Originally published By David Marshall, VMblog – July 24, 2020
VMblog recently caught up with industry expert David Morris, VP of Product and Global Marketing at FalconStor, to find out more about the company and its technology, the storage industry in 2020, persistent containers and more.
VMblog: What do you think about the storage market in 2020?
David Morris: The overall storage market is quite robust. It largely depends on where you are though and what you are doing in the storage market. The last decade has turned the storage market upside down, and new entrants from non-traditional market spaces have disrupted the market and arbitraged the leading incumbents’ positions. We have seen consolidation across the market, as well as a few insolvencies. There are still traditional storage companies competing in the market; although, we have seen an enormous change to the hardware-centric and system-centric storage companies. The trend will continue to shift away from generic feature-rich systems with limited optimization capabilities and inflated costs. I believe that a new data-centric ideology emerging that will reshape the storage industry and the cloud market as well.
VMblog: You are an industry veteran and I know you decided to join FalconStor a little over a year ago. I have to ask: how is FalconStor doing product-wise and financially?
Morris: Yes, I joined the FalconStor team over a year ago and I truly enjoy working with such a seasoned team. Throughout my career, I have been a customer, a partner, a competitor, and now an employee of FalconStor. They have continually delivered had innovative products. Even as an enterprise company, FalconStor has always had and continues to have a very loyal and truly dedicated following, which is a rarity.
From a financial perspective, FalconStor is a public company, and anyone can access our publicly available information on FalconStor’s and the SEC’s websites. Our next earnings call is August 5, if anyone would like to join us.
From a product perspective, FalconStor has our NSS & CDP products on the Operational Data (active data) side, which delivers robust real-time data protection and rapid RTO to our customers, which are doing well. On the Archival side, FalconStor has our Virtual Tape Library (VTL), which continues to be developed and improved. VTL continues to be in high demand and a favored archival system for IBM i environments. For mixed environments, VTL delivers backup consolidation due to its operational heterogeneity and physical tape ingest for tape migration. Rounding out our archival offerings, FalconStor also has StorSafe. StorSafe offers a Linux-based persistent storage container for archives.
VMblog: There has been significant coverage of the StorSafe product. What is it and what innovation does it deliver?
Morris: Yes, we debuted StorSafe on March 17, 2020, which was likely the worst date in more than a decade to announce a product. However, we work with the noted storage PR firm, Silicon Valley PR. It was a seriously challenging time, but with their efforts, experience, and creativity, they cut through the overriding news and delivered significant coverage. The excitement around our “data-centric” storage model versus the traditional system-level model has been overwhelming.
StorSafe has its foundation in proven storage engines and its innovation upon validated technologies. StorSafe is the FalconStor team’s latest innovation that leverages the robust ingest (40TB/hr.), deduplication (up to 90%), and compression algorithms developed and improved over FalconStor’s history. These proven algorithms engines have hundreds of exabytes in archival storage to their credit over the last twenty years. So, we built on a robust base for StorSafe. We leveraged accepted Linux-based containers from an alternative perspective, which facilitated the development of persistent containers, which replaced physical and virtual tapes, both of which also used the limited LTO-X format. Replacing LTO-X, the team developed the expansive Portable Storage Format (PSF) that is written and optimized for persistent Linux-based Container storage and archive. These successes validated and substantiated our “data-centric” storage model.
Despite the new normal, StorSafe has gained the interest of numerous customers, partners, and analysts. We have integrated and optimized StorSafe into Hitachi Vantara’s HCP object storage platform. We are also working with Wasabi on several very innovative initiatives and several Cloud and MSP vendors that understand the implications and benefits of our StorSafe technology.
VMblog: So, StorSafe is leveraging Linux-based containers? Aren’t containers stateless?
Morris: Yes, that is correct on both points. Linux-based containers were developed as stateless runtime environments to execute applications. It has a virtualization (hypervisor) layer between the application and the underlying operating system and hardware. It is similar to a virtual machine; only the virtualization is a level above it in the technology stack. Being virtualized at the application layer makes a container much lighter, as it does not need to install a redundant OS as a virtual machine does. FalconStor’s innovation was a completely new approach to containers, which resulted in the development of a stateful or persistent container.
VMblog: Has a persistent storage container not been done before, and why or why not?
Morris: In a word, no. There have been startups and other companies that have tried to combine containers and storage. Most approaches were through an application program interface (API) call to a “storage system.” However, most did not understand the complexities of storage and storage systems, as they are not all created equal. Ironically, most startups did not have a storage expert on the team, and the members of the group were compute or network experts, which has an ideological clash with storage. Subsequently, most initiatives failed.
In compute and networking arenas is not a big issue if a packet is dropped or an answer to a calculation is forgotten. It is easy to send another packet or recalculate an answer for little to no cost impact. Compute and networking experts have this “stateless” dogma etched into their DNA. In storage, one must always remember that the first rule of storage is to never, ever lose data, and the second is to be able to retrieve data upon demand today, tomorrow, or one hundred years from now.
VMblog: How did FalconStor come up with the persistent container idea?
Morris: Upon joining, Mark Delsman and I reviewed all the products, engineering load, roadmap, and other operational factors, as well as getting to know one another. In our prattling, we started chatting about the continuous integration and continuous deployment model that we had both worked with previously. We started talking about containers and the Silicon Valley startups that used them. The epiphany hit us like a ton of bricks. Physical tape with its LTO format is a type of container. The FalconStor team had invented tape to virtual tape and been improving it for years. We realized that FalconStor had the best physical to virtual storage experience on the planet. If anyone could work through the technical details to develop a persistent virtual storage container, it was the FalconStor engineering team.
I must admit that initially, there were many reservations internally. Our lead engineer somewhat reluctantly went off to look into containers the technical feasibility of containers. A couple of weeks later, he returned and was exuberant. All the LTO format limitations were eliminated, our engineer’s team’s skillset was highly leverageable, and containers offered boundless possibilities. We felt then that the idea had real potential.
VMblog: What value does container storage offer?
Morris: Virtualized at the application layer, containers disaggregate the “data” from the storage system or Cloud. The container encapsulates the data contained within to democratize the data from the underlying operating system, software, and hardware. This capability has enormous implications for the storage market.
Historically, the storage market has taken a system-level approach to data storage, which tightly entangles the data and the system. This approach has become problematic as data retention periods out last storage hardware lifecycles. For example, the EMC Centera, a Content-Addressable Storage (CAS) system, was revolutionary and integrated retention policies into the data at the system-level. It was used to store a significant amount of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) financial data. However, the Centera is now at its end-of-life, but much of the data contained therein continues to be under mandatory retention regulations. With the data, retention policies, and system fully integrated, it is a costly proposition to extract the data without change, maintain the retention policy, move it to a new storage system, and double-check and verify its integrity. StorSafe solves the problem quite efficiently and allows for container and the data to be portable across any object storage system, or S3-enabled cloud without any changes to the data, retention policies, metadata, etc. The data and the container is entirely abstracted from the underlying infrastructure.
VMblog: Did you test the StorSafe idea externally and with whom?
Morris: Yes, we did. We reached out to well-known storage experts and analysts. Mark and I reached out to Steve Duplessie and his firm ESG, as we have both worked with them since their inception. We knew we had a good idea when ESG’s storage analyst, Christophe Bertrand, jumped in mid-presentation and finished our StorSafe product presentation for us. Another firm we used is LMC Associates (lmc-associates.com/about), founded by J.P. Corriveau, a former EMC leader and Gartner analyst. He and Richard MacDonald, another former EMC colleague, analyst, and consultant with LMC, reviewed our StorSafe concept and initial development successes. Their feedback on StorSafe’s retention and reinstatement features were invaluable. They based this on their in-depth knowledge of compliance, regulatory, eDiscovery, and new privacy mandates and laws. Their real-world experience and input validated the use cases we targeted for our StorSafe product. We also had other firms review our StorSafe idea, and the feedback ranged from “interesting” to “impossible” on the feedback scale. Most understood the storage possibilities surrounding persistent containers and understood the inherent capabilities and implications of leveraging the container’s runtime environment.
VMblog: What do you mean about leveraging the runtime environment?
Morris: Containers were developed as a virtualized space to execute applications and test changes and modifications in continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) environments. As we mentioned before, they were stateless artifacts. StorSafe leverages containers with a twist in that they are persistent or stateful. In developing the persistence, the runtime capabilities were not sacrificed in the process, and StorSafe can both store data and execute programs. Doing both within a container has opened up a veritable plethora of opportunities. For example, StorSafe creates a container, deduplicates and compresses data, and then encrypts it. It also adds a small bit of executable code within the container. The embedded code can execute at preset periodic intervals, verify its container’s data integrity, and phone home its status.
The secured journaled log records access, modification, or corruption for each container and delivers proof of the chain of custody of the container and its integrity over time. When a container has been stored in a cloud or a data center for twenty years and suddenly needs to be presented for audit or legal action, it is good to know and prove that what was stored years ago is the same as what you brought back. The ability to execute programs within a container with its associated data is a significant paradigm shift for storage and application markets.
VMblog: Finally, what is “Data-Centric” storage?
Morris: “Data-centric” storage is independent of all operating systems and hardware dependencies, it is portable across object storage systems, and S3 enabled clouds without affecting the data within the container. The “data-centric” storage model has come into its own, and I fundamentally believe that data will never again be anchored to the system-level components.
I sincerely appreciate you taking the time today to speak with me about FalconStor. Perhaps next time we can discuss the difference between the backup and recovery versus the retention and reinstatement that the new containers archive delivers.
David Morris serves as VP of product and global marketing for FalconStor. He has more than 25 years of leadership experience in storage systems and storage, information, and compliance management. Before FalconStor, he worked with Cisco and Huawei to develop and define new strategic imperatives, as the third era of IT disrupted the technology sector. Recognized for his ability to identify new markets and develop targeted solutions, Morris has worked with private equity backed companies to position them into emerging high-growth markets, including Kazeon, acquired by EMC, and Cetas, acquired by VMware. At NET, he led the storage and network division turnaround efforts and repositioning the company to raise $85 million in a private placement of public equity (PIPE) and subsequent acquisition by Sonus.He holds graduate degrees in marketing from the University of California, Berkeley-Haas, in finance from Columbia University in the City of New York, and in engineering from George Washington University, as well as a Bachelors in Physics from Auburn University. He currently advises Aerwave, a next-gen security company, and Brite Discovery, a GDPR compliance and eDiscovery company. He is active in and supported Compass Family Services, which services homeless and at-risk families in San Francisco, The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, and The American Indian Science and Engineering Society.