Last week, SolidFire held its inaugural Analyst Event. Such activities tend to be the preserve of larger organizations, so the fact it happened begs both a comment and a question. The comment is to give the SolidFire team kudos for pulling off a well-executed and insightful day…it certainly punched above its weight. The question is to wonder what made the management team at SolidFire decide to undertake this exercise? And the two main answers to that – well, at least my two main answers to that – are what makes this particular startup interesting right now.
First of all, “things” (that means the basics of engineering, sales, recruitment, customer implementations – all the important things) are of course going along pretty nicely…you don’t tend to hold your first Analyst Day otherwise! There’s money in the bank, the company is functioning well, users like what they are getting (we had full, easy access to the three guest users), and the product is performing admirably. As a Colorado-based company, growing like a weed (!) is encouraged! That said, SolidFire feels like – indeed, has always felt like - a very measured management strategy and approach – and that leads us to the second answer.
Most users and commentators that have heard of SolidFire tend to associate a couple of descriptors with the company: “all-flash” and “cloud.” The event last week was designed to shift that emphasis. The early focus that SolidFire had on CSPs was just that….a focus. There was no inherent product limitation but rather a realization that startups tend to do better applying their inherently limited go-to-market resources at a specific target. Moreover, SolidFire would now say (and with good justification) that its focus wasn’t so much CSPs per se, but was very much on deployments of what-we-are-now-calling the “Next Generation Data Center.” Thus the fact that SolidFire is now embracing an expansion into the Enterprise space is less about its improved abilities – as it grows - to serve a broader target, and is actually more about the fact that those deploying Next Generation Data Centers (NGDC) are increasingly regular commercial data centers as well as CSPs. The demands of this NGDC-approach (a more scalable, flexible, automated, QoS-based resource pool) are now being felt strongly by IT organizations of all types; so much so that one can see data centers in the next few years either embracing such a move themselves, or buying their IT services from someone that does.
In such a world, [flash] performance is merely table-stakes – whereas such things as simplicity, efficiency, scalability, automation, and integration will determine the winning and losing vendors. CSPs were some of the first disciples of this new mantra; now that checkbooks are being opened for such abilities across the IT board, SolidFire is happy to point out its ability to play. Whatever the split between intent and circumstance, few IT suppliers are going to worry about a rapidly growing TAM!
SolidFire needs to strike while the iron is hot in order to get traction in this new world, and parlay its early “Cloud-NGDC” success into broader “Enterprise-NGDC” success. This is the marketing and sales phase of the vendor game; of course engineering is still vital to a software-based solution such as this (and last week SolidFire revealed under non-disclosure some crucial and useful functional enhancements coming soon), but it is market presence that will determine the outcome for the company. “Presence” is not only revenue (although no one minds that!), but also relevance; this is not just about the $$ SolidFire does get but also about those $$ (potentially larger) that it effectively extracts from the pockets of the traditional storage vendors, by changing both short-term deals and long-term attitudes. Achieving this demands market education (about how/why it is different and provides user value) and exposure (getting awareness and hence a seat at more purchasing tables); and those things, as much as anything, were the reasons for its intentional coming-out event with the analyst community last week. And such market/self-awareness helps give one a solid feeling about the company’s future.