Datera is ‘power lifting at the gym with HPE as main spotter’

Interview As Pure was to Flash and Nutanix to HCI, Datera wants to be the main independent enterprise software-defined block-plus storage player.

Datera CEO Guy Churchward revealed the company’s ambitions in an interview with Blocks & Files. The company agreed a partnership deal with HPE earlier this year and we wanted to better understand the company’s situation and strategy.

We conducted the interview by email and I sent the questions in before Churchward’s recent heart attack. He sent us his answers post-op recovery – testament of his intent to return to direct Datera.

Guy Churchward

Blocks & Files: What markets does Datera serve?

Guy Churchward: Geographic – worldwide but we’re concentrating on US domestic and Europe right now. Vertical – usual suspects where data volume, diversity, and criticality to competitive advantage matters.

Storage Swim-Lane – SDS hyper-scale ‘Cloud Like’ value set with Tier1 performance and availability for Block, Container & high performance Object.

Blocks & Files: What are the main IT trends affecting customers in the markets you serve?

Guy Churchward: We see a number of key trends right now:

  • Reducing technical debt, peeling dollars from an existing budget to drive innovation around data intelligence and data agility giving competitive edge. (#throwbackthursday Do more with less mantra)
  • Run as a cloud either hosted or private.
  • Preserve optionality, key terms heard regularly – multi vendor, open paths, reduce fork lift upgrades, no lock-ins (vendor or configuration), open formats, avoid ‘sticky value add’, data freedom, flexibility, choice.

Blocks & Files: How would you describe Datera’s situation and state as a business?

Guy Churchward: You once described Datera as a Minnow and I concur, based on the bigger picture.

We’re an early stage startup with a high IP quota, we have 45+ production deployments and our Minnow is power lifting at the gym with HPE as a main spotter. Fundamentally, enterprise accounts listen to trusted advisors during transitions and companies like Datera need a big brother to help showcase their innovations.

So early days for us with our new business relationship, but HPE has already won multiple enterprise accounts against Dell using Datera as the secret sauce.

Blocks & Files: If I say that, in essence, the company is a high-performance scale-out software SAN supplier with object storage on the side, would that be fair?

Guy Churchward: Yup, if you lean in harder, you see the ‘data services platform’, not so much and you see the SW SAN with the added benefits of storage lifecycle management and perhaps adding ‘distributed’ between scale-out and SW if I were wordsmithing but still keep on your theme.

Blocks & Files: What is the role of the object storage element in Datera’s product? Can block storage data be tiered off to object storage?

Guy Churchward: Some customers are looking to utilise object storage protocols for portions of their data so we’ve added support for performant objects so they can manipulate that data or metadata to enable data consolidation for those applications.

Once those objects become static or the data is less in demand, the object can be moved to purpose-built private or public object store. More commonly we enable block snapshots to be tiered off to object – Datera to Datera, or Datera to another on-prem or public cloud object store.

Blocks & Files: Datera can provide sub-200uS data access latency. The sub-200uS latencies are for block storage, I suppose. What are the latencies for object storage?

Guy Churchward: There can be additional latency but can be as little as 100us, though it can be more complicated. Because objects can vary a lot in size, we would typically think of latency in terms of time-to-first-bit as opposed to time for the entire object.

The media and network latency components don’t change by the protocol, but the software [has] only the additional Minio code for converting from an object namespace to the underlying blocks that represent the object and its metadata…Yup I cribbed this sentence off an email from our CTO to a client 🙂

Blocks & Files: What is the company’s strategy?

Guy Churchward: Silos don’t help drive innovation and you can’t have flexibility if you are bound by custom tin wrappers. So, our focus is on delivering optionality with better economics to our customers through distributed data freedom – lofty, I know, but the entire storage market will transition down this road over time, so either we take companies there or we push the industry to step up and offer competitive alternatives, which will keep us on our toes and that’s also a good thing.

Ideally, I’d like to establish Datera as the Tier1 go-to independent SDS Block++ player, rather like Pure was to Flash or Nutanix was to HCI which then moves us nicely toward being a key technology supplier in a ubiquitous multi-cloud data service proxy platform layer.

Blocks & Files: What is or are the main product strong points it can build on?

Guy Churchward: The Datera architecture is superb. The team thought through how storage ‘should’ operate at scale and worked backwards, which means automation and telemetry are second to none. These points can be easily built on as we careen towards multi-cloud and the inevitable cloud/OS or proxy layers (per the above question).

Blocks & Files: What is the product development strategy? Does file storage have a role in it?

Guy Churchward: Our product team is staying focused on turning automation and telemetry into time for our customers to focus more on using the data and less on the data infrastructure.

For file, there is a role, but I don’t see us getting into the Weka space as one product can’t deliver everything. But similar to object, we do have conversations with customers that want to sweep data from say a NetApp into our data service platform, so general purpose file can help in a consolidation play. But our foundation remains block.

Blocks & Files: Will Fibre Channel be supported? Ditto NVMe/TCP and NVMe/FC?

Guy Churchward: Our customers have standardised on Ethernet switching going forward for their interconnect needs and we have no plans to support Fibre Channel as a legacyinterconnect. We already support NVMe devices and NVMeoF/TCP support is in development and will be available when the technology is sufficiently mature to meet the requirements for Tier 1 applications deployed against Enterprise Software Defined Storage.

The customers that choose us are mainly looking to move from hardware-resiliency to software-resiliency.

Blocks & Files: What role does the public cloud play in this?

Guy Churchward: Per our back and forth on the role of object above, we’ve been asked to provide object to cloud support, replication to S3, etc. In the next release in the coming quarter, the code will be provided as a ‘sandbox’ and will go GA shortly after.

Blocks & Files: Is there a SaaS element in your strategy?

Guy Churchward: We provide our platform to enable SaaS vendors rather than us providing our own SaaS. In fact, our largest current deployment is with a European SaaS company.

Net:net

CEOs need to encapsulate a startup’s core vision and direct and drive the company forward to realise it. Datera has a lofty goal -to replicate Pure and Nutanix success in the independent enterprise SDS block-plus storage space. It has focused on this goal and has not gotten distracted by file storage or legacy Fibre Channel.

Either could be ‘bolted on’ later if needed.

The market is wide open for such a player and Datera has as good a chance as anyone else.

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