Weka.IO – a stealthy startup swimming against the tide

Israeli firm wants to kick serious file system ass

Analysis Liran Zvibel sits across the table from me in a Tel Aviv restaurant eating pork chops. This is a man who doesn't mind going against the grain. He's co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Weka.IO, a stealthy startup that is swimming against two perceived tides.

Storage folklore these days says that file systems generally can't scale and you need object storage to handle unstructured data at the billions-of-files level. This is a premise that Cleversafe, Scality, Amplidata, Caringo and Dell EMC's Atmos and EC2 have supported.

A second thing storage folks will say is that HPC-class file systems need special, parallel-access software such as Spectrum Scale, IBM's rebranded GPFS.

Another piece of storage wisdom is that, for good performance, a shared file system needs dedicated hardware; Isilon filers are the classic example.

Weka.IO says different. File systems can scale out to the billions-of-files level, and can do so using shared hardware, just needing a core on multi-core servers and one or more directly addressed SSDs. Its software aggregates many servers with their Weka-dedicated core and flash storage into a virtual filer – think VNAS conceptually similar to a VSAN, a virtual SAN.

That's swimming against the tide big time.

Technology glimpse

The software runs insde a virtual machine or container on its host server. Its file services communicate with applications and the file system manages clustering, data distribution, erasure coding, snapshots, rebuilds, and tiering. Object connector tiers cold data off to the cloud and this works with any S3 or Swift object store. It's qualified with HGST, Scality, IBM COS (Cleversafe), and Cloudian, and is policy-driven.

The founders say their software can handle billions of unstructured data files, hundreds of petabytes and millions of IOPS, with linear scalability through adding compute (cores) and capacity (SSDs). The system also has sub-millisecond latency (300 microseconds for reads and writes) and it's claimed to have cloud economics, with Posix semantics at cloud-scale.

A huge amount of development effort has been focussed on erasure coding making it more efficient in terms of minimising the space overhead. Weka.IO does distributed erasure coding to +4 (16 +4) = 20 stripes, meaning a 20 per cent overhead. Erasure coding is the foundational piece of the product code, and some of this technology is already patented.

In general the software has been designed for flash. Weka.IO says Isilon software has a disk-focus and even Qumulo, the scalable filer startup, has a disk focus for capacity with flash only being used for metadata storage.

Encryption is coming for object store tiering, and compression and dedupe are on the roadmap for SSDs.

Founders and funding

Weka.IO has three co-founders who set up the firm in 2013:

  • Liran Zvibel – Chief Technology Officer
  • Omri Palmon – Chief Product Officer
  • Maor Ben-Dayan – Chief Architect

They all came from IBM-acquired XIV, Moshe Yanai's second storage array company, and were somewhat disillusioned during IBM's ownership by what they perceived as missed opportunities for developing the product. Starting Weka.IO is their way of doing it right, focussed on two principles: it's a software-defined world and commodity hardware rules.

There have been two funding rounds: a $10 million A-round in January 2014 and a $22.25 million B-round in December 2015, which amounts to serious cash for a software company. They knew from the start that they had to crack the US market so opened a San Jose office and hired a professional, seasoned CEO, Michael Raam, in August last year. He was Sandforce's CEO when LSI bought that flash controller business.

Raam hired Barbara Murphy as VP Marketing. She comes from HGST (marketing Amplidata kit) with a three-year stint as Chief Marketing Officer at Panasas (HPC filer) before that. He has just hired Richard Dyke as VP of Sales, coming from Hedvig.

There are 38 employees, which should rise to 44 by the end of the year. We can expect a formal stealth exit in spring next year – an appropriate time of year for growth to emerge.

And what does Weka.IO mean? The .IO part is straightforward, but Weka? Wikipedia says it's a flightless bird from New Zealand, but that seems to be the wrong kind of idea. Could it be "We Kick Ass?" No. Zvibel says: "Weka is 1030 (peta, exa, zeta, yota, hela, weka) or a NZ bird – pick which one you want. It's going to take a while until we reach weka scale."

Weka.IO has convinced its VCs that it has seriously good technology under development, and execs are suppressing their excitement about POCs progressing towards orders.

This currently flightless bird could take off. We'll see how it looks as it exits stealth and moves to the runway in May next year. ®

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