NexGen to the Nth Degree (includes video)

next-generationIn thinking about when the founders of NexGen decided on their new company's name, one wonders whether, at the time, it was something of a placeholder—unless they were fortune-tellers as well as successful storage dudes that is! Since its founding in 2011, the company itself is on its fourth generation in as many years; and now, once more independent, finds itself well placed in what can be more generically called the next generation of storage arrays.
Let me explain: founded as a sophisticated hybrid array producer with the added bonus of then-nascent QoS, NexGen was quickly acquired by FusionIO (which desperately needed storage software functionality!) only for both entities to be gobbled up by SanDisk (which didn't share those needs, due to both a different strategy and having its own existing software efforts). And so—take 4—NexGen is spun back out as its own entity once more.

Much as the company is anxious to parade its progress—both in terms of R&D efforts and customer aquisition—while in the shadows of being someone else's business unit, the fact is that however you cut it, it was pretty much off the general-market-conversation radar for a couple of years, too. So, now its primary challenge is to get known—to (re)generate awareness and interest. The product sophistication and capabilities are there, but storage is a market where a seat at the decision table often counts way more than just what's on the datasheet!

As NexGen was building toward its latest, significant product release (which happens tomorrow), I took the opportunity to sit down recently with its VP of Marketing, Chris McCall, to see how it was planning to make itself relevant and compelling to the current (next!?) generation of storage buyers.

So, in a nutshell (and not to pre-announce anything specific), there's not only even better QoS (quality of service has definitely become a contemporary battle cry and battleground in the storage market during NexGen's "absence") but also a rather neat expose—and ESG Lab proof—of the fact that the NexGen granular QoS approach can also deliver a different type of where the Q  stands for "quantity." And that should generate some interest!

Video Transcript

Mark: This edition of ESG On Location comes from NexGen Storage. Some of you may remember the company when it was independent, and it's independent again now. I got some time to talk with Chris McCall who is the SVP of Marketing here. The first thing I asked him to do was give us a little reminder of the history of the company and what it does.

Chris: NexGen Storage was founded in 2010 to take advantage of re-architecting storage systems around Flash. We took a different approach than most. We designed around the PCI-E bus, meaning we put Flash on the memory bus, which allows us some advantages in terms of performance and capacity density. What we're really about is trying to address the key challenge in virtual infrastructure, which is controlling or providing some sense of management on performance. We went to market with our first product in 2012. We were quickly acquired by Fusion-io in 2013 which was then acquired by SanDisk in 2014 who spun us out, and we're on our own again as of January of this year.

Mark: All companies, particularly ones that are relatively small and relatively new to the marketplace, have to have some hook; something to get people interested. Initially with NexGen, that was very much about quality of service. With NexGen's mix of hardware and software, it's also able to talk about QoS from another perspective; the quantity of service. I asked Chris to explain that in a bit more detail.

Chris: When we first set out designing quality of service, it was about delivering a superior end user experience with performance consistency with the most mission critical apps. But, we had always suspected that if you manage the workload correctly in Flash you'd be able to get more efficient and manage that resource more efficiently. We've finally gotten around to do some real life testing of turning quality of service off and turning it on. What we found, lo and behold, was that we could manage 25 to 30% more workload just with turning software on. With the software being more intelligent about what's in Flash and what isn't, you can handle a larger workload. It's a little bit counter-intuitive, because there's extra processing going on to make all the right decisions about every I/O in flight. The fact that you're keeping the right data in Flash at the right time allows you to do more with the same amount of capacity.

You can see the advantages going from a typical array with SSDs to on the PCI-E bus, a tremendous jump in the number of VMs that you can manage. But what's more interesting is when you turn on the software in the intelligence that quality of service has, which is keeping the data that needs to be in Flash, in Flash, at the right time, with zero hardware changes, you increase the efficiency or the number of VMs that you can run on that same hardware by 25 to 30%. That's just purely with the software capabilities. What we're doing here at NexGen is very similar to what happens with all disruptive technologies. The first wave of innovation is really about making the technology work in a specific environment. Then, the second wave of innovation is all about software increasing the efficiency and helping customers utilize it more effectively. That's exactly what happened with the hypervisor, and it's exactly what quality of service is doing for Flash.

Mark: So, interesting stuff in terms of what the company can offer. It's really important not to just have something that's different but something that offers value. To succeed in this industry, after all, it's great to talk about performance, Flash, and effectiveness in terms of getting the job done, all wonderful. But you can never forget about capacity, quantity, price, and effectiveness in doing that.
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