Exclusive Interview: Nelson Nahum CEO of Zadara Storage

A little while back the CloudWedge team awarded Nelson Nahum with our ‘Geek of the Week‘ award. We were fortunate enough to  have the opportunity to interview Nelson to hear what he has to say.

Can you please provide a little bit of background on who you are and what Zadara does?

“As you so aptly identified… I am a geek –  and proud of it.”

I’m a long time storage guy who formerly ran software engineering at LSI Corporation (now a division of NetApp) where I led a team of over 250 software developers.   Before that I co-founded StoreAge Networking Technologies which was acquired by LSI in 2006, and before then held R&D management and principal engineer positions.  As you so aptly identified a few weeks ago, I am a geek –  and proud of it.

As for Zadara Storage, I and few others friends founded the company in 2011.  Zadara Storage provides enterprise-grade data storage with all the capabilities that data center managers like, yet without the pain and capital outlays typically associated with it (we do away with everything from long-term planning, through daily care and feeding, to disruptive migrations every few years).  Our patented Virtual Private Storage Array (VPSA) service is a software-defined storage solution enabling enterprise storage as a service (STaaS), with NAS and SAN features billed by the hour, without upfront fees or long-term commitments.  We can provide it either on your premises (for both Enterprises and public cloud and managed service providers who wish to provide our enterprise Storage as a Service to their clients) and as a pure service in public clouds like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.  We like to say Zadara is Cloud Storage Done Right (finally) and that it’s time for customers to Stop Buying Storage.

What prompted you to found Zadara/ what niche were you trying to fill?

The age of the software-defined data center is here yet until very recently, data storage has lagged behind computing and networking resources both in terms of virtualization, and most importantly, in being offered in an as a service business model.  Sure, cloud storage is provisioned as a service, but try finding it with an SLA guarantee, or with the high QoS and high performance and enterprise features and protocol support required for intensive corporate applications.  We saw an opportunity to change this.

What were some of the challenges you faced in establishing Zadara?

Getting customers to imagine the possibilities. They have been indoctrinated to think that storage can be either good or flexible, but never both. In fact, this assumption is so deeply ingrained that most customers don’t even try to search for enterprise storage as a service. When we speak with customers who have met us for the first time, one of the most rewarding things is to see their faces when they realize they really can have it all.

What is on-premise VPSA cloud storage and how does it differ from traditional models?

Buyers are amazingly excited about our most recent debut of our Zadara Storage VPSA On-Premise as a Service (OPaaS) solution in early August.   Some applications just won’t be able to move to the cloud, for example for compliance reasons.  For those needs, Zadara Storage’s Virtual Private Storage Array (VPSA) On-Premise as a Service (OPaaS) solution is a perfect answer.  VPSA OPaaS is private, on premise solution of what we use in our public and service provider cloud offering at AWS, MSFT Azure and other data centers.

Zadara puts its storage appliance on the enterprise or service provider’s data center behind the firewall, then fully manages the solution remotely, so IT gets someone else (us) to do the grunt work of deploying, operating and maintaining the storage resource via the magic of software-defined storage.  The same goes for expansion. When the customer needs more, we ship them additional storage, and only charge them for what they actually use.

“With all due respect to our competitors, we don’t cram storage down customers’ throats.”

And because the same Zadara Storage Virtual Private Storage Arrays (VPSAs) boxes are deployed at all those public cloud sites, Zadara OPaaS customers can create a hybrid cloud by linking their OPaaS private cloud storage to their choice of public cloud VPSA – and the entire shebang is purely OpEx and available on an elastic basis.   This fits the bill perfectly for cloud bursting, DR and other advanced needs.

Now, finally, the data center or storage manager has an option to get all the goodness of a cloud-deployed storage model, without the hassles. Imagine not having to plan years in advance for what storage you might need, or go through painful migrations every few years, or lose sleep over deploying new applications and disrupting existing ones.

How has the transition from storage as a service provider to a full-service provider of data center products shaped your approach to the cloud?

Our Zadara VPSA OPaaS offering is an extension of our current focus, not a transition. It’s only been a month since our OPaaS debut so the numbers are too preliminary to analyze. However we have always felt that the cloud needs to be more like a data center, and conversely, that data centers need to be more like the cloud.  Our secret sauce is a highly extensible, virtualized software-defined storage technology that achieves both aims.

As the cloud industry is rapidly evolving, what are your plans for Zadara for the next 5-10 years?

We do for storage what VMware did for servers.  Not to jinx ourselves but I really think our potential is just as great for transforming the enterprise data storage industry.

In such a crowded market, what sets you apart from the competition?

With all due respect to our competitors, we don’t cram storage down customers’ throats. We don’t even sell our storage (our motto is “Stop Buying Storage.”) We provide it fully as a service, with consumption-based OpEx pricing, remote management, and the ability to start small and grow only as needed. We provide a flexible infrastructure that does what they need, when they need it.

Once again cloud storage industry is facing a lot of criticism about the security of storing files on the cloud. What are your thoughts on this, and do you believe security will ever stop being an issue?

Security will always be paramount to any cloud resource, and rightly so.  Shared resources mean less control over where the data resides, and hence less security. However not every cloud-deployed resource is the same.  At Zadara we have always provided customers with dedicated storage media using a just-patented technology, meaning that their disks and SSDs are never shared with anyone.   That’s a pivotal difference between Zadara Storage’s offerings and typical cloud-deployed resources.   And we didn’t stop there. By default there is no access to the storage via the public Internet. This means the storage lives within companies’ private networks and is not susceptible to direct attacks.  It gets even better. Very importantly, to our knowledge we are the only storage service provider to offer encryption of data-at-rest using keys managed by our customers. This means our customers are the ones who have custody of their data. Our dedicated, absolutely private media approach makes customers in typical risk-averse, security-conscious domains such as the media & entertainment industry sit up and take notice.