2013 – the year of FLASH in BeNeLux

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First post of this year and the look forward comes out of the look backward. You have seen me writing a lot about storage (flash) startups lately and I still have a few up my sleeves. But lately something odd has come to my attention. Everything has to do with the move of these (flash) startups to EMEA. Although you might say it is logical that some of these are coming over here, it appears that almost all of them use BeNeLux as a first base or at least second base (if UK is first base).


Some of the startups that I know making the move are: Nutanix, Pure Storage, Nimbus Data, SolidFire, Whiptail, … I asked a few of them some simple questions on why and why this way:


Nutanix:
Nutanix is the reason I put the “flash” between brackets as they are a startup that do use flash as a differentiator but there is a lot more to Nutanix than the storage as such. Nutanix has build the “x86 mainframe” on top of VMware ESXi. Basically you really buy Compute / Networking / Storage in a box (wth 4 nodes) and you’re done. Not enough? Add another member to the cluster. They didn’t stop at 1 hypervisor though and already added KVM as a second platform. I heard rumours that Hyper-V is next (good move IMO)

My idea: Nutanix should get an as big as possible market share today. The biggest reason they are niche player now is that the server vendors have been lacking this vision. If HP would have bought FusinIO 2 years ago, this would already exist. If DELL would make something out of the RNA Networks acquisition + their cooperation wth Micron, this could already be in their hands and I am still wondering why Cisco UCS has not made this possible. So it will be up to Nutanix to take that x86 platform market now, because the others just aren’t ready. If you want to talk about “Converged Infrastructure” – this is it, if you talk “x86 Mainframe” – this is it! Who’s next?

Dheeraj Pandey – CEO Nutanix:
Finding early adopters and early majority in other parts of the world is better than locking horns with late majority and laggards in the US. We have an amazing Ops team that doesn’t consider it insurmountable to support countries across the pond. BeNeLux and Nordics are some of the earliest adopters, world-wide. E.g., it was the most productive territory for NetScreen. VMware’s two largest adopters outside US were Australia and Netherlands. BeNeLux folks are considered “neutral” VP’s throughout Europe and in countries where the culture divide still persists. Leaders from there can be considered all-inclusive.

note: I love this quote! You see that this comes from an honest guy that doesn’t feel the need to get all words being double checked by the legal or marketing department. But by being so honest you really see core values in his insights! Good thinking there mr. Pandey.


Pure Storage:
Pure Storage plays in the All Flash array market. I wrote a blogpost one month ago on the arrival of Pure in EMEA. And the basics of the product. In a nutshell Pure has made an array including the filesystem, from scratch, specifically for flash. They use NVRAM (today SLC) as a sort of cache before it gets offloaded in bulk (very small bulk but nevertheless) to MLC. On top of that they use a decent level of dedupe and compression algorithms. Pure Storage plays in the higher end of the current market where you would replace existing architectures for new. Pure has not really the intent to go after the top 1% HPC (High Performance Computing) but it would sometimes be possible according to the needs of a specific solution.

My idea: I can’t hide my love for Pure Storage. They got the right vision, the right company mentality and the right product came out of that. I really hope that Pure get’s those necessary early deals to get some traction. The only ‘problem’ I see is that XtremIO (now EMC) looks a lot like Pure Storage from an architecture & feature point so I hope they can win the battle in enough places once that monster of marketing and sales comes out of it’s current alpha/beta state (expected 2013-H2).

Scott Dietzen – CEO Pure Storage:
We are building our our team and partner network in Benelux and the broader EMEA to attempt to duplicate our success over here. Northern Europe has in my own experience been a great proving ground for innovative new technology. And frankly it makes sense for us to move quickly while the competition is still trying to figure out how to copy what we have accomplished.

Nimbus Data:
Nimbus also plays in the All-Flash space with a high bandwidth, unified storage solution. Unified means it provides both block based protocols (iSCSI – FC – FCoE) and file based protocols (NFS / SMB). If you listen to Nimbus speaking, they really go after the top 1%. Performance first. This does not mean they don’t think about the economics of the solution. A key point in the economics of Nimbus is that they make their own flash disks, reducing the margin overhead of the current flash disk manufacturers. 

My Idea: I’ll try to be as positive as possible. Nimbus Data has some challenges and most of them are tied to the fact that it still is a one-man-show around Tom Isakovich (CEO & Founder). I consider Tom as highly intelligent business man but I lack a few key points that they need to get Nimbus to that second level. Another point from lately is that Nimbus wants to go for IPO later. I don’t know if they really have a product for IPO or if that is a move to getting acquired sooner. Actually maybe an acquisition would make sense to ad some senior company insights to the product. They are in this blogpost because I knew Nimbus hired an EMEA Manager before the summer of 2012 in BeNeLux. Recently I heard that this one guy already left the company and I have no news if this has changed already. This might be the reason why I didn’t get an answer to my request for a quote.

SolidFire:
SolidFire plays more in the large datacenter cloud area so is not necessarily a daily competitor to the former players. It’s a very scalable solution that expands up to hundreds of all-flash nodes with millions of IOPs. They don’t target however towards HPC systems but more to very differentiated workloads on one system. Not 1 million IOPs to one Oracle but 1000’s of IOPs towards 1000’s of applications. The backend is a distributed iSCSI over 10GbE. Recently SolidFire hired Tim Pitcher (former VP at 3PAR) as VP of International, based in the UK. 

My idea: I have to admit that I haven’t seen the product as such. I do however support entirely the idea behind multiple workloads on scalable systems versus very high IO for single applications. The only thing I should look at is how they have countered the issues you see in some products when you scale iSCSI that much. Highly scalable products mostly are based upon namespaces or other protocols such as AoE (Ata over Ethernet) from Coraid. What I do know about SolidFire is that these guys are down to earth and really honest. This is what we do, this is what we don’t do! Good mentality!

Dave Wright – CEO SolidFire: We have sales engineering resources in the region and will continue to grow the team in 2013. Our international expansion has been driven by strong demand for SolidFire’s all-SSD storage system from cloud service providers outside the US, including 3 European service providers that we announced as part of our GA announcement (Calligo, CloudSigma, and Databarracks). Working out of our home base in London, we are currently serving customers across Europe, including the UK, the Nordics, Central and Southern Europe. 

Whiptail:
Whiptail plays in the high bandwidth, high IOPs, low latency … you get it, that top level performance players. High performance DB’s, HPC, VDI (off course) but also low latency solutions like trading applications. The difference with whiptail is in the architecture: although it is an array handled by 2 controllers, these controllers only do IO redirection. The actual ACK happens in de storage node. How’s that possible? Every storage node has a compute part so these are not dumb JBODs. A direct result here is the need for very high bandwidth, hence the 40GB IB backbone. Putting 1 and 1 together this is a linear scalable platform with a 0.2ms latency. Not enough? There is also a one-unit solutions with no IO redirection which results in a latency of no more than 0.12ms. The fronted is FC – iSCSI – IB – NFS. (note: where is SMB3?)

My Idea: here again you have a product that is well thought. It is slightly different from others. Again like mentioned for SolidFire, real scale-out means that you are mostly dependent on the scalability of the filesystem  or the sprawl of connectivity. Something we have seen being handled by distributed filesystems with big namespaces instead of block storage. Here we see a best of both worlds. Whiptail is in it’s C-round of funding so there might still come a 4th round. Nevertheless they managed to already have 25 people active in EMEA (mostly from the UK), some of them for 2 years now and recently they hired 3 BeNeLux people. I think chances are big you’ll find a blogpost dedicated to the Whiptail Tech later this year.

QUOTE: expected shortly. 

Nimble Storage:
Nimble Storage is also considered being a flash startup although they are not an all-flash solution. Nimble only plays in the mid-market specifically in the replacing current infrastructure place. The basics of the product is a Hybrid (SSD+HDD) array. CASL (Cash Accelerated Sequential Layer) is the filesystem they designed which should be a smarter model than what the current bigger players are doing by just adding flash as a higher tier or putting flash accelerators like FusionIO or LSI/Micron PCIe cards in front of their spinning rust (pun intended 🙂 .

My Idea: As mentioned before Nimble doesn’t really play in the high performance market so has a much bigger install base to go after (NetApp/Compellent/VNX/…). Nimble could be in any infrastructure replacement deal. Because of the limited amount of flash (as an expensive component) combined with the compression, these products already are competitive today. I added Nimble to this post because they were already in EMEA in the UK, Nordics, DACH and BeNeLux. Like Whiptail they also have a few dozen (I am not allowed to disclose the real numbers) implementations in EMEA.

Philip Turner – VP Sales EMEA Nimble Storage: Nimble is investing heavily in EMEA and has established sales teams across Europe. Our Headcount is projected to grow in all geographies through 2013 following consistent, stellar growth throughout 2012. … There will always be room for all-flash niche players at the upper end of the market to cater to the 1% of that market but using long proven technology (spinning disks) combined with backup and replication techniques (redirect on write) add up to value proposition that most people seem to have no trouble grasping.

note: it’s a sales pitch quote here, that originally was 4x as long and says not much about the C-level vision. But it gives a clue what Nimble is about: they don’t need the real flash fuzz as they are already in the current market replacing existing infrastructures.

WRAP UP:
Ok, we’ve talked about companies and technologies. But the intent of the blog was to point out that 2013 will be the year that all these startups are coming to EMEA. More specifically all of them with BeNeLux teams. These are my take-aways:

  1. It’s going to be a crowded market in BeNeLux. Although Northern EMEA has been known as an early adopters market, it’s a small market! I expect all of these players together on multiple offerings. Even beyond the initial sweet spot of their products (which is not necessarily a bad thing). 
  2. Because of that crowded market, all flash vendors should be having a real EMEA strategy, not just a “we’ll start here and grow from there“. Those are doomed to fail!
  3. Because of that crowded market, early adopters will get big discounts and huge amounts of support! If you are looking at replacing datacenter infrastructure or if you have specific requests that require flash, make sure these guys are on your list. You won’t regret.
  4. ProTip for the startups: don’t forget about the big boys. Although you probably kick ass they will definitely kick back and they still got leverage in the customer base. Be specifically aware of EMC in Q4!
  5. It is going to be difficult finding enough people with decent storage knowledge. As we see more storage players recruiting, there is going to be a point where the level of those recruits will drop. We simply do not have enough skilled storage people over here. Education will be key!
  6. Channel is always the best way to sell solutions but be aware that channel (including distri) can’t handle more than 1 or 2 players in each market. Looking forward to how this will get solved.

EDIT – January 26:
It has come to my attention that I missed a few other players that also are active in BeNeLux (active= recruited local sales & engineers). I will add their names here as they come in; Tintri, GreenBytes, Violin Memory, … I’ll try to find a way to provide contacts of all companies mentioned for Channel & Customers later. Note: I personally have no benefits from doing this, except maybe some extra respect from the startups.

Disclaimer: some/most of these vendors were at TechFieldDay last year where I was invited as a blogger. My travel and accommodation was “taken care of”. This does not mean that I get paid to write about them.

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