Bob Miller, CEO, ONStor

"NetApp is another silo. They're still struggling because the vserver doesn't let you use the SAN management you really want."

October 11, 2007

6 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Life isn't easy for Bob Miller, CEO of clustered NAS supplier ONStor. Less than two months after the company scored $27 million in top-off VC funding, bringing its total to over $100 million, ONStor is under pressure to prove it can bring investors to the goal line of IPO sometime next year.

It will be a challenge. While ONStor boasts a sizeable customer base, competition from BlueArc, EMC, Network Appliance, and others is fierce. Further, it's been less than a year since ONStor entered the NAS fray full force by adding LSI storage to its gateways. And it's only a few weeks since the vendor announced its first sizeable upgrade to those new storage-enabled systems.

At least two analysts see ONStor as something of a puzzle. "I can't figure out why they don't do better," says George Crump of the Storage Switzerland consultancy. "Too many manufacturers have weak NAS solutions." Presumably, that makes room for one that delivers the goods.

The question remains one of demand. "They are a good company with good potential," says analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group. "[But is] there a viable market for a standalone NAS vendor without major partnerships and a proprietary hardware/software platform?"

Miller thinks there is. In conversations this spring at SNW and last week at Storage Decisions, he laid out his company's status, goals, and strategies for winning its share of the midsized enterprise market. Here are the highlights of our talks with Bob:Byte and Switch: How is the company doing?

Miller: "Very well! We continue to grow, and our business model is holding. We're in line with our targets. We had a major round of financing that should take us to profitability if we meet our business plan by the end of the second quarter, beginning of the third quarter 2008."

Byte and Switch: How many customers and employees do you have?

Miller: "We have about 118 employees and about 375 customers. We've shipped over 800 systems, and we have a lot of repeat business... About 15 percent of our customers are Internet 2.0 providers like Facebook, eHarmony, Shopzilla... We're growing rapidly because we have customers who don't want to spend as much money as they would on EMC or NetApp and who want the scaleability those platforms don't provide. We also let you use what you have... We always could support our file system on heterogeneous platforms... We have four petabytes of storage under management and that figure is growing by half a petabyte a month."

Byte and Switch: What do you see happening out there among enterprise customers?Miller: "Right now, many are looking at mixed environments and tiering data. There is also a lot of planning of new data centers."

Byte and Switch: Really? I thought people were trying to consolidate what they have already.

Miller: "They're looking to build. Our recent survey showed that 43 percent of 369 respondents are out of space or power and will need to move within six months... We are a low-power solution and offer capability for server consolidation and with one node, you could get up to 80 percent power savings."

Byte and Switch: [Wincing.] OK, I'll bite. What's your pitch for this great power savings?

Miller: "ONStor NAS heads have virtual file servers, you can have up to 30 servers per ONStor node and you can allocate the performance you want for each server. You can take one of 30 servers or take 100 percent of the data pool. And you are always connected to the storage... Say a Dell Opteron costs $8,000 and consumes about 400 watts of power. Our 1U form factor node consumes 120 watts and consolidates the equivalent of up to 10 Dell servers. And a single node starts at about $30,000."There's a huge cost savings in power and even in personnel. Typically, one sys admin is required for every 25 Microsoft servers. With us, you can reduce the number of people required to manage, and you can keep on adding nodes without increasing that number. In addition, each virtual server can point to multiple applications."

Byte and Switch: So there really is a big move to green IT?

Miller: "Yes. Every CIO has made energy conservation an important goal for underlings. All these guys are being tasked to reduce power using all kinds of metrics... They're using virtualization, thin provisioning across file systems, and policies that automatically classify data."

Next Page: In Line With Virtualization

Byte and Switch: Explain your approach to virtualization. How do you work with or compare to VMware?Miller: "VMware is application virtualization, we are file system and storage virtualization. VMware is for consolidating and partitioning servers, we are for consolidating and partitioning file systems and storage... We are VMware for NAS.

"We create file server virtualization, but we can work with VMware. If virtual machines request data, that data can sit on our heads. We create a storage pool for file data. There are no hard partitions. We do snapshots, mirroring, replication. We provide up to 30 virtual file servers in a node, eight nodes in a cluster. We'll be increasing that number this year."

Byte and Switch: What are customers looking for the most? What's your direction?

Miller: "They want better management tools for policy-based tiering of storage. They're looking for ways to go through the data and metadata and determine what files can be discarded. They want to do that inline. The customer wants to go in and perform the reduction while they're doing other things."

Byte and Switch: Nobody's doing that today? And it sounds like you'll be doing de-duplication?Miller: "The main application of de-duplication has been backup to tape. Even the best VTL vendors don't do it inline... We will add de-dupe, yes. We're getting ready to announce certifications with a number of different companies. We are not doing it ourselves. We want customers to use the one they like, not the one we sell."

Byte and Switch: What about CDP?

Miller: "For unstructured data, snapshots are fine. We see no requirement for CDP."

Byte and Switch: What's your take on the competition?

Miller: "We cede the high end to BlueArc, Ibrix, Panasas. We aren't there. It's a very small market with unique requirements. We'd rather focus on the midsized enterprise."As far as NetApp goes, they haven't really succeeded in the data center, where users want minimum perturbation, and NetApp is another silo. They're still struggling because the vserver doesn't let you use the SAN management you really want."

Byte and Switch: What about 10 Gig and iSCSI?

Miller: "10 Gig is another two years out. Twenty-six watts per NIC won't be practical. Just think if you've got a thousand NICs! That's exactly the opposite direction we want to go. Until 10 Gig can be embedded in compute servers, we won't see it in widespread use.

"As for iSCSI, do iSCSI customers want NAS with iSCSI? All the NAS functionality, if you don't need it, really complicates a solution. We'll provide a gateway to iSCSI. We do a gateway to Fibre Channel now and iSCSI will come in the latter part of next year."

Byte and Switch: What else is going on at ONStor?Miller: "You'll see us move toward more industry standards, Linux, open source, and we will continue to build out on our virtualization story."

Byte and Switch: And go public?

Miller: "Yeah, that's what I do. The seven companies I was involved with went public. Vitesse, Box Hill, Ingres... I like to join and invest when they're private. I think we should go public."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Ibrix Inc.

  • LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • ONStor Inc.

  • Panasas Inc.

  • Storage Switzerland

  • The StorageIO Group

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights