SolidFire's Flames Are Very "Cool"

Last week, SolidFire held its second annual Analyst Day. "Cool"ness was in full force, both from a technical progress perspective.....and also from a climate perspective (as the video attached with this blog post demonstrates). I saw many of the analyst-erati that hail from warmer climes watching the flakes fall....though whether one of them will lay claim to the snowman remains to be seen!. Meantime - and indoors - SolidFire's execs were very credibly fanning the flames of their product and marketing expertise. To give an idea of the event and content here's my video from Boulder featuring CEO Dave Wright with a summary of the main company updates as well as commentary from my ESG Lab colleague Aviv Kaufman and me.

What were my main take-aways? Well, apart from solid progress on funding, features, and customers, SolidFire wants to be viewed as rather more than "just" an All Flash Array. In an industry that adores putting vendors into neat boxes, there was therefore something delightfully ironic in the fact that SolidFire's "Element X" takes its abilities out of any particular box and makes its storage management capabilities software-only. RIght now - except for certain specific large-scale service providers - I would expect that this is more a product for SolidFire to market than to sell.....but nonetheless it is a crucial part of the company laying out its wares and staking a claim to play anywhere on what it calls the "Consumption Continuum". Flash - to paraphrase from the Q&A section - is not an industry inflexion point: changes in data center management are.

As to the more expected aspects of the day:

  • SolidFire wheeled out some excellent customer and partner speakers.
  • Technical advances were highlighted and/or revealed (mixed node clusters, non-disruptive upgrades to metadata handling, incrementally improved compression, synchronous replication and a much enhanced data retention policy.
  • Commercial improvements covered both support (ActiveIQ is real-time telemetry that gathers billions of data pointsfrom across the base to help users with storage analytics and decision-making) and marketing (the new "FlashForward" program being designed to give long term anti-obselecence investment protection)  

It was a confident and compelling story from a company that is gradually [trying to be seen as] moving to expand from - yet retain -  its early association with cloud providers to serve the much wider enterprise IT market. It still has plenty of marketing to do to achieve that (although the mere fact it knows it's necessary is a crucial step that not all start-ups "get"), but this Analyst Day showed that it has not lost any of its cool, and indeed added plenty of good fuel to its fire.

Video Transcript

Mark: It's pretty cold and chilly out here -- Boulder, Colorado in February. We're here for the second annual SolidFire Analyst Day. The fact that we have a second annual means something must be going right for the company. First off, for people who couldn't be here, I spoke to Dave Wright, who's the CEO about the key things he'd want someone who wasn't here to know.

Dave: We've got a number of announcements today, but I think the really important thing for us is talking about who SolidFire is as a company and what we're really helping customers with. People know us as a flash storage company but the real differentiation for SolidFire is our ability to give a set of capabilities to customers that enables them to move their data center infrastructure forward. Capabilities around scalability, around quality of service, around agility and automation that they really just couldn't get from any other platform. The announcements today I think really reinforced some of those things. We had SolidFire Storage node, the SF9605, which continues to drive down the cost per gigabyte, allows customers to put more and more workloads on their infrastructure onto an all Flash platform, instead of just using Flash as a point solution.

We announced the SolidFire Flash Forward program which is really about peace of mind around the investment in Flash. It's about compatibility of software and our hardware platforms where customers don't need to worry about the investment they're making being outdated in six months or 12 months as Flash technology moves forward. Allowing them to get the latest and greatest software, the latest and greatest Flash hardware from SolidFire and have it fully interoperate with all of their existing platforms as long as they're under support. Combined with an unlimited wear guarantee that removes Flash wear as a concern when people are adopting Flash platforms. We also talked about the way that SolidFire is serving our customers through all of the different ways they consume infrastructure, whether it's infrastructure as a service through our fueled by SolidFire program with agile infrastructure or converged infrastructure offering. Of course our traditional SolidFire appliances, which are so popular.

And today the new announcement about Element X. Element X is SolidFire's software solution for customers who own their own supply chain and want to deploy software on industry standard hardware primarily for large hyperscale customers. All of these things together combine with the discussions we're having around customers, around the value we bring to their infrastructure and data center, I think really paint the picture of SolidFire as more than just a Flash storage company. As the company at the core of the next generation data center.

Mark: What was interesting in listening to Dave and indeed listening to everything we've heard during today was not just the specificity of the specifics of what SolidFire had to say. And there was plenty of that, of course. But the mere fact they had innovative things to say about the industry as a whole. Talking about the way that IT is consumed, not just about storage and not just about Flash, but setting this up as, if you like, as a next generation storage company, which is how they would like to be seen. In that regard, I'm going to pass to my colleague Aviv Kaufmann briefly. He's done some work on behalf of SolidFire for ESG and also got to speak in a very unfettered fashion to some of the customers and partners that were here at the event.

Aviv: So, last year we did a validation of SolidFire technologies including the quality of service, automated load balancing, and automated self-healing capabilities. Those are really some impressive technologies. ESG also looked into some of the economic value that SolidFire can offer customers and really trying to quantify some of that value. And today we were able to talk to some of the customers and really hear how they have actually seen these values and things like power saving and making operations easier, lowering OPEX and things like that. It was really great to hear that these are real things that people are actually seeing in the real world and not just in theory.

Mark: As we end the day, what do we take away? First off, everyone who came in to Colorado, they're getting a proper Colorado winter's day as you can see as the snow comes down. But I think what was most interesting to me was the emphasis by SolidFire on talking about what it would like to call a consumption continuum. All the different ways that IT as a whole, storage as part of it, can these days be acquired and purchased. Everything from as a service through to the regular best of breed appliances through to what they've now announced, Element X, which is, it's software available, software only to be run on commodity hardware. There are a whole gamut of acquisition methods, consumption methods within that. The point of SolidFire is it has a way to play across all of those. Its challenge now, and of course I have to be corny because I'm outside, is it needs to blanket the world with marketing and awareness in the same way that these flakes are blanketing Colorado.

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Topics: Storage