Cohesity loses cohesion: Rapidly diversifying firm has an identity problem

You thought you understood Cohesity well enough. It supplies hyperconverged secondary storage. It is basically ‘doing a Nutanix’ on the secondary storage market and converging the file use cases for test and dev, compliance and other copy data users. The San Jose firm makes a golden master copy of a file and farms out virtual copies of it for temporary use, saving storage space.

Only it doesn’t just do this. It provides a backup appliance. It tiers to the cloud. It provides file storage. It archives data. It can do disaster recovery. It can migrate data as well. So what is Cohesity in product positioning terms? 

Sectarian

That’s a tough question to answer, in that it doesn’t fit in the standard product boxes. There are three main boxes to consider here: file storage, backup, and data management. We can easily populate these boxes with suppliers because that’s mostly how they define themselves; by product fit to a market sector. A diagram shows what we mean:

Blocks & Files created Cohesity positioning graphic.

Certain companies and products are known for file storage – Isilon, NetApp and Qumulo, for example.

Certain companies are known for backup, masses of them in fact, starting with Acronis and Asigra and running through the alphabet to Veeam and Veritas. 

Other companies are known for copy data management, such as Actifio, Cohesity itself, and Delphix.

Some suppliers are known for file life cycle management, such as Komprise and file access acceleration, such as InfiniteIO.

Scale-out

Where Cohesity fits, according to Michael Letschin, its director for Technology Advocacy, who briefed us, is in all three boxes. As we understand it, Cohesity’s technology is based on a Span File System, which is a highly scale-out filesystem with some unique properties. For example, it can receive and present files using NFS, SMB and S3 protocols at the same time. 

Cohesity’s software runs in scale-out clusters which are managed, in single or multiple geos, by the Helios SaaS facility.

Its generalised file data processing platform receives data from a variety of sources, does things with them, and makes them available to a variety of target use cases.

As a file store, Letschin said, it cannot do tier 0 file access work; it’s not equipped for that low latency, high speed access activity. NetApp and Isilon and Qumulo can rest easy in that use case. But Cohesity can do the tier 1, tier 2, and 3 work – what we can call the secondary file data or unstructured data world. And here, because of the breadth of its coverage, the firm could potentially reign supreme.

Data sources and targets

Backup is a way to get data onto its platform, an on-ramp, an ingest method. It built an appliance to do that, but is now switching to a software-only product available through subscription. This can run on-premises or in the public cloud. Cohesity can back up applications in physical servers and in virtual servers (vSphere, Hyper-V Acropolis). It can back up relational and distributed databases via its Imanis acquisition. It can back up Kubernetes-orchestrated containerised systems.

The product can be a target system for backup products, such as Veeam. It can write backup data out to archives in the public cloud (AWS, Azure, GCP) and also to tape via a Qstar gateway. The archive data can be written in an immutable form (Write once: read many or WORM).

It can tier file data to the cloud, leaving a reference access stub behind, and so save space on primary (tier 0-class) filers. And it can supply data to Test and Dev, with personally identifiable information detected and masked out. It can move backed-up VMs to the cloud ready to spin up if a disaster happens (CloudSpin) and even run them on the Cohesity cluster as a stop-gap.

Third-parties have built applications that use Cohesity’s software to do extra things, such as the Clam AV anti-virus product and the firm’s own Splunk facility for small log file populations.

Customers can download these from the Cohesity Marketplace, running on Cohesity’s distributed infrastructure and using the Cohesity App SDK to access the data managed by the Cohesity DataPlatform. They have to buy the licence from the vendor or partner directly. 

Mostly all its functions are policy-driven and set up through a clean UI.

It seems that a lot of what a customer might want to do with secondary file and unstructured data can be done with Cohesity’s software. (We’re using secondary data to mean non-tier 0 data.) 

This is why trying to position Cohesity in a single standard file storage activity-related box is like nailing jelly to a wall. All of which, its execs must be hoping, makes for remarkably sticky software. 

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