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All buzz aside, the cloud computing market and supporting technology still lacks definition and stories of practical and secure implementation. Channel Insider decided to sit down with cloud storage vendor ParaScale’s CEO Sajai Krishnan, to hear his take on the next wave of cloud storage, including definitions, predictions and expectations. Krishnan tackles the difference between public and private cloud, the use of virtualization in cloud deployments, Larry Ellison’s recent comments dismissing the cloud as buzz, and the potential enterprise benefits of cloud storage deployments.

CI: Larry Ellison recently said he thought cloud was just a repackaged name for Application Service Provider. With all the buzz about the "cloud," how does "cloud" REALLY differ from an MSP or an ASP, in your opinion?

Krishnan: Winning the America’s cup is terrific, but all that salt water exposure can rust even the best of us. The cloud is not about a location, it’s about the architecture. Cloud infrastructure combines virtualization, commodity hardware and additional components to enable multi-tenancy, seamless scalability, and ease of management. 

CI: There’s been a lot of talk about private cloud versus public cloud. What do you see as the real difference?

Krishnan: Think about a public cloud as you would a “rental car”. Remember there is a car under that rental business model – cloud infrastructure is the “car”. Having the “car is in your garage” is analogous to owning a private cloud.

A public cloud is offered as a service, usually over an Internet connection. Private clouds are deployed inside a firewall and managed by the user organization. This simple difference drives very unique experiences and capabilities to the end user. Both offer shared access to a pool of IT resources.

Public clouds typically charge a monthly usage fee per GB, combined with bandwidth transfer charges. Users can scale the storage on demand and do not need to purchase storage hardware. Service providers manage the infrastructure and pool resources into capacity that customers can claim.

Private clouds are built from software running on customer supplied commodity hardware. The data is typically not shared outside the enterprise and full control is retained by the organization either within their data center or through a service provider.  Scaling the cloud is as simple as adding another server to the pool, while the self-managing architecture expands the cloud by adding performance and capacity.  Refreshing the cloud is easy and done on a rolling basis by removing and adding servers. You have broken-out of the tyranny of the three- to four-year forklift upgrade cycle.

CI: Is private cloud storage just another name for a virtualized data environment? What’s the difference?

Krishnan: Virtualization is an important enabling technology baked into cloud storage. Not from a hypervisor standpoint but the ability to create a bucket or a container for files (a Virtual File System) separate from the underlying commodity hardware. Private cloud storage also includes hybrid support – the ability to span from an internal data center across the WAN to other locations.

CI: What industries do you see experiencing the biggest data explosion? Why?

Krishnan: While data as a whole is growing rapidly, machine generated data is driving this explosion. Log files, genomic sequencing output, sensor data, satellite location data, video surveillance output are all examples of machine generated data. As machine generated data is also consumed by other machines, there is a further acceleration in this growth trend. In fact “big data” as it is being called is already impacting all our lives, and the impact is going to become patently obvious in next two-to-five years. Some of these sources are industry specific but many cut across industries. Organizations need a better way to store, manage, and scale to cope with this rapidly expanding content. Cloud storage is new architecture that is architected specifically to address fast growing machine-generated content.

CI: Do you think it’s feasible and affordable for customers to move completely to cloud storage and throw out backing up on tape or disc?

Krishnan: Utilizing cloud storage is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. The large majority of enterprise customers want a hybrid solution. A private cloud solution that has an on-premise component and a hosted service component drives efficiencies, provides spillover capacity etc. Cloud storage also does not preclude the use of tape. Cloud storage functions as an active tier that can complement the use of tape for selective archiving or “cold” storage. For example, a company chooses to keep 30 days of backups in a private cloud from which 95 percent of all restores occur, and backups beyond 30-plus days are in a deep tape archive.

CI: What does ParaScale do?

Krishnan: ParaScale’s software transforms user-selected, commodity hardware (including repurposed servers) into enterprise cloud storage. With ParaScale, performance and capacity can scale independently, and applications can run directly on ParaScale’s platform, transforming physical storage into a flexible, virtual layer that simplifies management and reduces costs.  Unlike other storage alternatives, ParaScale’s full read/write virtual file system provides internet-scale, self management and the flexibility to function simultaneously as a cloud, NAS pool, analytic platform or integrated virtual compute/storage platform. Deployments can start small and scale to several petabytes in a single pool managed by a single administrator. To use the car metaphor again, ParaScale makes the “car” that is being deployed in a “rental car model” by MSPs and hosting providers  in the public cloud business. The “car” is also being sold by resellers, who are architecting and deploying petabyte size private clouds for businesses.

CI: A lot of storage companies package their stuff on hardware and pitch the whole solution? Why did you decide not to do that?

Krishnan: If this was 1999, selling a packaged storage appliance is exactly what ParaScale would have done. But it is 2010. Intelligence in the compute layer has moved to hardware – look at the tremendous innovation from VMware and Xen. Intelligence is moving to software in some parts of networking (load balancers, firewalls etc.). You have to ask why enterprise storage still looks like mainframes or minis! It is 2010 and it is time for the storage industry to blow away the myth that reliable enterprise storage can only be delivered as an appliance, especially when you unscrew the covers of today’s familiar storage appliances and see that it is mostly a goosed-up Intel server. ParaScale’s software thus uniquely enables businesses to deploy their own affordable storage clouds using commodity hardware. “Big data,” machine-generated data is rapidly approaching multi-petabyte scales. It is time to think different.

CI: You sell exclusively through partners, right? How are you snagging new partners and what’s your strategy going forward?

Krishnan: Customers and partners are finding us via the web. On most days Amazon and ParaScale are the only cloud storage vendors on page 1 of Google. We are focused on the quality and productivity of our partners and not on the quantity. At this point we are busy responding to incoming interest from partners who are innovation leaders in their own right. Our mix of partners includes MSPs, hosting providers and traditional enterprise VARs and SIs. At this early stage we are not 100% channel. As we develop the market and refine that “cookie cutter” solution more and more of our sales will be driven through partners. ParaScale is obsessed about sales efficiency and having a product designed to be channel-friendly from Day 1, allows us to focus on the tremendous leverage and customer relationship strength that channel partners bring to the table.  

CI: How do you service your partners and keep them happy? What benefit does ParaScale bring to the table?

Krishnan: There is no magic in what makes a channel partner happy. First, margin, margin, margin. We provide industry leading margins in a tough IT economy. Additionally, partners gain the margin from packaging their preferred commodity hardware combined with ParaScale software, and then throw in the ability to offer your customers consulting and integration services as you begin to deploy this disruptive technology. Note that cloud storage footprint grows fast, and there is a tremendous opportunity for repeat business. Second, for our good partners we have leads, based on the incoming customer interest in our innovative technology. Third, unlimited demos. With our software download model, you can have POCs in your lab with your customers, all driving towards fast closes and less headaches for you in turning an opportunity into margin. Four, easy training – we can train you in three hours including hands-on training on our software. For the average storage or Linux SE, they will not have deployed easier enterprise-grade storage. There is a reason that ParaScale is the only downloadable enterprise-grade storage solution in the industry. Five, bullet-proof “we will do the right thing, no ifs, and, or buts” deal registration. Six, the best technical startup team in the storage space supporting our partners and their customers; put us to the Linked-In test.