The 451 Take
In our 2016 Voice of the Enterprise: Storage, Vendor Evaluations survey, 36% of respondents have SDS running on standard x86 servers in use, and as SDS continues to become a more well-known and accepted technology, companies like Quobyte will have a better chance of disrupting the storage market. Although storage teams continue to be conservative and have sway in large enterprises as the specialist-to-generalist ratio at organizations tips further toward generalists, firms like Quobyte could gain visibility by showing their value in emerging areas such as analytics storage and containers. While Quobyte believes its technology can handle block, file and object storage use cases simultaneously, the 'Swiss Army Knife' approach to product marketing is difficult to pull off and we would like to see the vendor tighten its messaging and sales focus. For newer companies like Quobyte, being able to articulate a clear message and market products to the right personnel at the right time will be imperative to success.
Quobyte is headquartered in Santa Clara, California. Its marketing and operations teams reside in the US while its R&D unit is based in Berlin along with cofounder and CTO Felix Hupfeld. Founders Bjorn Kolbeck (CEO) and Hupfeld are both former Google software engineers. At Google, Hupfeld worked on Gmail's tape backup system. Both cofounders were part of the development team for the open source distributed file system XtreemFS, with Kolbeck as lead developer and Hupfeld as architect and project manager. The XtreemFS file system was first released in 2008, a year before Hupfeld joined Google. The company claims that Quobyte is a new implementation that only shares the architecture blueprint with XtreemFS, but is a different technology and is not open source, unlike its predecessor.
Founded in 2013, Quobyte received an undisclosed amount of series A funding in 2014. Early investors include German VC firms Target Partners and High-Tech Gründerfonds. It is looking to raise additional financing by the end of 2017. Quobyte's headcount is currently a modest 25, including a sales team of three. The company has 10 customers in production, with three of them in the US.
Quobyte is focused on enterprise customers for now, but will eventually sell to service providers as well. The vendor's core product is its Data Center File System. Its parallel POSIX file system is targeted at several vertical use cases, including HPC clusters, big-data storage, video and media production, and financial services where customers are planning to use Quobyte's storage to support market simulation algorithms.
The company is also targeting a number of horizontal and next-generation use cases such as OpenStack deployments, storage for VMs, containers and hyperconverged infrastructures. Quobyte lists Mesosphere, Red Hat, OpenStack and Giant Swarm among its partners. Its main design goal was to create a file system for an agile storage infrastructure decoupled from hardware that could handle increasing volumes of data and be easily managed by small teams. The company's horizontal storage infrastructure is ultimately drawing inspiration from those successfully employed by Google and Amazon.
Currently, Quobyte is using a software-only approach, which comes with the benefit of customers being able to use their choice of hardware and potentially minimize the potential for vendor lock-in. RAID is not required since redundancy is handled at the software layer. SAS/SATA HDDs and SSDs, NVMe and SMR drives are all supported storage mediums, and the vendor recommends using 10-Gigabit Ethernet for networking connectivity. To provide resiliency and boost storage efficiency, Quobyte employs erasure coding. At this point, the Data Center File System does not have inline compression or de-duplication capabilities.
As noted, the company's unified storage software can work with file, block and object storage types. The distributed file system is a parallel POSIX system with key features such as file locking, metadata snapshots and block-size configuration down to a file level (512bytes to 2MBs). Quobyte's software runs in native user land and does not required kernel changes.
For block storage use cases, the vendor claims that it can handle high-concurrency random block IO workloads with sub-millisecond latency. Although Quobyte does not have storage QoS capabilities at this point, it boasts that its architecture's write-anywhere layout allows it to increase the performance for a workload on demand. The implementation requires the installation of a native client that is available on Linux, OSX and Windows. The firm reports that this has not been an issue with its early adopters, who were willing to accept the added management and deployment complexity of the native client to get Quobyte's high-performance capabilities.
As a file system, direct communication between client and server allows for relatively easy and effective scaling. Customers can start with four nodes for a minimum cluster regardless of hardware or kernel. Hadoop customers have deployed the native client and Quobyte's storage as an alternative to HDFS. Monitoring functionality includes inventory management and API-based workflow automation. Provisioning for OpenStack deployments is done via Cinder or Nova drivers for block storage; Manila is employed for file storage; and Keystone allows for multi-tenancy capabilities and comes with an integrated S3 proxy. Snapshots, cloning and asynchronous replication (synchronous replication is available today) are in the works, and when they become available Quobyte will provide APIs to make access to these capabilities easy to automate and control.
A number of SDS startups compete with Quobyte, including Datera, FalconStor, Formation Data Systems, Hedvig, Nexenta, Qumulo and Zadara. All of these startups attack incumbent storage players in large part via competitive pricing strategies. All of them have been quick to target emerging market opportunities such as container storage.
SDS products have also been brought to market by larger vendors such as Dell/EMC, IBM and NetApp. NetApp covers SDS with its ONTAP software, while Dell/EMC has its ecosystem of ScaleIO, Elastic Cloud Storage and IsilonSD Edge. IBM is also targeting the SDS space with its Spectrum family of storage wares. VMware's VSAN has gained momentum in recent years. Given its traction in OpenStack, Ceph block storage players Red Hat and SUSE are also noteworthy in the space. Additionally, Red Hat's Gluster is available as a scale-out platform for unstructured data storage.
In the scale-out segment, Quobyte will have to contend with object storage suppliers such as IBM (which continues to ramp up sales of its Cleversafe platform), Caringo, Cloudian, DataDirect Networks, HDS, Dell/EMC, Nexenta, NetApp (with StorageGRID), NooBaa, Scality, SwiftStack and Western Digital (with ActiveScale). Quobyte's differentiation against all of these rivals is its file system, and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) startups are also targeting enterprise private cloud and cloud service providers with their offerings. These players could be viewed as competitors, but given Quobyte's strength in unstructured data storage, it could be a partner for them, as they are largely focused on VMs and primary storage. In the HCI arena, all eyes are still on Nutanix after its public debut, and behemoths such as Cisco, Dell/EMC, HPE (SimpliVity), Lenovo and VMware along with startups like Atlantis Computing, Cloudistics, Maxta and Pivot3 are all expecting to ramp up rapidly in 2017.
A few new firms such as Cohesity and Rubrik have been working to expand HCI into the secondary storage segment for backup, archiving and other use cases. Although they are still relatively new to market, they have had success disrupting the backup storage space and appear to be growing at an impressive rate.
Henry Baltazar is a Research Director for the Storage Channel at 451 Research. Henry returned to 451 Research after spending nearly three years at Forrester Research as a senior analyst serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals and advising Forrester clients on datacenter infrastructure technologies. Henry has evaluated and tested storage hardware and software offerings for more than 15 years as an industry analyst and as a journalist.
Liam Rogers is a Research Associate at 451 Research. He holds a BA in English with a minor in Business Administration from Shenandoah University. He also has an MA in Professional Writing and Rhetoric from George Mason University, where he received an award for Outstanding Graduate Student in Writing and Rhetoric.
Keith Dawson is a principal analyst in 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce practice, primarily covering marketing technology. Keith has been covering the intersection of communications and enterprise software for 25 years, mainly looking at how to influence and optimize the customer experience.