FalconStor Chief: Cloud Customers Must Demand More Open Architectures

Falconstor CEO Jim McNiel is out to master the services-oriented data protection market.

Jim McNiel is FalconStor Software's president and chief executive officer. McNiel joined FalconStor as chief strategy officer in December 2009 and assumed the role of president and CEO in January 2011. McNiel is the architect of the company's service-oriented data protection strategy and an advocate of open and transparent management systems.

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard recently interviewed McNiel about his strategy for success in the data protection marketplace. McNiel said that FalconStor will thrive by thinking out of the box, and bringing a fresh, customer-centric approach to a space dominated by traditional strategies.

VR: The data protection market is highly competitive. What's your strategy for survival?
Jim McNiel: Well that's the wonderful thing about the data protection market. It's highly competitive, and it's highly competitive because it's a very dynamic and changing market. That's where great companies are born. The way we intend to be competitive in that space is by not following the leader, but by jumping ahead and solving the major problems and pain points that our customers are facing today.

VR: When you say, "not following the leader," do you say that figuratively or are you talking about a specific leader?
McNiel: We have a number of respected and competent players in the field such as Symantec, CommVault and EMC, but these companies have been servicing this market for decades, and their approaches are based on legacy technology and legacy thinking. We have an opportunity to approach it from a completely new angle.

VR: How are we going to get out of the shared-storage mess?
McNiel: I think that when companies embrace a service-oriented model, when they move toward a service catalog and a service delivery model, storage becomes less of an issue. It just becomes a commodity. It's really how we move workloads throughout the network that becomes really important. I think that it's going to be a challenge because if you think about it, so many of the capabilities that are connected to storage are coming from vendors who love the fact that they're delivering proprietary solutions.

In as much as they like to talk about being open, you and I both know that the more hardware-specific features they can bake into their solutions, the more competitive they feel they are. I think that it's incumbent upon our customers to demand more open architectures and less hardware-specific solutions. You might want to be more specific when you talk about the shared storage mess, but I think that what customers need is something that's designed to address their initial pain points. The pain points that they're dealing with today are all about data growing out of control and they don't really know how to get their arms around it.

VR: How is FalconStor going to the cloud?
McNiel: FalconStor is going to the cloud in a couple of key ways. One way is through our strategic partnerships. Hewlett-Packard uses us as the core for their [Business Continuity and Recovery Services] practice, which is based on their EDS acquisition. They have over 60 datacenters worldwide that are using NFS at the core and at the edge to collect data from enterprises and pull it into their cloud. That's the smart cloud. We support a number of smart clouds. There's a number of relationships we're looking at where people can take advantage of the fact that NFS is one of the few technologies out there that can communicate among a heterogeneous world of arrays.

With its VMware integration, version 7 of NFS is one of the few solutions out there that allows VMware to move workloads among disparate arrays. We're still a company that applauds and embraces an open architecture and supporting multiple platforms. It's getting harder to do because it's not in anyone's interest on the hardware manufacturers' side to help us to do that. But the strategy is twofold -- one is private cloud infrastructures like HP, and the other one is more public cloud infrastructures like Nirvanix, Amazon, Google and the like. To do that, we need to build connectors to those clouds so that we can drive data into them, and then help customers understand the difference in cost, and the difference in capabilities of those two approaches.

VR: What are your most ambitious goals for FalconStor?
McNiel: I think that our most ambitious goal is really truly defining data protection again -- creating a breakout way for companies to think about data protection. Right now, you and I both know that most enterprises have a backup solution, an archive solution, a disaster recovery solution. They have some business continuity practice, and they're trying to get a service catalog working. They really have so many different tools to accomplish what is effectively one job, which is information lifecycle management. Ultimately, our big, bodacious, hairy goal would be to bring all that under one single pane of glass.

VR: That's a noble quest because it's not an option these days.
McNiel: That's right. You asked for a big goal, and I would say that's a very big goal. You're not going to achieve it by saying, "OK. The first thing we're going to do is go climb Mt. Everest." There are a lot of interim steps that have to take place, and we're looking at different steps for different market segments. So what you need to back up a 25-server, midsize business, and what you need to back up a 135-datacenter enterprise are two completely different solutions, but the ideas are very similar.

VR: What are the most exciting developments relating to virtualization and cloud computing you foresee taking place in the next two years?
McNiel: The most exciting thing will be if companies can actually realize the ability to deploy services on-demand, to scale based on what their requirements are. This requires that the private cloud and the physical cloud become somewhat seamless, that we're able to determine where we want our service to run based on SLAs and what we can afford. Those are pretty wonderful goals and aspirations.

I think the services that we want to access must be somewhat device-agnostic so it doesn't matter if I'm using my iPhone or my iPad or my Windows machine to access it, it's just there and it works. I think that those are all very lofty goals, and they're goals that the overall virtualization space is keen to deliver. In terms of out-of-the-box or outside thinking, having a single pane of glass that works across platforms to manage that type of environment would be a tall order. Something that manages Hyper-V, Citrix Xen, and VMware with a common view -- that's going to be a big accomplishment. I think based on the growing maturity of Hyper-V and the increasing complexity of how these solutions are being licensed and delivered, there may be an opportunity for cross-compatibility between them. I guess my big hope for virtualization is that it actually delivers on its promise.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.


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