CXO

Data storytelling offers a new approach to storage, says DataGravity founders

Startup veterans Paula Long and John Joseph launched DataGravity, which aims to make storage an active partner in business through data awareness and visibility.

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Image: DataGravity

"Storage does not have to be a container," said DataGravity cofounder and CEO Paula Long. "It can actually be an active partner in your business."

Long and fellow cofounder John Joseph spoke with me on the day the company's new product called Discovery Series launched in August 2014. Long said they are seeking to fundamentally change the conversation about an established market — storage — by launching an intelligent, data-aware storage platform for midmarket companies.

Based on company information, Discovery Series is a "data-aware storage platform" powered by an "enterprise-grade hardware platform" that "tracks data access and analyzes data as it is stored to provide greater visibility, insight and value." Discovery Series is slated for general availability in October 2014.

The buzz about DataGravity

DataGravity has been getting attention, and part of the reason for the buzz has to with EqualLogic being on both Long's and Joseph's résumés. Long cofounded the storage area networking firm in 2001, and Joseph joined the venture in 2003 as VP of Marketing. In 2007 Dell acquired EqualLogic for $1.4 billion, reported as the "largest-ever cash purchase of a private venture backed technology company." Long and Joseph both stayed on at Dell for several years after the purchase.

Long and cofounder Joseph are thinking big. DataGravity got its start in 2011, and as early as the summer of 2012 had raised $42 million in several rounds that included Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst Partners, and Charles River Ventures. In our call I mentioned that this speaks to substantial investor confidence.

Long responded by describing how their investors "believed storage innovation was somewhat flat," and that "we were the first opportunity that they saw where you would actually change the bind criteria for storage in a pretty fundamental way." She added that their approach is not "incremental," that they are a company that "could go all the way" with an "entire product line with the ability to grow in pretty extraordinary ways over time."

Joseph added that he and Paula have worked together for over 10 years, that EqualLogic "changed storage a decade ago" and that the "idea we just shared is going to take it into the next decade" and create a "whole new set of dynamics."

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DataGravity cofounders John Joseph and Paula Long
Image courtesy of DataGravity

My interview with Paula Long and John Joseph

TechRepublic: DataGravity today (August 19, 2014) announced the launch of its Discovery Series product. Could you reflect on the significance of this announcement to your firm?

Paula Long: Today we are talking about something that we should of been talking about for the last three or four years. Storage does not have to be a container; it can actually be an active partner in your business. I wrote a blog that got posted this morning that said, sometimes the "obvious is revolutionary."

If you want to have information at your fingertips at every level, it seemed ironic to us that the place where most information lived, your primary storage array, was not able to tell you anything about your business.

We've been telling everyone all along what we have been doing — it was just hard for them to put together. We've given that sort of quiet resource a voice, I think kind of like a two-year-old, who used to point at the refrigerator and you didn't know what they wanted. We have taught it to have a conversation with you and say its first words.

It's saying things like security breach, trends in your data, protection quicker, so it's got a rich vocabulary to start, and eventually we know it will be telling us very important, if you will, "poems." It will start telling us about the data, and there is a movement towards data stories within the storage array.

So the stories will tell you about what happened today, kind of like when your kids come home from school and they tell you what happened today. They will tell you what good happened today, and they will tell you what not so good happened today, and you will get to know about the information in your company before it becomes a headline, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

John Joseph: What has been important to us is watching our customers unravel this insight through the beta program that we are in the middle of right now. Our beta customers have installed their systems, put more data on the systems than we have experienced in our history, and have uncovered things about their data from a storage system that they never thought possible, to Paula's point.

Remember that everything we are talking about is coming from a storage appliance where the software and the appliance work together to uncover the insights of the data that you are storing in your system, things like embedded credit card numbers that are in clear keys, and photographs in repositories that people thought were secure repositories. Actually photographs, content, and contracts and things that are supposed to be kept under very tight scrutiny were out there for people in the organization, and in some cases outside the organization, to see, download, use, etc.

And so we have so many examples of people who came up to us and said, "My God, you have identified things that we never thought possible in a storage system, and we just learned a whole bunch of stuff about our organization that we didn't previously know." So in addition to being an amazing product idea, the customer uptake has been outstanding.

TechRepublic: Describe a potential DataGravity customer and how the Discovery Series will solve his or her problems.

John Joseph: A DataGravity customer is someone who is in the process of deploying a new storage project, whether it is to replace existing storage, or is a new system altogether. They are a customer that has been using conventional storage technology for years, understands it, but is looking for something more. I think what's important here is that this customer has an existing infrastructure that DataGravity is going to integrate into a single solution.

So some of the pillars that make up our value proposition include protecting the data that's in your storage system, and giving you intelligent insight about that data, so that if you have to restore it, you could actually see it before you restore it. That's the first piece.

The second piece is information governance. Who accessed the data? When did they access it? And what did they do with it? So that activity tracking and "data demographics," as I call it, is important. Data demographics such as, you have 6 TB of 100 TB that is over two years old. Do you want to take action on that data that no one actually uses anymore? Do you want to move it to another asset, do you want to retire it, or do you want to delete it?

And then the third piece is search and discovery. Your storage system should allow and enable you to look inside that system and see value about the data you are storing, the people that are working with that data, when they are working with it, along with activity tracking and trending. That means trending of a particular topic that you would put into the system and show you statistically how many other people are talking about that topic.

So now we're starting to change the landscape of how people work, collaborate, and interact with information and data in their business.

TechRepublic: What range of insights can the Discovery Series solution provide your customers?

Paula Long: From the IT administrator they can see the demographics of the system, so they know who is consuming the most space, who is the most active — that doesn't have to be the person using the most space. They can see what the makeup of their data is — is it a bunch of video or audio? They can also see whether they have any kind of personalization that should not be there. So we can get a 360-degree view of the data itself.

Then as you move into audit and compliance, they can start to see who is interacting with the data in a deep way, in terms of who is reading and writing it. So for example, if there are people who are reading and writing things in the finance share that shouldn't be, you would know that.

You could also start looking for various projects that you wanted to promote or protect, and if you had some initiatives that you wanted everybody to read, you could make sure those were actually being accessed. And if you had some things that actually had to be constrained, like a company confidential or a new launch, you could make sure that that was permissioned and wasn't leaking.

And then you can move into trending in the data, and doing searches in the data. So for example, if you were doing an article on DataGravity, you could search the 50 TB of archives you have around, and primary data you have, that would say here are the 30 pieces of collateral, here are the three people that wrote them, here is when they wrote them, here are their roles in the company. So you can start to tie all those pieces together.

VMworld 2014 award winners

After our call in August 2014, Long and Joseph attended VMworld 2014, where DataGravity received the Best in Show award as well as the Gold award in the New Technology category. The judges commented that they recognized DataGravity for its "unique approach that uses a passive engine to do real-time scanning to deal with compliance questions and data usage."

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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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