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New Qumulo CEO: 'Fast' scale-out file system beats big legacy vendors

Scale-out file-system specialist Qumulo hires ex-EMC Vice President Bill Richter to spearhead marketing and sales. It marks a reunion with Qumulo co-founders Peter Godman and Neal Fachan.

Qumulo Inc., the scale-out file-system vendor founded by former Isilon engineers, has added another familiar Isilon...

face as its new leader.

Qumulo last week hired former Isilon and EMC executive Bill Richter as its new CEO and president. Qumulo executives said Richter's arrival allows former CEO Peter Godman and his co-founder, Neal Fachan, to focus more on accelerating the development of the flagship Qumulo Core data-aware storage platform.

Godman will slide into the CTO role, while Fachan takes the title of Chief Scientist. Both will stay on the Qumulo board, which also includes Isilon founder and former CEO Sujal Patel.

Richter spent more than five years at Isilon, including four years as CFO, before EMC acquired the company for $2.25 billion in 2010. He served in an executive capacity at EMC for nearly seven years, retiring in 2014 after two years as president of the EMC Isilon storage division. In early 2016, Richter joined venture firm Madrona Venture Group Inc., which participated in Qumulo's $32.5 million series C funding round in June.

The Qumulo Scalable File System serves files from flash. Qumulo also embeds analytics in data and storage to provide petabyte-scale visibility. Core is sold on Qumulo QC appliances or packaged with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Apollo servers.

We caught up with Richter and Godman to discuss growing demand for analytics in evolving scale-out storage systems, as well as about how the old Isilon crew feels about competing with their former product, now under the Dell EMC banner.

Bill Richter, president and CEO, QumuloBill Richter

What prompted Qumulo to seek a new CEO? Why did you decide now was the right time?

Bill Richter: Pete [Godman] and his team have done an incredible job over the past four-and-a-half years developing a scale-out file system that is fully software-defined and cloud-oriented. But Qumulo has gotten well-past the early adopter stage that any startup company needs. The stars have just lined up. For me to come aboard when the company was in deep stealth mode would not have the same impact. At this point, I'm here to build Qumulo into a category-leading enterprise storage business.

How did your EMC experience prepare you for the task ahead at Qumulo?

Richter: Look, EMC is an admirable company. EMC practically invented the data storage market at a time when IBM was insisting that storage was just an element of a mainframe. Having worked at EMC in a leadership role was invaluable. The message I bring is: Big doesn't beat small, but fast beats slow. And Qumulo is an incredibly agile, fast-moving organization that is unencumbered by bureaucracy. This is a dream job. It's invigorating to be here.

Isilon Systems was disruptive technology in its day. What parallels are there between Isilon NAS and Qumulo?

Richter: I'm very proud of what we did with Isilon. We created the scale-out file-system category at Isilon, and now it's a multibillion-dollar business inside EMC. But we also know things today that we fundamentally could never have known at Isilon. We have a completely different opportunity with Qumulo.

What is that opportunity?

Richter: Enterprises are demanding software-defined storage in their data centers for agility and future-proofing. Companies know that, over time, their data centers need to operate like a private cloud. Second, they need a public cloud strategy and will pick vendors that can build that type of architecture.

The other thing is analytics. So much data is being produced that enterprises no longer can expect humans alone to make sense of it. That's our opportunity. The Qumulo operating system is data-aware. Our analytics don't [report] only on the storage cluster; they tell you all kinds of interesting stuff about what your data is doing, disk health, hot spots and so on.

One thing that has changed since the early days of Isilon is the emergence of object storage as an alternative to scale-out NAS. How does Qumulo compete with object storage?

Richter: Well, object [access] is the easy part. Qumulo Core has a REST interface that our customers can use now. The hard part is converting POSIX files.

For me to come aboard when the company was in deep stealth mode would not have the same impact.
Bill Richterpresident and CEO, Qumulo Inc.

We think the market for file storage alone is going to keep us busy. We estimate that market is more than $80 billion a year. But, over time, we do expect customers will use Qumulo to support object storage. Pete might have some thoughts on this ...

Peter Godman: There was a period when everyone thought you needed separate object storage and a file-system gateway. Turned out that's not the case. One storage product can provide quality object and file storage -- that's what Qumulo is able to do.

Who do you usually compete against?

Richter: Obviously, there is an incredibly large installed base of EMC and NetApp [users]. Most of the customers we talk to are using one of those legacy file systems or making a Frankenstein system, like GPFS [now called IBM Spectrum Scale] on top of some SAN product. Customers have run out of patience with that. They are tired of stringing together a bunch of gobbledygook. That's what presents us enormous opportunity.

Godman: In the end, being easy to use is what wins in the marketplace. Qumulo is designed to be incredibly easy to implement and supports application protocols that developers need. We give you the ability to truly manage data at scale.

Do customers prefer to get Qumulo Core as software-only or on integrated appliances?

Richter: The vast majority of all customers, not just ours, want to buy everything together -- hardware, software and services. But the distinction they need to make is whether what they're buying is software-defined and extensible. That's a key pillar to cloud storage. CIOs are under pressure to modernize their data center. How do you modernize to a scale-out file system without compromising? That's a message that really resonates.

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