CXO

ClearSky Data's audacious plans to disrupt the data storage market

ClearSky Data is betting it can change how enterprises consume data storage. CTO Lazarus Vekiarides pulls back the curtain and offers details about this startup, which is currently in stealth mode.

ClearSky Data founders Ellen Rubin (CEO) and Lazarus Vekiarides (CTO)
Image: ClearSky Data

ClearSky Data has piqued the interest of many startup watchers. One reason why is the enterprise infrastructure and data storage startup is in stealth mode. Another reason is that tech entrepreneur Paula Long of DataGravity introduced ClearSky Data's founders, industry veterans Lazarus Vekiarides and Ellen Rubin. Vekiarides revealed some interesting details about ClearSky Data in this Q&A with TechRepublic.

When asked what his enterprise tech "dream" would look like, he wrote that ClearSky Data "is betting that we can completely change the manner in which enterprises consume data storage, which means we're working to solve a chronic, incredibly expensive problem, especially given the way the enterprise data footprint has been growing." Vekiarides also identified these competitive trends in ClearSky Data's space: solid-state storage, hyperconvergence, and software-defined storage. He shared that ClearSky Data plans to go to market later in 2015.

TechRepublic: If you could make one big, important thing happen in enterprise technology, what would that "dream" look like?

Lazarus Vekiarides: One of the great benefits of working with my cofounder, Ellen Rubin, is that neither of us is afraid of chasing a big scary idea. As the "idea guy" at a startup, I really feel free to go crazy, take a risk, and do something really disruptive, rather than propose some incremental, add-on technology. I would love to see these audacious bets and initiatives become the norm for enterprise technology vendors.

clearsky.png
Image courtesy of ClearSky Data
Our company, ClearSky Data, is betting that we can completely change the manner in which enterprises consume data storage, which means we're working to solve a chronic, incredibly expensive problem, especially given the way the enterprise data footprint has been growing.

We're at a point in technology when vendors have the freedom and potential to challenge long-standing enterprise issues and bring real disruption to the industry, and I'm looking forward to riding out this wave.

TechRepublic: What are the most significant trends in your competitive space for 2015-2016?

Lazarus Vekiarides: There are several to consider. First, let's look at the trend toward solid-state storage. It really looks like flash is everywhere now; and as of now, it no longer is a differentiator. In the next couple of years, you will see flash devices predominate in nearly every segment of the infrastructure space. Competitively, what this means is that any player making a statement that they are "all flash" will need to rethink their value proposition. As a result, a host of people will stop talking about speed and start talking about data management again.

Next, there's the trend towards hyperconvergence — the idea that you can collapse storage and compute into a single "brick" system and therefore save money. I believe that this trend is very strong, and will continue to be the big story in the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) marketplace.

Finally, there's "software-defined storage." Like flash, I think we are getting to a point where this is unlikely to be a meaningful differentiator. The industry has been trending towards higher levels of integration, and the idea of breaking things apart and selling the software and hardware separately seems counter to that trend to me.

TechRepublic: ClearSky Data is in stealth mode, which means you're being stealthy — but what can you share with our readers about your firm?

As the "idea guy" at a startup, I really feel free to go crazy, take a risk, and do something really disruptive, rather than propose some incremental, add-on technology. Lazarus Vekiarides
Lazarus Vekiarides: Well, a lot of the information I can share is already out there. We are funded by General Catalyst Partners and Highland Capital Partners, a couple of the most significant venture funds in the east coast. We have a board that includes both of our former bosses and mentors (Paula Long, CEO of DataGravity for me, and Jit Saxena, former CEO of Netezza for Ellen).

We are both veterans of enterprise infrastructure companies, and so we are trying to address the needs of that market segment again. Specifically, we are focused on the problems of managing data in large quantities.

Some of the things that may be less obvious: Despite that fact that we are in headquartered in downtown Boston, we have a lot of connections in Silicon Valley and are fortunate to have guys like former VMware chief technology officer Steve Herrod and Highland Capital partner Peter Bell very actively participating in growing our company. This is very much a bi-coastal firm.

TechRepublic: What is the "storage cycle," and how do enterprises manage it without breaking the bank?

Lazarus Vekiarides: The data storage lifecycle refers to two separate things. First, there's the lifecycle of your data, but this is actually a misnomer in the industry. Data in most enterprises is immortal. There's so much of it buried in your files, databases, and emails, and there is invariably some unidentified or misidentified intellectual property of immense value. Knowing this, you can't just delete anything, so it sits around forever. At some point data might be audited or used in some way, but until then, it needs to be preserved. What is true about the data is that the bulk of the accesses to it occur around the time it is first created. Additionally, we know that the data that is accessed is only a very small portion of the overall data that is created.

Data storage today is like a vegetable in your refrigerator: after a while, it will rot and start to stink. Lazarus Vekiarides
A good example is your email. I would be willing to bet that you read your email from the last day or two rather fastidiously and that you respond to the people you need to right away, but after a week or so, you never look at the bulk of it ever again. That doesn't mean you will throw it out. In fact you might need it if you need a record of communication with other parties. This is especially true in the event of some form of litigation. What's the most cost effective way to store that data given its usage pattern? Well, that is a lifecycle management question.

Another part of the data lifecycle has to do with infrastructure itself. In IT today, we are forever in a cycle of having to replace gear. Old storage equipment isn't like an old car that still gets you to work and might even acquire character from its patina of age. Quite the opposite, data storage today is like a vegetable in your refrigerator: after a while, it will rot and start to stink. It is impossible to maintain outdated storage because semiconductor parts and disk drives have a lifespan of around 18 months. This means that you have no choice but to keep throwing out old gear and replacing it with new gear.

TechRepublic: With your ClearSky Data cofounder Ellen Rubin, what are your goals and aspirations in your current effort?

Lazarus Vekiarides: Both of us have been very fortunate in that we already participated in what people consider "unicorn" outcomes in the technology space. Retrospectively, both of us really miss the charge we got when we were helping to run big, rapidly growing businesses with happy and excited customers. In fact, we both are anxiously anticipating the day when we are in the same position at ClearSky Data — only this time we will be the cofounders. Our primary ambition is simply to create a lasting, substantial, growing technology business in Boston.

TechRepublic: What can you share about your plans to take ClearSky Data out of stealth mode?

Lazarus Vekiarides: It's tough to stay quiet for too much longer. We are currently in the midst of customer trials, and we expect that we will be able to announce our offering to the market later this year. A lot needs to come together in the coming months, but we are confident that the team will be able to pull through and get it all done. Certainly, it will be nice to be able to discuss what I've been doing for the last couple of years!

Lazarus Vekiarides on his experience working with Paula Long at EqualLogic: I first got into data storage when I joined EqualLogic in 2002. Prior to that, I had never worked in the space before, so everything was brand new. I sometimes think that Paula Long hired me just because I was a newbie.

The EqualLogic product was the result of so much out-of-the-box thinking that I seriously doubt we could have built it if we had worked on a storage array before. It was such a fantastic experience to watch customers embrace that product while the old guard dismissed it. We all learned so much about the right way to do things from that experience. Additionally, I got to drive both the Microsoft Windows and VMware integration strategies for the firm. For me, this meant a lot of outreach to people in those companies in order to incorporate their technology worldviews into our product and create some alignment.

The lasting relationships I formed and the lessons learned were invaluable as we were trying to define ClearSky Data.

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About Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.

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