Mark Lewis on Formation’s enterprise play

by Robin Harris on Thursday, 6 November, 2014

Formation Data Systems announced a soft launch a few weeks ago with a $24M round – hefty for a software play – and one of the investors is Kumar Malavalli, the smart guy behind Brocade. StorageMojo spoke to FDS CEO Mark Lewis.

The what
Formation is focused on attacking the cost and expense of enterprise storage. Storage that today is absurdly expensive, difficult to manage and limits scalability. You’ve heard of this problem, no?

Create a single data virtualization layer and offer an order of magnitude cost improvement. Translation: 1/10th the cost of a VMAX.

Mark says their target market hasn’t moved to cloud because while the economics are good they also want a private environment. They believe they can beat the cost of AWS and Azure – by 20-30% – and give local control to IT.

The how
The short answer – from Mark – is that big enterprises pay about the same same as AWS for commodity hardware. The win is that the enterprise can optimize the underlying infrastructure for their specific applications where AWS and Google can’t.

They run on top of commodity hardware with a “ubiquitous data virtualization layer” with data connectors that look like block, NFS, HDFS, S3 or whatever the app needs.

Overcoming the enterprise fear of the new and untried won’t be easy. FDS is going with a direct sales, service and support model. They will offer a tin-wrapped software as well as software + service only.

Another plus: Mark says that 90% of their stack is open source. That cuts development costs while reducing technical risk for FDS and customers.

The StorageMojo take
“Data virtualization layer” may sound like marketing blah-blah, but it is what web scale infrastructures already do. Their layered architectures present files – in object form – without the app servers knowing about anything behind the object.

Mark stressed to StorageMojo that this is not a “rip & replace” strategy, which is not what CRN’s Joseph Kovar reported. Messaging glitch or re-think? IT never rips out something that is working, so new apps and greenfield data centers are the opportunity.

Can the FDS business model work? Absolutely. Enterprises aren’t looking to roll their own, so the services piece is critical. They will also take comfort in the high percentage of open source that allows FDS to focus on integration and automating system management.

Bottom line: FDS can deliver real value to CFOs who see web scale advantage, but don’t know how to incorporate it into their business systems. This is much smarter than EMC’s “buy the on-ramps and they will come” strategy.

In a world of IoT, social networks and big data, web scale is the new enterprise scale. And just as Google and Amazon before them, enterprises must implement a new architecture to support these new applications.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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