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Actifio copy data management sales help turn a profit

Actifio's copy data management platform finds favor with financial, government, healthcare and retail organizations. More than 2,200 customers use Virtual Data Pipeline.

The Actifio copy data virtualization platform is designed to make applications a strategic asset in an era of increasing...

hardware commoditization.

Actifio Inc.'s core technology is the Actifio Virtual Data Pipeline (VDP), a global distributed object file system that runs in the public cloud on an Actifio Copy Data Storage integrated physical appliance, or on Actifio Sky virtual appliances. Actifio VDP decouples data from infrastructure to allow tailored service-level agreements for each application.

Actifio copy data management intelligence removes redundant snapshots, moving data only once to reduce network I/O demands and long-term storage costs. VDP uses changed-block tracking to ensure application consistency. All use cases feed off a single point-in-time gold copy of primary data. Customers mount the virtualized copy to perform analytics, application testing, backup, business continuity and disaster recovery.

Private investors have poured $207 million in funding into Actifio since the company launched in 2009. At one point, Actifio, based in Waltham, Mass., was considered a main contender to go public, but CEO Ash Ashutosh said those plans are off the table for now. He also said Actifio is on track for its third consecutive profitable quarter, although it went into the black partly because of staff reductions.

SearchStorage recently talked with Ashutosh about the direction of the Actifio copy data management product and its impact on the enterprise storage market.

Actifio recently had to cut staff. How do you make the case that you're pursuing a growth strategy amid layoffs?

Ash Ashutosh, CEO, ActifioAsh Ashutosh

Ash Ashutosh: About 18 months ago, we started hearing from our customers. They told us, 'Hey guys, we want to choose you as a strategic platform, but you better be able to survive long term.' That meant we either had to be profitable or we had to go public. Getting to profitability became our imperative. We did what was required. We got out of geographic markets where we only had a few customers. We got out of other vertical industries that didn't really help us create a scalable business.

The hard part was learning to say no -- when you're a startup, you never say no -- and starting to act like a more mature company. Yes, we reduced the number of people, but we also have hired new people for different geographies and different verticals. We brought in 87 new people last year [who] had different skill sets. We brought in people with cloud capabilities that we didn't have 18 months ago. Our head count was about 360 then. We are at 346 now.

How has the storage market changed since Actifio entered it?

Ashutosh: Starting backward, the first thing we've seen is commoditized storage systems. Standard PC platforms have added capabilities to run software all the way up to the higher end of midrange storage systems. Customers are discovering they don't need to run proprietary stuff anymore.

Second is the emergence of cloud, which allowed new companies [to sell] software-defined storage, scale-out storage and flash. We've seen commoditization for seven years, as everybody tries to find a niche. It's now to the point where end customers care about distribution and support capabilities, because the actual technical capabilities are almost all the same. The customer doesn't care as much anymore about the brand.

You and I could start a storage company today and grow it to a $100-million company very, very quickly. Storage is such a commodity that if we lower the price enough, we can get customers to buy. The question is: Can we survive as a business?

How many customers are using Actifio copy data management?

Ashutosh: We have more than 2,200 customers and add an average of about 100 new customers every quarter. Most of our customer base is within large enterprises. Typically, these are organizations with an advanced chunk of data and lots of users of that data. They spend, on average, between $200,000 and several million dollars with us per transaction.

As we grew the base itself, the big trend is that 50% to 70% of our sales every quarter are from [product] expansions. During the last two years, we've seen people start to use Actifio as a strategic data-as-a-service platform. They're not using it just for one use case anymore. It gives them one platform to call an API and get any data from the other platforms. It gives them a single system of record with fast access on any kind of storage.

Which sectors account for most of the growth?

Ashutosh: Two verticals are generating very fast growth for us: DevOps and the hybrid cloud. The old notion of developing applications faster was to add two or three times as many people. We just closed deals with one of the largest retail organizations, one of the largest organizations in healthcare [and] pharma, and with the fifth-largest bank. In all cases, they were saying, 'Hey, I have thousands of developers and I can't afford to have them twiddling their thumbs while they wait for data.' It's not the number of people that leads to faster application development; it's the speed of access to the data.

Hybrid cloud storage is one of the fastest-growing [trends] with many of our large customers. They want to 'Google' their way in. They want multicloud, multidirectional ... [and they want to] take their data and run tests and analysis in Google, and then be able to bring the data back home. Hybrid cloud is about 6% of our business now. It was zero three quarters ago. At the same time, customers are not very comfortable being locked into any one storage cloud. People are focused on outcomes. The cloud becomes representative of everything you need at the machine level and converts it to an API.

How is Actifio copy data management different from products by Catalogic Software and Delphix?

Ashutosh: Catalogic is a snapshot manager. They take a snapshot on a storage system and then provide catalog as the namespace. Most storage people don't know how to make a catalog, and those guys provide a nice add-on capability. It's interesting, but who the heck wants a storage system? What people really want are applications with faster data access.

Delphix has a very similar functionality [to Actifio copy data management], but it starts out very, very differently. One of our use cases is helping database administrators manage databases, which Delphix also does. Delphix starts out as a tool for DBA, but the operations guys never see it.

We bill Actifio copy data virtualization as an operational solution for the entire enterprise. People's data is all over the place. It comes in different sizes and from different places. If you believe data is the new currency, then you have to manage it like you manage your financial portfolio. We give you one central place to see what's going on with your data. One of our customers calls us his 'PayPal for data,' because we give him a way to exchange data with other vendors' applications.

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What is your company's strategy to manage redundant data copies?
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Ash is fundamentally correct when he says "Catalogic is a snapshot manager," though he leaves out quite a lot. Support for array-to-array replication for starters, and the ability to spin up application-consistent storage clones.   

In the interest of accuracy, I want to respond to this comment: "It's interesting, but who the heck wants a storage system? What people really want are applications with faster data access."

Well, we would agree that people don't want a storage system, and that's why we do what we do as software only, and don't require a new hardware appliance like Actifio and many others typically do. As for data access, that's precisely what Catalogic can do: spin up database clones or VMs and securely assign them to users. This can be done by IT or in a self-service model. And yes, it's all programmable via our API so it can be part of a DevOps workflow (we also have plug-ins for some DevOps tools). We don't just catalog storage and do nothing with it. It's all actionable. 

From an architecture perspective, we've had many customers comment that they feel a lot more comfortable doing development work on the same hardware platform that's used in production. It eliminates the potential for software glitches brought in by doing dev work on a totally different hardware stack, file system, etc. And it allows you to test performance as well. Why bring in another appliance with a new management framework when you can deploy another array in the same storage family instead, and thereby remove all concerns about the disk environment introducing problems?

The whole paradigm of copy data management has shifted from "we save you storage space" to "we get you access to data in a way that is fast, easy and secure." Catalogic does that on the production storage stack -- Pure, IBM, NetApp, EMC Unity and so forth. Others do it on their own, proprietary stack. Users can decide which model best suits their needs. 

Peter Eicher
Catalogic Director of Marketing   
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