Recently I attended Storage Field Day 20, as delegates we were lucky enough to get an early insight into cloud defined storage start-up Nebulon. In this blog I want to look at the proposition and business model as well as the technology, and ask, are Nebulon the Shadow Storage of the IT world?
Now usually with any Field Day event I’d include a disclosure regarding the elements that are paid for by the event organisers. Being virtual this time there is no monetary gain involved, I enjoyed the presentations all from the comfort of my home office.
I’ll start off with a link to the original presentation videos which you can find here, and an admission on my part: I was wrong in my initial assessment of Nebulon. As can sometimes happen with any pitch, I had got the wrong idea in my head about how this was going to market. To me it seemed like an incredible mountain for a small start-up to climb and make such bold claims.
I was missing a key piece of information in my understanding: You don’t buy from Nebulon!
I would like to thank the Nebulon team for presenting and for bearing with us delegates as we wrapped our heads around this new technology. It can’t be easy coming to market with a new product and it takes a lot of time to fine tune the message and delivery.
It’s important to note that the messaging is critical in building a first impression and the team took that feedback on board. I’ve had a follow-up briefing with them and I was impressed with how the story has evolved and the messaging is much clearer now.
The simplicity and beauty of the Nebulon offering to me appears to be mostly within the buying model. The team have partnered with a number of server vendors and you can add the Nebulon SPU and services subscription to your order the same as you would any other SKU. It is really as simple as buying a RAID controller.
Why is this an advantage you might ask? Well for most companies you can’t just go out and onboard a new vendor and buy their technology. There is a process involved and normally a lot of paperwork. Onboarding a storage vendor might involve multiple teams within the organisation and undoubtedly there would be some internal politics to navigate.
This is what led me to really coin this idea of Nebulon being the shadow storage vendor of the IT world. The server team already have their vendors available to them, they have their own purchasing power and decision-making process. The potential for them to sneak in under the radar so to speak in selecting some new storage capabilities is real. I think this is where the driving force will be, not from traditional storage teams.
We’ve already seen success in this style of buying in the industry with products like vSAN and the many HCI offerings available. I believe what we have here is just natural evolution of simplifying that process.
The best summary I could give is that Nebulon have managed to stuff all the goodness of a storage controller into a PCIe card. They then built a control plane in the cloud to manage it. That is a rather high-level view, but it captures the essence of it.
Rather than go deep into the nuts and bolts, I want to look at why this approach has merit in my opinion. At the time of writing we are just coming off the back of VMworld 2020 and we’ve seen the announcements around Project Monterey. If you haven’t seen those then I recommend you go check them out.
The idea of specialised offload hardware is gaining a lot of traction, along with the above from VMware, we’ve seen similar approaches from Pensando, and AWS have had Nitro for quite some time now. Building solutions that handle the heavy lifting of infrastructure and allow the main resources of your servers to focus on running VMs or Containers is a very smart play.
The power footprint of data centres has long been a concern, but it is starting to get a lot more focus. Any technology that allows customers to reduce their footprint, have less equipment or squeeze more into less is going to be a benefit in the long run.
The data centre market is primed for a shift towards low power computing. With the success of companies like ARM and the many partners that are using that technology. Nebulon is coming to market at a time that gives them the opportunity to join that momentum and build upon these offload ideas and be a part of modular computing for the future.
As weird as it sounds, it feels good to be wrong on this one. My initial impressions were off the mark and I am glad that both myself and the team over at Nebulon took the time to cover those gaps. I think there is a huge amount of potential in this solution, not just in the first version that I got to see, but in the future roadmap and collaborations that might come along.
This is one company to watch, be it with partnerships, acquisitions or IPO, I think there is a bright future.
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