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Startup Qumulo Seeks to Revolutionize Storage for Enterprise IT

Storage. As every aspect of our lives are digitized, the demand for storage only grows. This includes the enterprise, where every IT department wants more of it. Luckily for IT, the world of storage is now undergoing radical change, and as a result, storage capabilities that were simply not available to IT in the past are now accessible.

Storage. As every aspect of our lives are digitized, the demand for storage only grows. This includes the enterprise, where every IT department wants more of it. Luckily for IT, the world of storage is now undergoing radical change, and as a result, storage capabilities that were simply not available to IT in the past are now accessible.

One startup that is at the forefront of reinventing storage is Qumulo. Joining to answer some questions today is Qumulo’s co-founder and CEO Peter Godman.

IT Specialist: Thank you for sharing some insights Peter. To start with, can you provide some brief background on Qumulo, such as what year you were started and the background of the founders?

Peter: Qumulo was founded in March 2012 by Neal Fachan, Aaron Passey, and me. We met each other while working at Isilon Systems, where we were Distinguished Engineer, Chief Architect, and Director of Software Engineering respectively. We all left Isilon in 2008 and went to work at startups that revolved around CPU scalability and database scalability. We decided to get back together and solve some new problems in data storage in 2012.

IT Specialist: At a high level, can you provide Qumulo’s overall perspective on the state of the storage market today – where are we now and what does the future hold?

Peter: Across the board in storage, things are changing drastically.  In the performance end of the spectrum, SSD is disrupting traditional arrays: racks of HDD-based SAN are getting displaced by tiny all-flash and hybrid systems. Hyperconverged systems are breaking down the traditional storage/network/compute divisions inside companies. Cloud is promoting resource sharing and is empowering end-users, but its object storage requirement is often at odds with existing applications (and people), which are accustomed to file. It’s pretty clear that storage is going to be software in the future. That promises to let people make best-of-breed choices across storage software and hardware independently.

Everything is gradually becoming digital. I like to say that we’re becoming a digital species. Everything about our lives, and everything about businesses, is becoming data, and we never ever throw data away. The net result is that we’re awash in data, and it’s becoming increasingly clear it’s going to be with us forever. Managing all this data is increasingly difficult and increasingly important.

IT Specialist: What is the core value proposition of Qumulo for enterprise IT departments?

Peter: Qumulo Core was built to help enterprises intelligently manage and store billions and trillions of files. It builds real-time data analytics directly into storage, giving enterprises an unprecedented view of their data and storage resources at scale. Thanks to greater visibility into which data is most valuable, where it is stored, what users or applications are accessing what files, what should be archived, backed up or deleted, and why data grows, our customers have reported significant gains in workflow performance and storage efficiency.

IT Specialist: Qumulo has been described as the world’s first data-aware scale-out network-attached storage (NAS). For those who may not be familiar with the term, could you elaborate on what ‘network-attached storage’ means in practice?

Peter: For most people it means “connects via ethernet, stores data, and talks file (NFS and/or SMB)”. In practice the line is a bit blurrier than that. For a lot of people, NAS still implies that it’s delivered as an appliance. 

IT Specialist: Turning now to your offering, as I gather your core product is Qumulo Core. Could you highlight Qumulo Core’s key features?

Peter: Qumulo Core is a software application that runs as a user application on top of the Linux operating system. Its primary benefits are:

●     Real-time analytics – Qumulo Scalable File System, which is at the heart of Qumulo Core, doesn't just store data, but also curates and manages it.

●     Software-only solution - Qumulo Core runs on commodity hardware, on dedicated appliances, or in virtual machines.

●     Flash-first hybrid design - Qumulo Core maximizes both price/performance and price/capacity.

●     SaaS software delivery model – We provide a pay-as-you-go model for continual infrastructure software innovation.

●     .No compromise storage – Qumulo Core is optimized for the widest range of workloads and file sizes.

●     100% programmable – Qumulo Core comes with a public and self-documenting REST API with interactive API explorer built into the web user interface.

IT Specialist: Turning now to the technology itself, as I gather Qumulo’s solution is very much software-based with just commodity hardware – in fact I’ve seen you quoted as saying that eventually you’d like to be purely software-based – can you explain at a very high level how you pulled this off? Can a Qumulo solution really handle billions or even trillions of files?

Peter: We have demonstrated that Qumulo Core works great with tens of billions of files today.

Neal Fachan, our VP of Engineering, insisted from the outset that we not build an NVRAM requirement into our product. It was pretty forward-looking of him -- getting rid of custom hardware from the mix lets us iterate on hardware platforms more quickly, and allows us to deliver high performance from virtual machine and cloud instances. The Q0626 is a 100% commodity appliance, save the faceplate.

In order to deliver great performance without an NVRAM and without a custom fabric, and, indeed, entirely from user mode (no kernel code), we had to build our architecture in a specific way: Qumulo Core is built using a highly-efficient single-round-trip commitment protocol we call one-phase commit. This is built on top of a 4k block write-out-of-place protection layer that allows us to drop every write directly into SSD without needing to move it or rewrite it later on. 

All protection in this system exists in a block layer below the file system that provides full serializability based on two-phase locking (SS2PL), in contrast to the current trend of providing for either sequentially- or eventually- consistent replicas at the file level. This approach allows Qumulo Core to reprotect after drive failures using only sequential spinning disk operations, even when files are very small. Qumulo Core is built to halve the length of reprotect operations every time the system size doubles. The SSD layer helps in two ways. First, it bears the brunt of the read IOPS load, leaving the disks more available to rebuild quickly. Second, it provides a long rolling window that takes writes, allowing spinning disk placement to be optimized over a very long time period. Below is a high-level overview of Qumulo’s architecture:

 

IT Specialist: What role does the enterprise IT professional play in implementing and managing a Qumulo solution – how easy is it to get started and then manage going forward?

Peter: We say we build invisible storage that makes data visible. The day to day of storage administration is extremely easy with Qumulo. Infrastructure should be invisible, because when you know it’s there, it’s usually because you have a problem. Most issues that arise with our deployed systems are identified automatically via our cloud-based monitoring, and we proactively contact administrators to discuss remediation. Meanwhile, at a control level, Qumulo provides a full REST API that allows for automation of common tasks. We see the role of storage administration in unstructured data morphing into one of data administration over time. For that reason, Qumulo Core provides rich data management functionality. This functionality is why we typically see our users log into their admin UI every day: it tells them what’s going on in their workflow.

IT Specialist: Turning now to the corporate level, does Qumulo have any existing customers you’d like to highlight, and how they are taking advantage of your product?

Peter: Today Qumulo has 15 customers, many of which are running production workloads on Qumulo Core. Our customers come from a range of verticals that include media and entertainment, life sciences, and oil & gas exploration. Sportvision, for example, is the media company behind the iconic 1st & Ten® yellow line in football broadcasts, that offers a range of rich sports entertainment and analysis products that rely on vast amounts of video and metadata. One of Sportvision’s biggest challenges was that a lot of data was put into centralized storage, and it was difficult to determine an exact usage pattern. With Qumulo Core, Sportvision is able to quickly determine what data to save and what should be archived. They can keep track of data and directories that are hot, what files and directories are being worked on and what data has not been touched in six months or a longer. Qumulo Core provides a level of visibility into their data and storage that they have never had before.

Another customer, Densho, is an organization that documents the history of Japanese Americans incarcerated in WWII internment camps. Densho was spending excessive time and money tending to its rapidly aging legacy storage system, and before Qumulo Core, Densho was spending hours each week monitoring their storage performance and capacity without really knowing what was causing problems. With Qumulo Core, Densho spends only five minutes a week at most managing their storage. They are now able to focus on other things like understanding and managing their data or tending to other mission critical operations in the datacenter. For Densho, storage is something they just don’t have to worry about any more.

IT Specialist: How much money has Qumulo raised in total and who are your key investors?

Peter: In February, we announced $40 million in Series B funding, led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield& Byers (KPCB) with participation from existing Series A investors Highland Capital, Madrona Venture Group and Valhalla Partners. The Series B round brought our total funding to $67 million. We raised $24.5 million in Series A in 2012.

IT Specialist: Finally, for people who may be interested in testing the Qumulo solution or beginning a dialogue with you, what is the best way for them to start working with you?

Peter: Anyone interested in speaking with us can visit us online at http://qumulo.com/contact/.

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