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New CEO expects Caringo Swarm to ride object storage wave

Object storage veteran Caringo switches CEOs and is looking to 'Swarm' the market through expanded partnerships that go well beyond its Dell OEM relationship.

Object storage vendor Caringo shuffled its management deck today, promoting Tony Barbagallo from vice president of product to CEO. He replaced a Caringo founder, Jonathan Ring, who will move into the CTO role.

Ring founded Caringo, along with Paul Carpentier and Mark Goros, in 2005. All three founders have been Caringo CEO at points along the way. Ring stepped into CEO role in 2015 when Goros left the company. Ring's first hire as CEO was Barbagallo, who joined as the company was adjusting its go-to-market strategy in anticipation of the Dell-EMC merger. Caringo had an OEM relationship with Dell before Dell acquired object storage of its own in the EMC deal.

Barbagallo said Caringo continues to work closely with Dell as a reseller, but has expanded its channel partnerships. Object storage is riding a wave of acceptance now, and the early object storage player is poised to take advantage with its Caringo Swarm platform, he said.

The new Caringo CEO held marketing vice president roles at Clustrix, Skyera, Savvius -- formerly WildPackets -- GroundWork Open Source and EVault. He also served in management positions at Microsoft, Sun and GE.

We spoke with Barbagallo about Caringo Swarm, how Caringo will escape Dell's shadow and why the time is right for object storage as an on-premises alternative to NAS filers.

Why the change in Caringo CEO now?

Caringo CEO Tony BarbagalloTony Barbagallo

Tony Barbagallo: I think [Ring] felt after three years of putting all the processes in place and rebooting the company out of Dell's shadow, that he really just wanted to get back to focusing exclusively on the technology.

That's what he loves to do. He just loves the technical aspect of the product.

Did Caringo have a CTO before now?

Barbagallo: Technically, [Ring] was doing both jobs. He was the CTO, more or less, from the inception of Caringo. He and [Carpentier] traded CEO and CTO roles when Caringo was a much smaller company.

In 2015, when Dell and EMC started to merge and we were going to have to go in a different direction than having Dell as a major partner, [Ring] was asked by the board to be CEO. But he never really left that CTO slot.

What does Caringo's immediate future look like?

Barbagallo: We've been around for a long time. Object storage as back-end storage for cloud service providers -- not unlike AWS and Azure -- has been around for quite some time. But only in the last two or three years are we seeing object storage as an on-prem alternative to filers for unstructured data really taking off. My responsibility is to take advantage of this wave with a mature and well-rounded product.

In the last couple of years, we've really concentrated on taking a hard look at specific vertical segments, rather than trying to be a generic object storage for any kind of use case or workflow. We've been focusing on media and entertainment, as well as high-performance computing, and then the federal government space, which is a combination of both of those other two verticals around video surveillance and analytics.

You said in 2015 you began a reboot out of Dell's shadow. How much has your relationship with Dell changed since the EMC merger?

Barbagallo: There's really been no change in our partnership from a reseller standpoint. Their sales teams still resell us. If you're out in the field and have a good relationship with a partner's field personnel, and you know it's worked for you in the past, you tend to go with what you know and what works. If it isn't broken, why fix it?

But we've also started to forge partnerships with other resellers of our software, and we've also forged technology partnerships. That's what we've been focusing on in the last couple of years, especially partners in the media and entertainment space -- front-end providers of media asset managers and back-end repositories for those kinds of products.

Do you partner with any of the other large server vendors?

Barbagallo: We don't have an official OEM product, but we're working extensively with Supermicro and Lenovo. You may see Caringo-branded hardware from one of those vendors in the not-too-distant future.

How many people work at Caringo?

Barbagallo: A little over 50. We're still small and lean. We have emphasized working with partners since our inception. Dell was one of those partners, with 4,000 salespeople worldwide. Our goal was to rebuild our channel with multiple organizations, rather than just Dell.

And how many customers do you have for Caringo Swarm?

Barbagallo: We have over 300 active customers. By active, we mean they're continuing to grow or paying us an annual support maintenance fee.

Do you expect to grow head count in the coming months?

Barbagallo: We had been flat for the last six to nine months, but we're now putting plans together to move into a growth phase for the next six to 12 months. That will be mainly around sales and marketing and some development.

You haven't been aggressive with venture funding. You've raised $20.3 million, with the last round in late 2016. Will you seek more funding soon, or are you profitable?

Barbagallo: That's one of my jobs: to secure additional funding.

We were profitable before the change of direction with Dell in 2015. We've become not profitable, but we expect to become profitable again by the end of the year. We're now starting to see the fruits of some of our new partnerships. When you build out new partnerships, things take time to come to fruition.

What is behind what you call this wave of on-premises object storage?

Barbagallo: Anything that makes sense to store in a file folder hierarchy is most likely better served by network-attached storage. Anything in a database is more likely better served by a NAS or block-based storage area network. But we're seeing sophistication of customers with more unstructured consumer data. There's really not a big advantage to storing those reams of unstructured data in expensive NAS- or SAN-based filers. That's what we're starting to see.

Specifically in media and entertainment, with video at 4K and now going to 8K video resolution and all of these streaming services springing up, a NAS or SAN is overkill. In some cases, it's even a detriment for storing large-scale and large volumes of data. One of the beauties of our object storage is, because it's HTTP-based, we're already essentially a content delivery network. We wipe out a whole layer of architecture having to install application servers in front of databases or servers.

Like a lot of object vendors, you added a file system with SwarmNFS and file archiving with FileFly. What's your file storage strategy around Caringo Swarm?

Barbagallo: We do that primarily to bridge the gap of data ingest and egress to applications that need to act on that unstructured data. We're working with a couple of customers where data typically comes in through more legacy environments. That's where the requirement for NFS and SMB protocols lies.

There are a lot of new vendors springing up, because object is becoming more popular and more mainstream, but they're taking shortcuts.
Tony BarbagalloCEO, Caringo

Then, once in the object store, they want to run analytics -- either Hadoop or they're building custom analytics engines that are using the S3 protocol to access that data. It's all nice and encapsulated over the network via HTTP. That's looking to be the wave of the future, but there are so many applications and legacy hardware that need to send data to the data store, and it's typically with a protocol they're familiar with, like NFS or SMB.

We're not trying to replace network-attached storage for people's home directories. If any object storage vendor tells you they're able to do that, they're lying, because object storage is all about optimizing throughput by a number of clients interacting with storage at the same time. It's not about clients interacting with a single file or collaborating with a single file. That's where block-based storage has to shine.

With all the object storage vendors out there today, how do you differentiate?

Barbagallo: The advantage we have is we've been around a long time. Storage is hard. There are a lot of new vendors springing up, because object is becoming more popular and more mainstream, but they're taking shortcuts. They're writing an object storage app on top of a Linux file system. The whole point of object storage is to break the chains of file-system limits and the inode limits on a particular server.

We were one of the first to do that. We built our own file system based on key-value pairs. That takes a while to make sure it works on production capacity. That level of maturity works for us. We can improve by adding to the user experience. We can add support for controlling multiple clusters from a single user interface, as an example. We're developing additional analytics or partnering with analytics companies, as machine learning and IoT become more prevalent.

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