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New CEO talks Panzura cloud controller, Nirvanix downfall

Nirvanix founder and new Panzura CEO Harr says his company is in the sweet spot for expanding the use of cloud storage and seeks to double business over the next year.

Patrick Harr, founder and original CEO of the defunct cloud storage provider Nirvanix, this month took over as...

CEO of cloud controller vendor Panzura.

Harr replaces Randy Chou, who served as Panzura's CEO for four years. Harr has extensive experience with cloud and on-premises storage. He spent five years as general manager of Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Helion cloud portfolio and led Nirvanix to becoming the first pure-play storage cloud provider. He was also an executive at VMware's end-user computing division and at Fibre Channel switch vendor McData. Harr left Nirvanix in 2009, four years before the company shut down and went into bankruptcy.

Panzura, based in Campbell, Calif., raised $58 million in four rounds of venture funding since it was founded eight years ago. Harr said he hopes to double Panzura's revenue in the next year. We spoke with him about his plans for the cloud controller vendor, as well as his impressions of the cloud storage landscape and what can be learned from the failure of Nirvanix.

Why did you choose to join Panzura?

Patrick Harr, CEO, PanzuraPatrick Harr

Patrick Harr: There are exabytes of unstructured data sitting on prem in the enterprise, and it continues to grow exponentially. Today, we're seeing strong acceptance of the cloud. There's a very disruptive model that can be put in place where you keep your hot data local and then you take advantage of the cloud for capacity expansion.

That simply unlocks a lot of value of that data, but also significantly reduces the moving parts of a traditional or status-quo-type of storage on prem. I look at Panzura playing in that sweet spot and becoming a two-way bridge to the cloud for customers. They can take advantage of the economics it presents and the operational efficiencies.

By two-way bridge, do you see Panzura having value moving data back from the cloud instead of only moving it out to the cloud?

Harr: Absolutely. When I founded Nirvanix, we said we would see strong movement to the cloud for compute and for data. I noted with the recent Amazon cloud growth, we've absolutely seen that. We've seen the removal of these issues around security and compliance, and that really brought forth this opportunity to take advantage [of the cloud].  

Now, with that said, there's still this notion of hybrid -- and that's the ability to take advantage of running workloads both on prem and in the cloud itself. Where Panzura plays is making hybrid cloud storage real for the application where I can have data on both sides, on prem or in the cloud, and then move that according to that application or workload, with the ability to scale up or scale down.

You were founder and CEO of one of the first cloud storage companies. How come Nirvanix failed with its storage cloud?

Harr: It was early. It wasn't even called cloud then. It was storage as a service. We did caching content delivery in storage. We did some unique things in terms of data replication across geographic sites and the ability to upload from a data locality standpoint. As with anything, timing can be your friend or it can work against you as markets continue to mature.

I look at Panzura as a continuation in what I helped found and, in some respects, helped pioneer. Now is the time to take advantage of it.
Patrick HarrCEO at Panzura

Timing is everything. I did not see the later iterations that occurred when Nirvanix exited the marketplace. Unlike now, there were still significant security concerns, there were performance concerns, data connectivity concerns, regulatory concerns for the cloud. As we have worked through that in the past seven years, the cloud is now an opportunity to take advantage of what I started back then.

I look at Panzura as a continuation in what I helped found and, in some respects, helped pioneer. Now is the time to take advantage of it.

And now you're working with Amazon, Microsoft and Google instead of competing with them.

Harr: The great thing about Amazon, Azure and Google is they've disrupted the market. The opportunity to partner with them and drive this change to the status quo to this new model is just phenomenal. And not have to do that by having to build and manage data centers, we now get to focus on the real value side of the equation.

What are your plans for Panzura?

Harr: I always say you build a great company one day at a time. We don't disclose revenue, but we are quite sizeable -- north of 350 customers worldwide, ranging from Fortune 10 down to midsize companies. My goal is to double the size of our business next year.

Will you take Panzura in a new direction?

Harr: Panzura did a great job building anchor customers -- the likes of Electronic Arts, the [U.S. Department of Justice] has hundreds of sites, Milwaukee Tools. We recently added a large online-ticketing company. I think it's important for us to take advantage of those anchor customers, but expand the use cases. We have a lot of customers in the architectural, engineering and construction spaces that take advantage of our global file system and cloud economics.

We want to expand cloud NAS, which is the ability to act as NAS to the cloud. I also see the ability to distribute large files using the cloud as the backbone and finally to archive files.

Are there areas where Panzura can innovate?

Harr: I'll talk about some of the key things we've already done, and then I'll talk about what we're going to do going forward. The No. 1 thing we've done is build a global file system, and driving that into the market is significant innovation -- being able to do network- wide deduplication eliminates redundant storage. The third key thing is compression and encryption at rest and in flight -- to be able to do that in mass scale.

As we move forward, we'll do an expansion of protocols on the front side to handle multiple data sets. But I would also say there are significant things we can do on the cloud side to take advantage of unlimited compute, such as search, index and analytics that we can bring together because of the uniqueness of our architecture.

We can run the Panzura cloud controller on premises, and today, we already run in Amazon as an AMI [Amazon Machine Image]. That's what I meant by that two-way bridge; we have access to the data on both sides.

Do a lot of customers use Panzura for private clouds?

Harr: Customers have implemented us internally with OpenStack Swift. We see this with object storage companies that have done mass scale-out internal architectures -- the likes of Cleversafe [now part of  IBM] and other object storage companies. For us, it's about choice. Does the customer want to move data into Amazon, Google or Microsoft Azure, or do they want to do things internally? One of dirty secrets of cloud is it can be cheaper to do that [internally] at large scale for object storage.

The great thing for Panzura is, even in that case, you do need a front-end interface for cache buffering, encryption and some of the other things we bring to that environment.

Panzura has been around a long time already. Two of your early competitors -- StorSimple and TwinStrata -- have been acquired by Microsoft and EMC. Did Panzura miss any opportunities early on with the cloud?

Harr: I can't comment on the history before I was here. As I look at Panzura and what we bring to table, the IP here is second to none. We have a global file system and the ability to do real-time file locking to always make consistent copies in real time.

[We] have the ability to do network deduplicaton, real-time snapshots or snap mirroring, which we call SnapCloud, and to do real-time archiving. You have to make sure you have the right intersection point with timing in the market.

Who are your competitors now?

Harr: Our biggest competitor is status quo -- NetApp and sitting scale-out architectures on prem. I would argue that you should not move down that path anymore. You need to look at this new model.

Analyst Randy Kerns discusses the effect of EMC's newly released storage cloud for tiering and data protection.

How will EMC's Virtustream Storage Cloud that moves data from its storage to a private cloud affect Panzura's cloud controller? Can you add anything for customers using EMC's cloud with EMC storage?

Harr: We're working with cloud providers and managed service providers. We have multiple partnerships emerging in Europe with data locality requirements. They're replicating the type of service of EMC Virtustream. That will occur in different geographies around the world, driven by data locality requirements and privacy requirements.

It's important not to have a one-size-fits-all strategy. There may be reasons why you want to push certain amounts of data into Virtustream, but you also want to push other parts of your data workload into Amazon. We have the capability to do both. We can push data simultaneously into multiple clouds.

Next Steps

Object vs. file: Choosing a storage type for cloud apps

Everything you need to know about the cloud controller market

Panzura adds Azure to Global File System compatibility

Dig Deeper on Public cloud storage

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