We’ve been working with enterprise customers here at ClearSky since before we were even funded. I know that sounds a bit strange (how do you talk with customers before you know what you’re building?), but we like to get very engaged with customers from the earliest stages of design and architecting, and stay close with a small set of customers all the way through launch and beyond. It’s the only way I know to keep focused on “minimum viable product” and make the tough tradeoffs.
Beta customers are a special breed: they are risk-takers who love new technology and they have the patience to work with entrepreneurs on the long process of bringing something new to market. It’s fun for them in some ways, and keeps them tapped into new generations of technology, but in the end, the startup gets so much value from the relationship that it’s important to stop and give some recognition. Without them there would be no new company or product, period.
So beyond giving a shout-out to the beta customers who have come with us along the journey (and you know who you are), I wanted to take a moment to think about what we have learned so far. It made me go back to our first blog post from January this year, in which I introduced some founding principles for ClearSky. These stated (in brief): enterprise storage today sucks, network connectivity keeps getting cheaper and more available, and enterprises want on-demand models for IT. While these principles remain true, they’ve turned out to be more complex than what we originally believed. Our beta customers constantly remind me that although they have signed on for a disruptive ride that will change the way they think about storage forever, they are counting on us to prove that we can balance innovation with all the “basics” they depend on.
It’s absolutely true that enterprise IT teams believe storage is ready for a complete re-think given the shift to IT-as-a-service and the need for greater business agility. And there’s a willingness to consider new models, since storage has clearly lagged behind compute (and maybe even networking) in evolving from the traditional “boat anchor” model. Our beta customers are ready to consider a totally new way to consume storage that gets them out of the ugly business of infrastructure management—but that in no way means that they will lower their requirements even a fraction on availability, data protection, security or performance.
ClearSky’s other founding principles turn out to be about hybrid cloud adoption and where enterprise customers really are in this process. Almost every IT leader we have spoken with has declared that hybrid is the model they are embracing, often with a “cloud first” approach to new application development. This is great progress since my days at CloudSwitch and Verizon, when customers were much earlier in learning about the cost/benefits of the cloud. However enterprises are still struggling with some significant concerns about adoption of the hybrid model, most notably:
- What am I willing to put outside my firewall? This is the evolution of long-standing security fears, which have now matured into internal discussions with security and compliance teams about which data is reasonable to move and which can never leave. It reminds us at ClearSky how high the bar is on these fronts in making customers comfortable with new solutions.
- How do I move data around in a hybrid model? Workload portability continues to increase, and there are several tools in the market since CloudSwitch days. But the data is the hardest thing to move around, both for initial migration and for ongoing data management. And this problem is of course even greater when you’re dealing with large numbers of terabytes.
- How do I connect to the cloud from internal environments? Well, there’s always the internet, but customers are increasingly aware that this is not necessarily the best way to guarantee speed, predictability or even low cost. Better models of network connectivity are out there but enterprise customers are still early in determining how best to use them.
Many of these issues are less about technical innovation and more about building all the old enterprise “-ilities” into the foundation of a new offering. As our beta customers teach me over and over again, you can’t take shortcuts on these issues, or hope to go back to them later and re-architect. You need to consider them every day, in all phases of development, of both your product as well as your company culture.