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Exclusive Interview With CTERA CEO Liran Eshel

 

 

 

Expanding ROBO and edge strategy with new edge filers and DevOps

StorageNewsletter.com: You co-founded CTERA Networks in 2008 with $100 million raised so far, give us a refresh on the company with background of founders, employees?

Eshel: The founding team has been working together for many years. Our roots come from cybersecurity space where we were pioneers in managed edge security solutions in a company that was later acquired by Check Point.

In 2008, cloud was still a distant promise, especially as it related to enterprise IT. We saw an opportunity to develop disruptive technology that would enable enterprise cloud transformation, similar to how network security enabled the transformation from private networks to Internet-based infrastructure 10 years earlier.

Today we run a global company with presence in all major markets. We serve hundreds of enterprise customers, including 50 of the Fortune 500, mission critical government organizations, as well as thousands of SMBs through our global managed service provider partner network.

What is the plan now or for the coming 18 months? IPO, exit?
We do not run the company with a stopwatch.

For me the biggest gratitude is to hear how our technology helped a customer do something that was impossible before. We get these stories all the time, especially these days, when many are locked at home and if it was not for secure and easy data access technology would not have been able to continue their work.

Our plan for the next 18 months is to continue to develop technology that solves relevant business needs. We just launched our DevOps SDK, that I believe can change the way people think of storage provisioning, and we plan to continue and invest in data management solutions.

Since you launched CTERA, is the mission the same? Remind us the pain you wish to address.
I recently looked at a presentation I delivered at an Under the Radar‘startup competition in 2009, and the core messages were surprisingly consistent. Integrated edge solutions that enable multi-cloud data management.

Current scale is at a whole different level, but the pain points are still the same: how to transition file workloads to cloud without sacrificing security, performance, and control.

We know your company is a differentiator is its global file system, a real dream for some vendors and for users for sure. What are the key points here?
Enterprise NAS systems have been around since the early 90s, and while you cannot compare the scale and performance of a modern NAS system to those of 20 years ago, the introduction of cloud made it clear that modern workloads require a different level of solution.

It is no wonder that cloud services such as Dropbox or Netflix that are heavily dependent on massive amounts of globally distributed unstructured data are not based on enterprise NAS technology. If Dropbox was to use for example, NetApp NAS for their backend, they could have never scaled to where they are today.

Our Global File System provides similar power to enterprise users while keeping full control in the hands of the IT department. Instead of spending millions on trying to scale their NAS systems, they can use CTERA to delivery secure file access to all users wherever they are, with modern infrastructure such as cloud and object, at a fraction of the cost of NAS.

So in summary what you developed is advanced edge caching methods to connect distributed system via a central data repository. What are differences with SD WAN or WAN acceleration/optimization?
WAN accelerators focus on accelerating the network transit layer. We provide much more, starting from a modern file collaboration interface for desktops or mobile, continuing with branch acceleration, and extending all the way to in-cloud security scanning and AI-driven data insight.

We actually partner with SD WAN providers such as Cisco to deliver integrated software-define edge solutions.

How do you position against Nasuni, Panzura or even Morro Data?
Most of the enterprise market is still heavily dependent on legacy NAS systems and that’s also where we focus most of our positioning.

With regards to Nasuni and Panzura, there is a major difference in our architecture. While they are highly gateway centric, with all access going through the edge device, with CTERA the gateway is optional and can be mixed with desktop and mobile access clients over the same namespace. This opens a whole set of additional use cases such as endpoint file services for the remote workforce, VDIs and more.

Our architecture is also more scalable. We support thousands of sites and tens of thousands of users, while our competitors do not even come close to 10% of that. For example, amidst the COVID crises, one of our customers has shifted 100,000 employees to work from home with CTERA agents on their laptops, all within one day.

Another major differentiator for us is security. We recently completed the US DoD DISA Approved Product List (APL) certification, which puts us on a different level of security compliance.

You introduced X-Series edge filers, what are their characteristic and comfort zone in terms of use cases?
Gartner issued a report last month that showed that hybrid cloud and HCI are the two top IT infrastructure technologies enterprises likely to implement in the next 2 years.

As HCI systems are being downsized for smaller sites, we saw an opportunity to provide an integrated branch solution that marries edge computing with edge file services. Customers really like the fact that they can run applications and VDI’s on the same system that serves their files and enjoy super local high performance with practically unlimited cloud scale out.

And you jumped into M&E with the Media Edge filer, what was the trigger for that?
This was a response to customer demand. We had media customers come and tell us they love our solutions, but that they need much larger cache capacity, as they are dealing with multiple high def video editing workloads and cannot afford the cache misses and latency penalties.

Most other companies provide up to 20TB or so of cache. We said, let’s take it to the next level. The new media filer we launched earlier this year provides 128TB local fast cache and petabytes more in the cloud.

But it is not just a size game. At the same time we also released a set of software capabilities that are really important for creative content editors, such as cloud file streaming that allows them to skip to a middle of a file without having to download it in full, Mac Spotlight integration, Adobe support and more.

How do you position it?
As a hybrid cloud storage solution for creative content offices such as ad agencies and media departments of large organizations. These groups are constantly running out of capacity, and the ability to use cloud with fast local cache is critical for their operation.

Our cloud support is not just tiering like other vendors provide. It is dynamic caching that allows user to see the entire namespace at any given time without having to worry about which projects they need to upload or download. If you need to access an archived project, you can retrieve the files almost instantly, without any IT admin intervention.

We also allow multiple offices to collaborate on the same namespace, for remote crews to upload large media assets directly to the cloud, as well as to share data with customers and external contractors using secure Web links.

How do you sell these 2 products and more globally what is the your business model?
The main differentiation of CTERA vs. other cloud offerings is that we do not lock our customers to a CTERA cloud. For us, it is not get free product for connecting to our cloud‘but rather that the customer can get the best file services software with the freedom to select the best cloud option for their needs, be it public, private or hybrid.

This business model makes cloud and infrastructure providers a natural channel for us. And we have close partnerships with many of them around the world.

What about OEM and alliances? Is it a strategy for you, I understand HPE and IBM resell CTERA. More details on these and potential others?
We have close partnerships with IBM, HPE as well as with Cisco. These partnerships are very important for us, especially with large and complex accounts. With HPE and Cisco the focus is more on HCI and server infrastructure for SDS, and with IBM the focus is on private and public cloud using IBM Cloud Object Storage.

Can partners use your global file system and edge software on their hardware? And beyond that can end-users deploy just your software on top on their deployed file server environments especially if they use Linux and Windows?
Yes. Our Edge Filers are available as VMware, KVM or Hyper-V virtual appliances and can be deployed on any hardware. We also have endpoint software for Windows, Mac and Linux that allows mounting the global file system directly on any desktop or mobile device without having to go through a filer.

What about your multi cloud strategy; you support AWS, Azure, IBM, do you also support GCP?
We are a strong believer in multi-cloud. We support all major cloud providers, including AWS, Azure, IBM as well as Google.

Multi-cloud means several things to us – the freedom to select which cloud to use, the option to use both private and public clouds, the ability to migrate data between clouds, as well as the ability to use multiple cloud targets at the same time.

When you deploy Edge filers, do you provide your own migration tool or rely on external tools?
We just recently released a new migration tool that is available as part of our new edge filer software to simplify the process of moving from a legacy NAS to CTERA while preserving full share structure and ACL permissions, from NAS to cache to cloud.

The tool includes a discovery feature that scans source data and provides useful statistics and allows the admin to optimize the migration procedure and monitor it to completion.

We have also cloud migration tools that allow moving data between clouds or on-prem object storage buckets, all in the background without interfering with the normal operation.

As the enterprise IT environment is distributed by design aligned with enterprise go reality, do you provide a global management solution?
There is a reason we call it a global file system. We have more than 50,000 edge filers deployed to date in 110 countries, and millions of users.

Our management system, which we call the CTERA Portal, is a multi-tenant service orchestration system that was designed to manage thousands of sites and tens of thousands of users.

We are very flexible about the delivery options – some customers prefer to subscribe to it as-a-service, while large organizations typically deploy a private instance from their own cloud, or on-premises.

You just announced a DevOps product extension, what does it mean and why you iterate product in that direction?
With DevOps we are taking orchestration to the next level. We are dealing with customers that manage hundreds of locations, thousands of shares, and billions of files. The tasks of administrating such environments involve complex scripting in the best case and manual settings in the worst, which are labor intensive and error prone.

With our new DevOps package, we allow storage administrators to program their processes in Python. A code-based approach that is highly reusable and efficient. We were amazed by the great ideas our customers came up with since we introduced this capability for tasks such as deployment of new sites, DR failover and other. At the same time, we also released Ansible collections for DevOps engineers that prefer declarative infrastructure with no coding.

The packages were posted as open source projects on our GitHub page and we encourage our customers to share their ideas for the greater good of the community.

And last point, what can we expect for your firm in 2020?
If you were to ask this question in January, the answer would probably have been somewhat different … as the world has changed in the last month with the COVID-19 pandemic running wild.

While the short term period is focused on pulling down the hammer to flatten the infection curve, there will also be a longer period that analysts refer to as the dance in which countries will enforce varying level of restrictions depending on the virus spread.

Social distancing restrictions lead to data distancing requirements. And while remote work enabling technology has been around for some time, it is mostly available today to management level employees at certain advance industries.

This means that most organizations, including those in traditional industries, will need to learn fast on how to enable their remote workforce from the current level of around 20% to over 90% and in very short period of time.

As such we will be focusing much of our efforts on assisting customers with their IT Remotification efforts. This includes tools for home users, scaling of VDI systems, and rapid deployment of regional branch offices for users that cannot access the head office.

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