different system tools, different management tools themselves, sometimes also with some homegrown technology to ensure they are differentiated.

How would you characterize the remaining 4,000 Nexenta Systems customers?

Maner: Enterprises who have a lot of data. Data is growing faster in certain industries more than others. Education, healthcare, and financial services are big areas for us. Government, both state and local government as well as federal agencies have big consumers of storage, and since they have a lot of data, they have a lot of costs. To cut the costs, they love that software-defined data center approach with open source technology combined with it.

What's the range of capacities among your customers?

Maner: One of our telco customers, Korean Telecom, has more than 130 PB in production today. We have customers also in the tens of petabytes, hundreds of petabyte range. Depending on the industry and use case, it ranges. Typically we start very small and move superfast to a large capacity. In total, we have about 1,100 petabytes in production environments with 6,000 customers.

What's the breakdown of customers using block vs. file vs. object storage?

Maner: Object is obviously the so-called new shiny object. It's very hot. It's sexy. A lot of people are very interested in object storage. But, these volumes are still very small. Object storage is probably less than 2%, 3% of our deployments and customers, but it is growing pretty fast.

Most of our customers love file and block, and they are pretty much evenly distributed. They are probably half and half the rest of the implementations we see. Out of those customers, most of the enterprises are growing their file services faster than block. Block was much bigger in the past. It's now slowing down or flat growth, but file services are still growing fast and gaining a lot of momentum.

Customers increasingly care more about scale-up vs. scale-out than block, file or object. Block and file is more scale-up, and object is more scale-out. But, we have scale-up customers that use both object and block services in the same cluster. We usually deploy our customers based on their workload needs, either scale-up or scale-out, and we support all three protocols through our clusters and solutions.

Do many customers use flash?

Maner: We have customers with workloads that have specific requirements around high input/output, and we provide all-flash reference architectures for them. So, we bring maybe SanDisk all-flash on a Dell server, or Supermicro, Quanta. A lot of our customers love those all-flash implementations, and those implementations are much cheaper than the all-flash implementations you find in the marketplace with proprietary systems and enclosures. We also do a hybrid environment or disk-only environment as well, depending on the need.

What percentage of your customers uses flash?

Maner: Typically 20% of our customers have an all-flash need or requirement, maybe even less than that. They go for workloads around big data, certainly Hadoop applications. They go for VDI type of applications, applications which requires high I/O performance needs. We have a lot of hybrid customers who have a lot of backup, archive, file shares, home directories, mail storage. We see also some mail storage customers now are coming back for all-flash environments as the email and messaging technologies are created with more data and they need higher IOPS based on their user needs.

Is OpenStack Swift a potential competitor to NexentaEdge?

Maner: If a customer decides, I'm going to use only Swift but nothing else, the answer is yes. But no environment is only Swift. A lot of these customers want to have file services, block services, and they like our capabilities and some of the functionality we have around inline deduplication, compression, replication, some of the functionality that Swift might not provide at least in the short term and maybe even in the long term.

Why did you decide against using the open source-based object storage that was already out there?

Maner: Because we did not find any open source object-based storage capability which is enterprise class. There are a lot of projects around. We looked at them. We work with them. And our customers told us they are great projects. But they do lack major functionality around security, manageability, and reliability, which is a very important piece of storage. We cannot lose data. So, we decided to build our own innovation in this space because the gaps were too big. We built our object storage based on our innovation and [intellectual property] IP, and we always think to open source our own technology as we move forward in the future. We discuss internally constantly if we can open source this for the benefit of the greater good for customers and enterprises.

What's on the horizon with your product lines?

Maner: NexentaStor is still going strong. We're going to have new features coming out in the VMworld timeframe. NexentaEdge is our block copy-on-write-based object storage scale-up/scale-out product, and you're going to see a phenomenal demo of this in the upcoming OpenStack conference. We also have a seminar with a few other partners, like Canonical, Mirantis, Solinea, Wipro, SanDisk showing this new object storage product. We're going to showcase customer cases in the upcoming OpenStack conference.

We also have new versions of NexentaConnect, the new Citrix product, and NexentaFusion, which is our single-pane-of-glass orchestration and management solution for block, file and object. We're going to start the NexentaFusion beta right after the OpenStack conference. Already we are having some closed customer betas privately.

When will the new products and product versions become generally available?

Maner: NexentaEdge in Q2. NexentaFusion, NexentaConnect and our next version of NexentaStor are going to be available in Q3.

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