Isilon brains trust flock to data-tastic upstart Qumulo

Heads behind almost ALL Isilon patents start afresh


Storage startup Qumulo, founded by ex-Isilon execs, wants to get rid of the digital dumpsters it says are littering the file storage landscape by building a scale-out filesystem suitable for the flash age.

It believes future storage will be software, using low-cost commodity hardware, functioning as an intelligent collaborator in the storage, retrieval, management and curation of trillions of data objects.

Qumulo has just gained B-round funding to the tune of a chunky $40m, taking total funding to $66.8m.

We all recall Isilon, which was bought by EMC in 2010 for $2.25bn.

Isilon veteran Peter Godman and two other ex-Isilon execs founded Qumulo in Seattle, Isilon’s home town, in 2012. Its mission, according to its website, is to be the company the world trusts to store, manage, and curate its data forever.

Isilon founder Sujal Patel has joined Qumulo’s board, cementing Isilon credibility all over the startup.

A canned quote of his said: “Qumulo presents so much potential to change the enterprise storage game. The team is addressing the major problem of digital data growth and management that will only continue to compound, with the rare expertise required to build high performance, massive scale-out NAS software. By attacking the root of the problem — managing the data, rather than managing the storage — new outcomes are possible. When Qumulo enters the market, it will have a significant impact on enterprise scale-out NAS.”

The founders say they say they were the inventors of scale-out NAS, being the primary architects of Isilon’s OneFS file system. Its key personnel include:

  • CEO Peter Godman was Isilon’s software engineering director
  • Engineering VP Neal Fachan was a database tech lead at AWS after being a distinguished engineer at Isilon
  • CTO Aaron Passey was CTO at Clustrix after being the chief architect for Isilon and named as an inventor on 33 patents

Godman told The Register: "We met each other as young software engineers in 2001 working at Isilon and we collectively invented 49 of 51 Isilon patents [and] OneFS. ... Building Isilon was a peak life experience."

There's more Isilon influence in the company as well. Mary Godwin is Qumulo’s operations veep, a role she also had at Isilon. An ex-Isilon marketing VP, Brett Goodwin, is fulfilling the same role at Qumulo.

B-round funding was led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) with participation from existing investors Highland Capital, Madrona Venture Group and Valhalla Partners. Qumulo will use the cash to expand product development, and scale marketing and sales efforts. Total funding is now $66.8m; quite a lot for two VC rounds and seed funding.

Qumulo disparages current scale-out file systems as digital dumpsters, passive stores of ever-growing digital waste.

Charles Curran, a general partner at Valhalla, said: "Qumulo's team of enterprise storage experts is positioned to solve the problems introduced by the confluence of three huge trends in enterprise IT – consumerisation, SSD technology, and commoditisation.”

Wen Hsieh, board member and partner at KPCB, in his canned quote, referred to “the way enterprises deal with the massive explosion of digital data, such as files, music, pictures and videos.”

Godman said that NetApp (Clustered Data ONTAP) and Isilon were both born in the spinning disk era. Now we have a mix of solid state and disk drive storage, with disk "slower than it has ever been on a per-capacity basis."

Qumulo can use SSDs to store some data and work out how to better use disk.

Managing 10 billion files is fundamentally different from managing 10 million files. The metadata storage becomes a Big Data-case problem; the big data of my metadata. But Qumulo is not a Big Data company in the Hadoop sense, it says: "We're in the NAS space, the scale-out part of it."

Metadata handling needs lots of IOs whereas the raw data itself does not, according to the company.

"We use flash to provide better resources for managing data than our competitors,” a spokesman said. “Our scale-out file system has a fundamentally better architecture for storing metadata. Flash sets you free from proprietary hardware [by] taking NVRAM out of the picture."

The software architecture doesn't need InfiniBand connectivity, either. Godman prefers SSDs to PCIe flash as SSDs are closer to the commodity ideal. Such SSDs need stringent qualification and power-loss protection.

It is shipped as software using commodity hardware appliances, with one customer getting only software and running it on specific HP base hardware.

Godman reckons: "Our timing is advanced compared with a traditional B-round stage startup."

Qumulo has 10 paying customers already and it has been shipping product since the third 2014 quarter. It has been receiving software updates as frequently as every two weeks and none of them have suffered unexpected data loss or down time.

More product and pricing details will be released later this year. For now, watch this space. Qumulo's founders have some of the best scale-out file system credentials in the business and believe they're on to something big. ®

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