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Qumulo looks to repeat Isilon's culture, success

Seattle-based startup Qumulo closed a whopping $24.5 million Series A funding round last week, without even dropping the F-word (flash) or C-word (cloud) that many startups rely on to woo venture capitalists these days.

The Qumulo press release did delve into data growth and played up the team’s Isilon connection. CEO Peter Godman, CTO Aaron Passey and VP of engineering Neal Fachan helped develop Isilon’s OneFS clustered file system that propelled that company to an IPO in 2006 and a $2.25 billion buyout by EMC in 2010.

Qumulo’s executives left Isilon in between IPO and acquisition. Now Godman says he would like to recreate the Isilon culture, even if he can’t replicate the software because EMC now owns the intellectual property. The Isilon connection helped sway Highland Capital Partners, Madrona Venture Group, and Valhalla Partners to invest in Qumulo’s first round.

“Our Isilon experience was a relevant factor in our fund raising [with the VCs], but Isilon was also an extraordinary event in our lives,” Godman said. “It was a vibrant and unique culture, and I give credit to Isilon founders Sujal [Patel] and Paul [Mikesell] for creating that experience.”

Mikesell is VP of engineering at Clustrix and Patel is training for marathons after leaving EMC last month, but Qumolo is sure to have other former Isilon employees on the team. Godman said he plans to expand Qumolo’s 18-person team by 50 or so with almost all the hires based in Seattle.

Godman won’t talk about specifics of the product they are developing, but Qumulo’s press release said the startup will solve manageability, scalability and efficiency problems in storage. Those same characteristics apply to Isilon’s OneFS but Qumulo can’t copy that technology.

“We’re respectful of the IP ownership issue,” Godman said. “Everyone who is an engineer has had to deal with that need to stand clear of things you know are incumbent. But the flip side is it’s easiest to avoid infringing on things you know about.”

He said Qumulo will reveal the timeframe for its product next year. He is willing to address more general storage topics, such as how much the underlying technology has changed in the more than a decade since Isilon began developing its clustered file system.

“Object storage is starting to come into its own now, with a lot of vendors and Amazon S3 using it,” he said. “That part has changed a lot. Also, NAND flash is here now. Its rapidly dropping cost and performance characteristics are disrupting storage technologies, so the kind of storage you build for that looks different than the storage you build for hard disk drives. That couples nicely with the emergence of virtualization. Virtual machines place stress on storage that NAND flash is uniquely suited to address in a cost-efficient way.”

Are there any hints there in what Qumulo is doing? We’ll find out in 2013.

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