WekaIO’s President sees the company as the Tesla of storage suppliers, and says OEM Hitachi Vantara is making inroads into the Dell EMC Isilon customer base as Weka crosses the chasm between it and general enterprise use.
WekaIO’s scalable, parallel and high-performance filesystem software has made its name in high-performance computing and become popular in enterprises that have HPC use cases — such as AI, machine learning, and genomics. It’s now set to cross over into more general enterprise file workloads.
BMW motorcycle-riding Jonathan Martin became WekaIO’s President this month. He had previously been the Chief Marketing Officer at Hitachi Vantara, serving from March 2019 to May 2021. He was the CMO at Pure Storage before that, and at EMC as CMO before that. During that period, in July 2020, Hitachi V signed up to OEM WekaIO’s filesystem software, with the Weka software integrated with the Hitachi Content Platform (HCP).
That product supports NFS and SMB file access, S3, and tiers data to public cloud object stores. The hardware can be hybrid flash/disk or all flash, and the HCP software can be used in virtual appliances or — supporting S3 only — in AWS. Weka’s software supports S3 and tiering to the cloud as well.
Martin told us about his perception of WekaIO’s market situation in a briefing last week, and likens Weka to Tesla. Before Tesla, he says, the automobile industry had been in a prolonged period of incremental development, with no fundamental technology changes. Tesla changed all that by developing a battery-powered chassis and software-augmented driving and ownership experience.
Tesla’s first car was a roadster with phenomenal performance, and then it broadened its product set with the up-market S, the mid-range model 3, the X SUV and, latterly, a truck. Tesla become the world’s most valuable car company in stock market capitalisation terms in June last year. All other car manufacturers are following in Tesla’s footsteps and trying to catch up.
Martin sees Weka’s phenomenally fast and scalable Matrix filesystem software demonstrating a Tesla-like level of innovation in the staid storage industry, where incremental development has been the norm for decades.
Tesla used the Roadster as an attention-grabbing product and then began crossing the chasm to ordinary, everyday sedan acceptance with the upmarket S. Once it landed with this it expanded its market with the Model 3, all the while riding the oncoming environmental wave of non-polluting electric vehicles.
Martin sees WekaIO crossing the chasm from specialised HPC use cases to general commercial use by riding the wave of HPC-style or class file storage use cases needed for AI, machine learning and data-centric analytical processing. Customers buy Weka for one use-case and then find that, of course, its software can be used for other file-using applications — and give them a speed boost as well.
A startup storage software vendor faces obstacles penetrating the general enterprise market, where large incumbent suppliers have sold filers for a long time — such as Dell EMC’s Isilon and NetApp. IBM, with its parallel Spectrum Scale software, is not as present in the enterprise market as Dell EMC and NetApp and it, like WekaIO, is trying to broaden its enterprise appeal on the back of AI and machine learning use cases and NVIDIA GPUDirect support.
Qumulo, like WekaIO, is a filesystem startup — but positioned as a lower-performing product. It is making enterprise progress and is targeting the Isilon and NetApp customer bases. Its founders are ex-Osilon people, so it can speak to the Isilon customer base with a strong voice.
Martin sees WekaIO as having fundamentally better software but, in our opinion, positioned as an HPC specialist and needing partners’ help to get into the general enterprise market. Step forward Hitachi Vantara as an on-ramp and bridge into that market.
Hitachi Vantara is an enterprise-focussed storage array, filer and object storage supplier with a focus on being a team player in the Hitachi industrial group — which spans power generation, trains, making parts for automobile manufacturing, smart cities and industrial automation.
Martin said that the Hitachi Vantara OEM deal with WekaIO is hugely successful, with dramatic takeouts of large Dell EMC Isilon customers — think Global 200. He wouldn’t name them, saying they did not want to publicise any competitive advantage they were gaining.
As an ex-Hitachi Vantara CMO he is well-aware of Hitachi V’s capabilities and the best way to partner and help its sales force.
Take this at face value. Hitachi V is pulling off Isilon takeouts using WekaIO. Those customers will have done competitive bake-offs pitching WekaIO against against Dell EMC’s PowerScale (Isilon successor), Qumulo, probably NetApp and other filesystem suppliers. If WekaIO can win a series of these and, having landed such customers, grow its use cases, then it is set for general enterprise penetration.
Comparing WekaIO to Tesla is setting a high bar — a very high bar. It implies that WekaIO’s filesystem software sales are going grow and grow, overtaking those of other suppliers.
The firm has raised $66.7 million in funding — a comparatively small amount compared to other software startups such as Cohesity, ($660M), Rubrik ($552M) and Druva ($475M). Qumulo itself has raised $351 million. Weka last raised cash in 2019, and may return to its investors for more cash in the future.
There are several strategic investors amongst Weka’s backers: Hewlett-Packard, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Seagate, and Western Digital. That could help attract other investors to a potential future round.
WekaIO has to grow at a high and sustained rate to justify Martin’s Tesla comparison. And that means it has to make progress in the general enterprise market. If Hitachi Vantara’s experience is repeated elsewhere in WekaIO’s channel, then the Tesla resemblance could become real — and Martin afford a new motorcycle. Perhaps even a coming BMW DC Roadster with a driveshaft instead of a chain.