The future of enterprise storage – Formation Data Systems


Now is the time for disruptive enterprise class storage. Amazon has opened the door, Formation Data Systems wants to capitalize on the opportunity.

While at VM World, I caught part of a conversation between the Silicon Angle/Cube team and Mark Lewis CEO, Formation Data Systems covering the future of enterprise storage. The part that piqued my interest was when Lewis said that when a bookseller becomes the leader in public cloud infrastructure then you know there’s a revolution going on. He was referring to Amazon. The following day, I caught up with Lewis and Kevin Chew, Chief Customer Officer to get some insights into what was meant and how this changes things in the enterprise software world.

Listening to the conversation, it was clear to me that Lewis believes the current state of the art in storage provides little more than incremental value and that the current big players have not thought through the needs of the new classes of application, SaaS being a good example.

For my conversation, the primary interest was in discovering whether Formation is looking to disrupt the EMC’s of the world because they represent a significant cost in the CTOs landscape. In thinking about that topic, I am reminded that colleague Vinnie Mirchandani frequently compares EMC pricing to Amazon. Back in 2009, Mirchandani said:

Time to hammer down on EMC and IBM and HP and NetApp and outsourcers who run your data centers and your storage? Yes, but just as important is getting users to accept they do not need Tier 1 for many applications.

It turns out that while Formation could make a sizable impact – possibly 20% at an initial pass – that is not enough for the perceived risks involved given that CTOs are looking for big wins but over a relatively short time frame.

Lewis argues that Formation is picking up where Amazon has not gone for the enterprise buyer. Formation is architecting for enterprises that wish to renew their landscapes to take advantage of cloud models while providing enterprise class storage for those organizations that are active in so-called DevOps, as well as those who are now looking to move their Hadoop experiments out of proof of concept into live production. While disruptive, it is a relatively non-threatening approach.

The promise is tantalizing: come to us and we will help you get to 10x cost improvement. Nothing is that simple because as Lewis points out, enterprises going to cloud, whether public or private, will also need to re-engineer their applications to newer ways of working. Unsurprisingly, Lewis doesn’t see Oracle and SAP shops as a target for the foreseeable future.

Instead, Formation is interested in the enterprise that has been playing with what he calls ‘craplications,’ a colorful term for social applications, the newer storage solutions on offer and the like. As a side note, Lewis told me that Aaron Levie, CEO Box is an investor and that if Box could have had what Formation is offering at the time Box was in heavy development mode, it could have saved the cost of many engineering years required to develop their own storage solution.

What about go to market? Lewis is clear that he sees changes in the storage market as very much a bottoms up affair rather than a top down movement. Formation is therefore targeting today’s tier 2 organizations. It is also looking at the SI market as an IT renewal enabler. That fits well with the way SaaS in the guise of Salesforce and NetSuite got footholds in the market and then went upstream.

These are early days. The number of POCs are small but Lewis has many years’ experience in this market and has tasted enough of the ups and downs to provide the kind of direction that disruptors need to appreciate in order to make their vision reality. That should give Formation a good start. We wish them well.

Check out the full conversation below.

Disclosure: SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and NetSuite are premier partners at time of writing. VMWare covered most of my travel and expense to attend VM World.

Image credit: © Oleksiy Mark –